So, I'm about to get going with a familiar subject. One that's very close to my heart, an almost-part of my soul. The teen movie. During my glory days at the Cardinal, I gave quite a bit of thought and recognition to this often underrated, often legitimately soiled genre of feature film. My favorite indulgence, once the sappy romantic comedy (preferably of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan persuasion), has evolved over the years to a slightly POP, more colorful version of itself: the teen movie. While my taste for movies like The Holiday and Sleepless in Seattle isn't really going anywhere, I'm really geeking out about the recent interest filmmakers have taken in the plight of the teenager. As a result, teen movies have found a new face in the past few years, and the genre itself has undergone several major upgrades, namely, the following:
1) Teens playing actual teens! This trend has seemingly been in remission since the eighties, when the Brat Pack ruled the teen scene with an iron fist. I think most people will agree when I say that, while Freddie Prinze, Jr. is hot hot hot, 23 is just too old to be 18. While there's really only a five year difference, I'm currently 22, and looking back to how things were five years ago, I'm thrown into a total time warp. Right now, I live with my boyfriend in our modest, mini-loft. We play chess, watch "Six Feet Under," and drink expensive beer for fun. When I was eighteen, I don't even remember what I did for fun. Play quarters, maybe. Take shots of Pucker. I don't know. What did you do for fun? Plus, the appearance of a 23 year old (especially a 23 year old actor with a personal trainer and fad nutritionist) just isn't suitable for that of a normal, 18 year old kid. Even an 18 year old kid that lives in Beverly Hills.
2) Plotlines have progressed! We're now seeing teen movies that revolve around something other than your standard, poorly-adapted, faux-Austinian/bet-making/girl-bashing bullshizz. I think Mean Girls really did a number on what the cinematic world thinks of teen movies today. When I was in high school, nobody was going to Florida over spring break and sleeping with the "dyslexic volleyball guy" from the Real World. Also, no one was wearing bathing suit tops and tight jeans to school, and nobody was getting make-overs and having a life and death experience when it comes to a date for the big dance. We were hanging out in McDonald's on half-days, passing notes to our girlfriends at lunch. Romance, while it was a nice gesture and an even better addition to a group date to the bowling alley, was not the end-all and be-all of life. We had better things to do.
3) Believable parents! Sure, we all love to revel in the magnificence of Stifler's mom, or the awkward grandiosity of Jim's dad, but let's be honest. Nobody lives in that kind of ridiculous, idealized world. And, call me crazy, but I think most people are done centralizing and idolizing this insolent image of what it's like to parent a teen. Times have changed. Technology has increased the speed of information so much that to think a teen hasn't at least fantasized about buying condoms at the local pharmacy is to live under the delusion that the world has ever been a good and wholesome place. See Mr. and Mrs. MacGuff for what I mean (Juno).
4) Teens go indie! Well, more so than ever before. While the nineties were filled with the commercialized, aforementioned commentary on the incorrectness of what it's like to be a teenager, the new millenium is filled with a certain authenticity that is, so often, best articulated by the simple camera work, budget, and casting decisions of an independent film. Movies like Mean Creek, Juno, and Brick really throw an elbow to the teen movie surprises of yore, most notably, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and even Blue Velvet. Who says that the format and style for a movie about high school students should fit neatly into a boxlike mold of the Hollywood-esque? I like gritty characters and digital cameras. I like unconventional soundtracks and honest dialogue. These things come from projects that are funded by people other than those concerned chiefly with profit margins.
5) Good writing! Finally. No more flat characters and idiotic drones. No more stereotypical b.s. and no more plain predictability. High school girls can assume other roles than that of the popular bitch or helpless pawn. High school boys don't have to be uber-masculine pervs or over-achieving doormats. There's no such thing as an Amanda Becker, and the Zach Sylers are few and far between. Also, WOW HAS THE DIALOGUE IMPROVED. Watch She's All That and then watch Juno. Watch Drive Me Crazy and then watch Superbad. You'll see what I mean if you don't already know.
These shenanigans aside, the teen movie evolution has seemingly reached a new level with Juno, 2007's diamond in the rough, a gem among cold, distant political thrillers that, as far as 2007 goes, takes its place among the sophisticated slapstick of Superbad and the deadpan tenderness of Lars and the Real Girl. But it's so much more than that. It's a movie about accepting yourself, accepting others, and having tolerance. It's about all the different ways that we can surprise each other with empathy and compassion. Juno's parents are normal, believable compared to movie parents of yore. They chastise, but they do it respectfully. Because we live in a different world. Adults can no longer assume that teenagers don't know anything, that they're wandering magnets for naivete that'll do anything their friends say is cool. Teenagers are three-dimensional human beings with feelings and daily routines. Their lives are filled with arcs and changes, probably more changes than we, as adults, will ever endure again. They know about sex. They know about condoms and abortions, and they know where they can get them at a moment's notice. Juno is a teen comedy for the new-age teen. The teen that is much more grown up, knowledgeable in new and sometimes terrifying ways--mostly because of the internet. The movie treats teens and the parents of teens with a realistic dose of respect. While it may approach our world with a slightly idealized perception of language, Juno is quite believable. It really is a great movie, not just a commendable comedy, but a really, really great movie.
I'm sure there are very few who disagree, one of them being Mr. Walter Chaw from Filmfreekcentral.net. But his opinion (find it at http://filmfreakcentral.net/screenreviews/juno.htm) is unfounded and bogged down with so many unneccessary descriptive words (18 in the first sentence ALONE) that even the most respected linguist in the world couldn't decipher a word. So who cares. This movie is wonderful. It revamped an entire generation of teen movies. And while I love 10 Things I Hate About You, and I'll love it forever and ever amen, as far as movies go, Juno wins. The only thing it lacks in comparison is, well, Heath Ledger. It is a large and unfillable gap, but it'll do.