I first discovered my favourite film genre when I was 7 years old and I went to see ‘Clueless’ with mother. It was rated M and ticket attendant warned my mum that it was a bit too adult for me and she should, as a responsible parent take me to see something else, like ‘Toy Story’. But as my mum has told me many times, she doesn’t believe in censorship so she took me anyway.
The brilliantly written ‘Clueless’ is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and is peppered with rich and authentic dialogue, that director and writer Amy Heckling had collected from actual classrooms in Beverly Hills . This cinema experience crowned ‘Cluelsss’ as my favorite film of all time and thanks to it’s timelessness and a good helping of nostalgia, it remains in top spot to this day.
But Clueless wasn’t the only great teen film that I feel in love with during my youth. In fact in the year 1999, a bumper year for teen films, I welcomed these gems into my life: ‘Cruel Intentions’, ’10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘American Pie’, ‘She’s All That’ and the hilariously twisted ‘Election’. That was also the year I developed a love of cheesy teen horror flicks and as such spent my weekends watching ‘Scream’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘The Faculty’.
Between 12 and 13 I spent most of my Saturdays at the video shop and finally discovered the master of the teen genre, the maker of Molly Ringwald, John Hughes. He became my god and I had to see every film the man had ever made. ‘Pretty In Pink’, ‘Weird Science’, ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’ and of course what some argue is the best teen film ever, ‘The Breakfast Club’. These films along with a back catalog of 90s favorites were the instruction guides by which I tried to navigate my adolescence.
I’d learnt so much, if only I could apply it. Unfortunately compared to the fictional paradises that Hughes created, being a real teenager is very disappointing. Popular boys don’t notice outcasts, male best friends aren’t anywhere near as charming as Ducky from ‘Pretty In Pink’ and no matter how hard you try, you can’t create the perfect woman or man on your computer like ‘Weird Science’. It was then I learnt the hardest lesson of all, teen films are way better than being a teenager. Yes it was a sad time but at least I had John Hughes to comfort me.
Recently after watching a terrible attempt at the teen genre, a little stinker called ‘The To Do List’, I wondered if that lesson still holds true or have teen films become so awful that being a teenager actually looks good in comparison. Sure there are a few films that capture that magic I felt back in the 90s, ‘Mean Girls’, ‘The Perks Of Being a Wallflower’ and ‘Easy A’ are brilliant additions to the genre. But on whole the depictions of the teenage generation have really gone downhill.
Teen films used to be a place where emerging writers could cut their teeth, make a little low budget feature and if it was a hit, reap a a massive return. Take writer Cameron Crowe’s directorial debut ‘Say Anything’, a great script, some unknown actors, a small budget and boom 20 million dollars and he can pick his next project. Teen horror films were another way to break in, ‘Kevin Williamson’ broke into the industry with a little script called Scream.
But now this way of breaking into the industry seems to have died and teen films as a genre have been almost entirely replaced with young adult novel adaptations. Films like ‘Twilight’, ‘The Hunger Games’ are reaping in the dollars with an already devoted audience, huge budgets and script writing guns for hire (whose real job is to condense 400 pages of well written young adult fiction into 120 pages of confusing plot and under developed characters). Sure some of these franchises are better than others but they aren’t teen films. They are sprawling action epics.
Whatever happened to scripts written about the horror and hilarity filled place that is high school. Scripts that make tweens imagine there perfect teenage life and create a great escape for those poor teenagers trying to make it out alive. I can only hope that that they resurface in time for my daughter, otherwise unlike me, she’ll have no relief for the pain of growing up.