Teen Movies: The land in which everyone is misunderstood, sexually charged, and over dramatic. The good ones are like rare and precious treasures that can stick with you for a lifetime and the atrociously bad ones fill a certain kind of trashy flick craving. Come take a look at the genre with us and revel in the corny and clichéd masterpieces of our time!
Sadly it’s a rare occasion to have someone serenade you from a campus courtyard, find yourself formulating a perfect cheerleading routine to inevitably win nationals, or to figure out that the boy you’ve been texting for over a year is actually the star of your high school football team. It’s no wonder so many of us turn to the teen movie genre to take our troubled and immature lives and turn them into something entertaining, or at the very least, amusing.
Last week The First Time was released on DVD. It stars Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson and is a coming of age tale about two teens meeting and experiencing their firsts together. Boy meets girl, girl resists boy, the two fall head over heels for each other, awkward sex ensues, and everything sorts itself out in the end! Yadda yadda yadda… To celebrate its release, we thought it might be fun to take a look at the movie genre as a whole and remember why it is we adore the John Hughes formula so much.
The Leading Guy
Apart from being absolutely gorgeous and charming, there are a few traits that reoccur in almost every version of every teen movie ever made. Our leading dude is typically portrayed as a nice but slightly misunderstood kid. His friends don’t quite understand him, his teachers don’t try to, his parents definitely don’t… Heck, it wouldn’t be surprising if his pet gerbil had trouble getting to know who the real (insert name here) is. But do those things really matter in the world of teenage dramas? Hint: No they do not.
Because all of that is totally irrelevant as long as the girl of his dreams – and our leading lady – is aware of his true nature. Sometimes she has to fight her way in, like Torrance from Bring it On. And other times it’s heart-racing-attraction at first sight. High School Musical fans represent! But regardless of how the connection is made, the goal of the pairing is to ensure that our front man grows into himself and learns that the power of love can make you realize just how great you were all along. *cue: AWWWW*
The Leading Girl
In The First Time our leading girl is Aubrey, a no-nonsense kind of chick who calls things like she sees them. This is a pretty standard trope for the teen genre. Some of the best sassy girl-next-door types would have to be Olive from Easy A, Laney from the classic She’s All That, or Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You. These ladies take crap from no one. But often, like our leading guy, she’s probably just hiding some hidden insecurity or doubt underneath the spikey exterior. If you want to get to know her better you might have to squeeze her into a skimpy dress or pry the loser specks from her face. But eventually, after an exhausting fight of wills, we’ll come to realize just how warm and lovely she was under all that.
Don’t assume this is the only leading girl trope available to us though because there are times when our front lady can be a bit more elusive. Sometimes she’s the shy girl-next-door, other times she’s the average girl-next-door, and occasionally she’s the goth girl-next-door… It really all depends. At the end of the day though, the main objective is to have this independent spirited girl turn into a well adjusted confident young lady – with a boyfriend of course. Duh.
The Dorky Friends
Ok, let’s face it. For most of us, the best friend of the leading character is probably the only reason we allow ourselves to even watch these films. If you weren’t choking down laughter and squeals when Ducky dances for Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, you can just get out right now. We’ll be happy to show you to the door. Because you’re either a lying liar or you just don’t get this genre at all. Also, if you didn’t spend the majority of your time during Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist pairing up and shipping Nick’s ragtag group of friends – frankly you’re doing life wrong.
Some of the best lines and most quotable scenes come from the characters that flail around and make snarky comments in the background. Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a legend and deserves to be worshiped. Plus, we’re not even going to mention Ryan from High School Musical, because that kid is too flawless to function. Everything would be just a little bit more awesome if we got to have these characters in our own lives.
Not to be confused with the class ‘hotties’ even though they can at times overlap. The Mean Girl/Guy is the quintessential antagonist: the foil against our leading characters but more likely the enemy against their relationship. Occasionally the mean girl is actually the nice one in disguise (a la Kirsten Dunst in Bring it On) but generally the two sides of the coin shall never meet. Except to fight over a boy or something…
Without those people you love-to-hate we really wouldn’t have a movie to watch. What EXACTLY would Mean Girls be without Regina George? The story of a girl who moved to a new school, where absolutely nothing happened to her, and the boring boringness eats her alive. No one in their right mind would bother with that movie. And half of the reason to watch A Cinderella Story, besides a Chad Michael Murray so young you want to pinch his cheeks, is to see Fiona demand from her step daughter Norwegian salmon from ‘Norwegia.’ Without the arch villain and their ridiculous behavior, there would be no point in showing up.
The ‘bad boy,’ the kid who ‘fights the power,’ the one who likes to ‘go against the grain.’ That’s who our rebel is. Despite your age, there is only one character that should pop into your mind when you think of “The Rebel.” And that character is… John Bender from The Breakfast Club. Out of every teen movie ever made, this is the ultimate portrayal of the trope: loudmouth, messy, abrasive guy with a bad attitude. Who is absolutely swoon worthy by the way.
Don’t question why these characters are so unbelievably attractive, just go with it. Leave the deeper intellectual reasoning until after the credits start to roll. Because when we’re in the zone, it’s best to just appreciate the experience on a completely superficial level. Sebastian from Cruel Intentions isn’t meant to be loved. He’s a bad guy, with terrible motives and a black heart. But did that stop Reese Witherspoon’s character from falling head-over-heals?! NO. No it did not. So we really shouldn’t expect any less for ourselves.
Usually, the hot person we’re all ogling is there to serve as a distraction. You see, this character is used as a diversion from the slightly less-obviously-attractive leads. The boys with the torsos and the girls with lip gloss practically dripping from their faces… They serve as a wedge between our leading couple. They try to mislead us into thinking that they may actually swoop in and ruin the chances of the pair. Ironically, and this is the beauty of teen movies in general, these are rarely the characters we actually end up liking. They tend to be pretty and nice to look at, but also really dull and dumb. Shane West learns this lesson the hard way in Whatever It Takes.
Although there are movies that try and break the mold. Like The Girl Next Door which revolutionizes the genre by showing that porn star looking girls are people too! With hearts and depth and stuff! And in She’s the Man our leading dude is so unbelievably attractive and sweet that Viola simply can’t restrain herself and falls completely in love.
Sure teen movies have a pretty generic pattern. The stories are cliché and the lessons have become trite over the years. But the truth is, an honest amusing portrayal of young adulthood can be really freaking powerful. That’s why the powers that be will keep making them and why we’ll keep showing up. Because sometimes all we really need is a little dose of escapism. A place where it’s safe enough to suspend reality for a while because eventually it’ll all be okay in the end.
So what are your favorite teen movies and why do you like them so much? Have you ever been drawn to one that you know isn’t technically ‘good’? If so, why do you think you still enjoyed it?