Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Analysis of Teenage Movies from the 80s

If you ask someone on the street for the best Teen movie of all time is -- especially if they're, say, over 35 -- chances are they're going to pick one of many movies from the 80s that could fit in that category.
  • Say Anything...
  • Better Off Dead
  • Footloose
  • The Outsiders
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Heathers 
And of course the John Hughes classics:
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Pretty in Pink
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off
  • Weird Science
Being ancient now, when I rewatch these movies, I see them in a whole new light. For the most part, most of these movies have a common thread: adults are caricatures of idiots and assholes.

Consider Breakfast Club. The parents all make a very quick appearance at the beginning. You've got BMW dad, nerd kid mom and Wrestler dad. All do their out-of-touch caricature thing within the span of about 15 seconds. Wrestler dad tells his son not to screw up his scholarship.

And then it's time for the kids to do their coming-into-adulthood thing, amongst each other, in the face of the jerk principal.

If you run down the list, most Hughes movies in the list fall into this mold. The parents are out of touch caricatures, and the other adults are jerks and idiots that are getting in the way of the kids' road to maturity. The only major exceptions are Pretty in Pink and, potentially, Weird Science. Though Chet, the grandparents, and the biker gang all sort of negate any good-will that Lisa brings into the picture for the sake of adults.

This mold is used for other examples as well. Better Off Dead and Heathers, for sure.

But now I want to bring to your attention the counterpoints: the Cameron Crowe films in the list.

Say Anything and Fast Times are very unique in that there is one prominent adult in either movie. In Say Anything, it's Mr. Court. In Fast Times, it's Mr. Hand. And they are multi-dimensional. Both of them. They're not caricatures, they change their opinions of people and develop over the course of the movie. There are a few extra adults but they're mostly normal (exception: Mr. Vargas).

And very importantly... the only parent we see in either movie is Mr. Court. His relationship with Diane is the most important between any two characters in either movie. And the scene where Diane confronts Court with his lying is beautiful, fantastic acting by Mahoney. A dimensional character.

[BTW, I've racked my brain trying to think of a parent that shows up in Fast Times without rewatching it right now. I am almost positive the only case is Stacy's mom as she says good night.]

So this is one of the reasons that Say Anything and Fast Times end up being at or near the top of my list among these. They create a microcosm of being a teen, and focus on the important relationships with an adult, and don't make those characters a joke.


Anonymous said...

You're forgetting my personal favorite, "Some Kind of Wonderful". Some adults in that are caricatures and some are kind of reasonable characters. Anyway just wanted to plug the forgotten best movie from the 80s.

Andrew Mathias said...

These are wonderful movies

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