Film Fridays: The Perks of a Great Teen Movie

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Today sees the release of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,”  a hotly awaited teen film adapted by Stephen Chbosky from the book he wrote in 1999. Early screenings have put out some pretty good buzz and a lot people seem pretty excited about it here. I went to a screening on Wednesday in which the audience spontaneously “aww-ed,” “oooh-ed” and applauded. Alas you’ll have to wait until Monday for The Daily Cal’s review. In the meantime, I’ve prepared a little primer to that most beloved of genres: the high school movie.

The Prototype

It’s impossible to talk about the high school movie without talking about John Hughes. The moment Emilio Estevez slipped into detention in “The Breakfast Club,” the high school movie changed forever. Before 1985, high school films were either overly exploitative or shamelessly moralistic. “The Breakfast Club” was subversive enough to be cool, but kitch enough not to have to hide from your parents. Don’t believe me? Courtney Love went on the record saying “The Breakfast Club” was the “defining moment of the alternative generation” in this article from 1999.

The Quiet Adaptation

Who said “Clueless” was all about cute cars and big cellphones? As if being the crowning achievement of mid-90s cinema weren’t enough, Clueless is actually an adaptation of the mid-10s (ah-that’s 1810s) hit “Emma” by Jane Austen. The meddling matchmaker, the cooky friends… it’s all here. “Clueless” set a pretty strong precedent that other teen films followed (albeit less successfully) like Amanda Bynes’ ill-fated venture into cinema, “She’s the Man,” which is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”

The Nostalgia Flick

Teen films dine out on nostalgia. God knows why anyone would want to relive high school, but the healthy box office of films set in high school suggests that we do. Sofia Coppola cashed in on this tendency big time with “The Virgin Suicides,” a 1999 film bathed in such vivid technicolor nostalgia, you’d think she stuck rose tinted glasses on her camera. For a film about teen malaise and well, suicide, the aesthetic works well as an ironic counterpoint to the dark subject matter. The film’s visual beauty is evocative of that last High School summer we’ll never forget, but the way Coppola undercuts that beauty with dark and moody characters matter reminds us of the “real life” that waits just beyond childhood. For the poor, Lisbon Girls, the adult world entered into the equation all too soon.

Here’s a great post from teen fashion blogger/writer/celebrity Tavi Gevinson about her summer and The Virgin Suicides.

I’ll get back to you Monday if I find any perks to being a wallflower.