Film critics and entertainment reporters have been straining to come up with ever more elaborate superlatives for "supercute" teen flick "Superbad" and its creators, "mayor of comedy" Judd Apatow and "our transplanted Canadian" Seth Rogen. The Washington Postcalled the movie "the 'American Pie' of the MySpace generation," and the Weekly Standard crowed that it's "the best such movie since 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.'"
I would add my own praise, but I haven't seen it yet.
Why haven't I rushed to the theaters, as so many other moviegoers have, and helped push the boys of summer past the man of summer at the box office? It's because I miss, and am a devoted fan of, the teen movies from the time I was a high schooler: the late 1990s.
Those four-odd years had a youthful spirit to them. Dot-com bubbles were expanding, presidential scandals were more sexy than scary, and school uniform-clad Britney Spears still possessed some sanity. Perhaps that's why teen movies were coming out by the greasy, groping handful.
What's in a teen movie? To qualify, it's absolutely necessary that a film contain teens (or 25-year-olds playing teens) dancing and drinking and getting into trouble. Beyond that, there's the classic redemption/revenge of the nerd scenarios; mock-epic quests to get laid, drunk or high; and legendary last nights of summer.
Teen-pic proliferation has required that movies from the last 10 years -- between "Clueless," the last teen movie to make classic status without resorting to either a penis in a pie or Lindsay Loha, and the insta-classic "Superbad" -- had to do more than out-party and out-raunch their predecessors if they wanted to be remembered. The ensuing experimentation was interesting, if not memorable for anyone other than my fellow mid-twentysomethings.
There were the Shakespeare adaptations. "10 Things I Hate About You" was a teen "Taming of the Shrew," and "O" is presumably what Othello would have gone by if he lived in the age of rap. There were other literary translations -- "Clueless" plopped Jane Austen's matchmaker Emma into Beverly Hills, and "Cruel Intentions" imagined prep schoolers reenacting "Les Liaisons Dangereuses." There were explorations of race through hip-hop ("Save the Last Dance") or cheerleading (the "Bring It On" cycle). The "I Know What You Did Last Summer" series and the "Scream" trilogy resurrected the vaunted teen horror tradition of decades past.
My personal favorites back then were "Never Been Kissed" (for reasons that needn't be detailed) and nerd-girl pic "She's All That." There's little to commend these two beyond their embrace of parody and willingness to acknowledge better films. That's one thing, at least, that teen movies do well -- alternately echo and outdo each other in a referential loop, like the film equivalent of hip-hop. "Never Been Kissed" has two characters costumed as the leads of "Risky Business" (our Web editor's favorite teen flick.) "She's All That" was archetypal enough to provide the basic plot for the teen movie send-up "Not Another Teen Movie."
Few of the '90s movies were good, and many were alarmingly bad but still beloved by the demographic they depicted, those who went to the movies because they had small allowances and little else to do. I appreciated - uncritically, it's obvious - the movies I was dealt, realizing that though they weren't "American Graffiti" or "Dazed and Confused," they at least belonged to my generation and tried to portray us in our hapless high school phase. They contained pop cultural references I knew intimately and fashions I saw at school.
After all, I've never gone on a date and listened to side one of Led Zeppelin IV, the recommended make-out music of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," a clear favorite of the thirty- and fortysomethings of the editorial board. (What's a "side one," anyway?) And I never could decode Molly Ringwald's exact status in the high school pecking order from her floppy hats and man-jackets in "Pretty in Pink," another board member favorite. Is she geeky or artsy or punky?
Still, I'm jealous of those who came of age when the best coming-of-age movies were released. I'm also jealous of the lucky teens of today who are busily sneaking into "Superbad" and changing their MySpace headlines to read "McLovin" as I type. They now have a teen classic to call their own.