Ebert on teen movie cliches

Roger Ebert about the cute teen movie 10 Things I hate about you.

I’m trying to remember the last movie I saw that didn’t end with a high school prom. “Ravenous,” maybe. Even the next film I saw, “Never Been Kissed,” ends with a prom. The high school romance genre has become so popular that it’s running out of new ideas and has taken to recycling classic literature.

My colleague James Berardinelli made a list recently: “Clueless” was based on Emma, “She’s All That” was inspired by “Pygmalion” and “Cruel Intentions” was recycled from “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (prompting Stanley Kauffmann to observe that it was better back in the days when high school students were allowed to take over city government for a day, instead of remaking French novels). To this list we might also add the film update of Great Expectations, Cinderella’s true story in “Ever After” and “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet,” which was anything but. There’s even “Rage: Carrie 2”–a retread of “Carrie,” a work that in my opinion ranks right up there with the best of Austen, Shaw and Shakespeare.

All teenage movies have at least one boring and endless party scene, in which everyone is wildly dressed, drunk and relentlessly colorful (in “Never Been Kissed,” some of the kids come as the Village People). These scenes inevitably involve (a) a fight, (b) barfing, and (c) a tearful romantic breakup in front of everybody. That scene was tedious, and so was a scene where the would-be lovers throw paint balloons at each other. I know there has to be a scene of carefree, colorful frolic, but as I watched them rubbing paint in each other’s hair, I began to yearn for that old standby, the obligatory Tilt-a-Whirl ride.

It must really be hard watching mainstream movies as a fulltime job (probably like someone who has to review porn titles). Initially appealing, but after that, extremely dull.

As for teen movies, I recommend Breaking Away, Baby It’s You (flawed but extraordinary), Flirting (realistic and extraordinary)  and (for cuteness factor) Bring It on. Also Election (which has more mature themes, but is really satirical), Caddyshack.  Revenge of the Nerds. Also, Hal Hartley’s Trust is an extraordinary, literate and cool film.  Rock and Roll High School is a fun, rowdy high school film (definitely countercultural).  Other than that, I really hate teen films if only because they’re syrupy and full of cliches about what high school is supposed to do.  Or if not, the teen film is about the weird Napoleon Dynamites who  become cool by virtue of their  weirdness. Back in high school, I was not interested in proms or throwing up, but I was passionate about books, debate team, psychology, Dungeons and Dragons, movies and girls (the last thing I hadn’t actually figured out).

I just saw the  Star Trek movie which was action-packed, well-versed in Star Trek lore and full of nice surprises and jokes. I remember the first date I went on in high school was to see the film Return of the Jedi.  Other movies I saw with  Susan E:  Kurosawa’s Ran, Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, John Sayles’ Brother from Another Planet. Diva, Les Comperes, and one other zany French police comedy whose name escapes me.   Oh, we both loved movies and plays (We also saw Amadeus at the theatre and T.S. Eliot’s Cocktail Party).  Susan was much of a snob as I was; it was delicious. We left the River Oaks movie theatre convinced that Ran was the greatest film of all time. I still have a high opinion of that film (although I recognize that other films are on the same level as it).  Isn’t it ironic that none of the films we wanted to see would be classified as teen movies (except maybe Diva).






One response to “Ebert on teen movie cliches”

  1. Sarah Elkins Avatar

    It’s odd that Ebert lumped *Ever After* in with those teenage movies. It’s either a counterpoint to his generalization that “All teenage movies have at least one boring and endless party scene, in which everyone is wildly dressed, drunk and relentlessly colorful”, or isn’t a teenage movie at all.

    Breaking Away is a great movie. Election is full of unpleasant people (tho I liked the jock’s sister), but good.

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