The following was commissioned by Flickering Myth
Henry Bevan on the modern teen movie…
Jerky jocks; nebbish nerds; the girl next door who is unfairly called a whore; the hot girl; the bitchy cheerleader; the ugly girl who’s actually a swan; the self-loathing teachers; teachers who sleep with students; teachers who are bad at their jobs; crowded school corridors; cool kids who drive; losers who get the bus; clueless mums; perfect siblings; house parties with professional DJs; sex (sometimes); beer; horny virgins; and prom.
Hughes created our perception of how fictional and real teenagers should act in high school. He understood how deeply emotional teenagers are and he wasn’t afraid of his films being emotionally truthful. Every main character in a Hughes movie is an outsider, even in The Breakfast Club, where each character belongs to a certain clique, they feel like rejects within their own world. The fact we automatically think of tropes created around 30 years ago raises questions as to what the modern teen movie actually is.
Like any genre, the teen movie has changed over time. They remain a product of the generation of which they were made. The 90’s teen films like Clueless and American Pie layered on sex jokes, group dynamics, and sassy lines. Alongside Fight Club, Cher’s (Alicia Silverstone) problems remain one of the decade’s best commentaries on pre-millennium materialism and commercialism.
But, the adolescents of 90’s films only exist on celluloid. Their problems aren’t relatable to most real-life teenagers. If every decade has one teen film that defines it, then the now 13-year-old Mean Girls defines the 00s. Starting off as an almost parodic take on a Hughesian high school with its map of the cafeteria cliques, the film becomes darker and much more interesting once the Burn Book comes into play. Suddenly and skillfully, the film swerves into body shaming territory, studying the impact of bullying and just how, excuse me, mean teenagers can be.
It is the latter half of Mean Girls most modern teen movies now focus on. In the decade spanning 2010-2020, the teen film will be remembered for using the cliche tropes to explore serious issues facing modern day teenagers. Last year’s The Edge of Seventeen may become this generation’s defining teen movie. It might feature an Asian-American character whose nuanced characterisation feels like an eff-you to Sixteen Candles, but Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine continues the tradition of the Hughesian outsider, as she pushes people away whilst dealing with depression and social anxiety. Like its immediate predecessors The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The DUFF, the film takes the issues it presents seriously and doesn’t try to turn Nadine’s depression into an excuse for self-deprecating humour. It uses everything you’d expect from a teen film and turns it into a serious rumination on how adolescence can impact teens.
However, with TV’s current cultural dominance it is more likely Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why will become the defining piece of teen media. The controversial show uses its 13-hour runtime to discuss serious issues taking place in schools with the slut shaming and toxic masculinity resulting in a teen suicide. It isn’t afraid to face reality and examine the high school culture even if it is occasionally tone deaf. The recently announced second season may not be needed, but it is interesting to see how it continues the teen movie’s evolution.