American Reunion comes out today, and FR couldn’t care less. That said, it got your boys thinking. Herein, the finest movies about the strange wasteland that is high school ever made.
Tyler: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Many of us love Ferris Bueller for any number of reasons. My favorite reason? This scene.
Travis: Mean Girls
I should specify that this mostly applies to the first half of the movie, full of trenchant humor even though it’s pretty much Heathers-lite. To most enjoy Mean Girls, turn the movie off immediately once Tina Fey takes all the girls into the gym to talk to them and everyone learns a life lesson and becomes friends with the kid in the wheelchair and shit like that.
Get out of the way, John Hughes. Heathers is the real deal. We don’t need any wistful high school remembrance pieces and we sure don’t need Emilio Esteves changing our lives for us. The faux rebellion of The Breakfast Club is washed away when the fictional high school in Heathers goes up in smoke. Here is the movie that sees high school for what it is.
Tyler: Mean Girls
I once skipped a college-course screening of vital-film-student-curriculum picture Birth Of A Nation in order to indulge a college-paper press-pass for Mean Girls. Having eventually seen Nation with fellow FR writer Nathan, despite the mockery of a coursemate I’d later date, I’m confident I made the right decision. I can’t help it if I have a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina.
What’s your damage?
Carrie is strictly, and correctly, categorized in the horror section of your video store (or instant queue or whatever), but at its heart, it is the ultimate film of high school rejection. Sissy Spacek turns in her most complete performance as the homely girl who, with powers of telekinesis, wrecks the ultimate havoc on all her popular tormentors. Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s popular book is a lurid, terrifying cinematic shriek of a movie.
Tyler: Grosse Pointe Blank
I’m not a killer-for-hire, I didn’t attend my ten-year reunion (to paraphrase Wonderfalls, I need a little more time to become an overnight success), but I am 29. Few films I know capture the reality of how things change, how mentalities grow and develop, and how high-school romanticism gets harder, yet persists, than Martin Blank’s dip back into a world he thought he wanted to abandon, yet he knows he can never emotionally leave behind. Plus, this. “How’s your life?”
Travis: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Many people remember Sean Penn’s hilarious turn as stoner/surfer Jeff Spicoli, but few remember how dark this high school comedy could be. Date rape and abortion stand side-by-side with school spirit pranks and what may be the most famous masturbation scene in movie history, inspired by Phoebe Cates.
Nathan: The Last Picture Show
I grew up in near a mid-sized town and went to a high school of about 1,600 students. The lives of the high school students from the dusty two-bit Texas town depicted in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show are totally foreign to me. But the loneliness, sexual frustration, and the clumsy association with newfound freedoms are universal.
Tyler: Say Anything…
“I mean, like, what are you?”
“…I’m Lloyd Dobler.”
Travis: Dazed and Confused
Like most people my age, I’m sure, I could probably recite this one from memory, but even though every time I ended up at someone’s house in high school it seemed we’d end up watching Richard Linklater’s ambling story of the last day of school for a collection of recent junior high graduates, incoming high school seniors, and those who’ve already graduated but are still hanging around, that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it every single time I happen upon it on TV. I keep gettin‘ older, but this movie stays the same age.
What United 93 is to 9/11, Elephant is to the Columbine shootings.
With its stripped down narrative, Gus Van Sant’s film forces the viewer to face that day from the inside out. Most of us, high school students and parents from across the nation, viewed the carnage from afar, after it had already been done, and were afraid. Elephant gives us a chance to think about what it was to be there, to walk behind these troubled teenagers and to contemplate how something so awful could occur on such a normal day.
And best of all, Elephant never tries to make any false sense of it all.
Tyler: Dazed & Confused
Matthew McConaghey’s masterful performance in D&C as…well, presumably, Matthew McConaghey, will live on forever. But Dazed & Confused digs far deeper than that, in exploring the romance high school promises (Wiley Wiggins, making it with that soon-to-be sophomore who looks, I must say, more than a little like my first Real Girlfriend) and the disappointments handed down by its inevitable far-too-high expectations (Jason London: “If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.”) Youth is tough. Adulthood, too, but we get a better idea how to grapple as we gain age. To my mind, no film captures that reality so exactly as Richard Linklater’s cult-classic (sigh) masterpiece.
Plus, yeah, it’s fuckin’ hilarious. But that’s what I love about these high school movies, man. I get older? They stay the same age.
I was about Max Fischer’s age when I first saw this, Wes Anderson’s best film. It has all the things many people find too cute and cloying about his movies (wacky humor, quiet and magical minorities, excessive usage of sixties guitar pop on the soundtrack) but the difference here is that the emotional core of the film, about how tough adolescence can be, actually resonates. Also, it’s really funny.
Nathan: The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola’s grand theme (well, insofar as you can have a grand theme after directing only four movies) is female imprisonment. Her young women are never in an actual jail, but they are always locked into environments from which they can’t escape. The Virgin Suicides, based on a Jeffrey Eugenides novel of the same name, depicts the life of five gorgeous sisters who are trapped in their own home by their conservative parents. The film is about high school in that these girls have virtually no access to all the normal rituals and rites of high school life unless they rebel. And they do rebel, if in extremely unconventional ways.
The film is an elegiac mystery; sexy, confusing, and dream-like masterpiece.
“You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”
“Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”