by Katherine Peplowski, CRITIC
10 May 2019
Each year, high school graduation becomes a rite of passage for millions of teenagers. To some extent, it’s become as natural as a birthday, perhaps even a cliché of the teen experience. What’s also become cliché is the notion of “high school movies” or “teen comedies,” when they don’t necessarily need to be.
Many filmgoers simply haven’t schooled before in what it means to be a smart, relevant teen film that doesn’t talk down to its viewers, doesn’t reduce teens to the lowest common denominator.
Before you throw your graduation cap into the air and lose it forever, carve out some time for these five movies that capture the potential life of a high school student.
Because time is the one thing that you’re now running out of …
Another light-hearted and comedic high school film is the must-see, Clueless. This film follows a teen girl Cher (Alicia Silverstone) as she works her way through senior year with a confused and cheerful attitude. Cher is the embodiment of a stereotypical high school girl, but she works it. Between arguing her way through good grades and getting caught up in boy-drama, Cher is an iconic and classic figure that is still referenced today.
Cher shows audiences that her character is not only bound to her outside appearance. Beneath the blonde hair, expensive clothes, and manicured nails shines her clever and generous spirit. After getting tangled up in a crush and almost losing a friend, Cher’s forgiving and loving nature ultimately helps her to build bridges and find love herself.
The film allows audiences to fall in love with her witty one-liners and bubbly personality, and in the end, she and her best friends remind high schoolers to enjoy the few years of adolescence and not take themselves too seriously. This funny and honest film attracts an audience that goes past just teenagers. Anyone who appreciates ironic humor and smart comedy will enjoy this movie.
While many high school films tackle the uncertainties of high school in a dramatic and serious way, Superbad offers a lighthearted and comedic take on a high school adventure gone wrong. The film shows the complexities of high school friendships and crushes while making audiences fall out of their seats from laughing so hard.
Jonah Hill plays the abrasive and loud-mouthed teen Seth who also struggles with insecurities. Determined to prove himself as a fun-loving and rebellious student, he teams up with his two friends, Evan (Michael Cera) and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), to bring alcohol to a party in order to impress their crushes. Along the way, Fogell meets two incompetent police officers who take him under their wing and bring him along for a crazy night. The film follows the three boys as they attempt to acquire alcohol and make their way to the party.
While this film comes off as raunchy and chaotic, it is able to deliver a hilarious and engaging story that will hold an audience’s attention for the 2 hour long screen time. By the end of the film, audiences are left with the theme of friendship. The friendship of Evan and Seth is tested frequently, but above the need for popularity and girlfriends, the two’s bond remains stronger than ever. With graduation and college approaching, the boys are finally understanding the importance of the connection that they’ve made throughout high school.
The Way Way Back (2013)
The film The Way Way Back follows a teen boy during his summer vacation to a beach house where he feels like an outsider among his family. Duncan (Liam James) is an awkward kid who befriends a pool manager at the local water park in order to keep away from his mom’s oppressive new boyfriend. Throughout his employment, he creates a special bond with Owen (Sam Rockwell) and gradually builds his confidence as a person.
The film is able to capture the sluggish and seemingly never-ending drawl of summer break and also illustrates the coming of age story of a isolated teenager who deals with the disappointment of his parents and the disconnect from his peers. Duncan finds comfort with someone who is much older than him, and Owen acts as a second father to Duncan. During their short time working together, he is able to show Duncan how to have fun and be comfortable in his own skin.
Duncan’s journey is relatable to many, and his character captures the gawky and difficult period of adolescence. After the short screen time of an hour and a half, audiences will see Duncan grow and loosen up as he navigates the complicated relationships of his family and with himself.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Dead Poets Society was made in 1989 yet it is still relevant today. The film follows a group of boys as they navigate their way through an all-boys prep school. Their lives are purely mechanical- learning through textbooks, attending mass, and endless studying- until a new English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) opens their eyes to a new world of art, literature, and poetry.
Older movies can be disregarded as a thing of the past; however, in a time where education is guided by Common Core standards, this theme of this film resurfaces in present times. Mr. Keating teaches the group of young men to find passion and romance in novels and poetry and to be independent thinkers. While the pressures of the school and parents weigh heavy on the boys’ shoulders, they find out what it truly means to be alive and to be young for the first time.
Each boy is impacted in a different way by Mr. Keating. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) begins as a reserved and timid student who has trouble speaking out loud in class until Keating encourages him to speak freely and fearlessly. Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard) is filled with life to begin with, but his heavy-handed father has already chosen his future for him. With Keating’s backing, Neil is finally able to let his inner artist shine brightly in drama class and on stage performances.
Keating is able to touch each of his students in a different but positive way, and Robin William’s portrayal of the character is yet another reminder of his brilliance as an actor.
Audiences, especially teens, will be able to relate to the students as they are burdened with the responsibility of adulthood and their futures while discovering their personal identities and growing into themselves. Keating’s famous words, “Carpe Diem,” echo throughout the entire film as viewers truly watch the boys seize the day.
Lady Bird (2017)
The 2017 film Lady Bird is a coming of age film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Between beautifully crafted scenes, camera shots, and characters, humor is woven into relationships, school dances, theatre class, and the stressors of senior year. The film tackles things that define adolescence, such as insecurities, love, drama, and rebellion, while giving the audience a magnified view of exactly what it is like to be a teenager.
Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a highly complex character that is easy to relate to, and audiences are able to find a piece of themselves in her. The film follows her journey through her senior year of highschool, and along the way, it discusses mother-daughter relationships, growing up, and friendship. Between intricate dialogue and stunning cinematography, the plot grips viewers with both emotional and humorous scenes.
While this film is focused on Lady Bird and her journey through senior year, one of the main struggles in the film is the rocky relationship that she shares with her mom (Laurie Metcalf). The constant back and forth between fighting and loving one another reveals the honest truth about the difficulties within family, and Lady Bird discusses the narrow line between a mother wanting the best for her child and being overbearing and manipulative.
One problem that many moviegoers find all too common in high school films is the caricature of teenagers. They can be made out to be over dramatic, annoying, boring, and shallow, but this film does absolutely none of that. While it has the typical popular girl, perfect boyfriend, jerk boyfriend, and childhood friend, all of the characters are made with love and detail, and none of them have been seen before.
When watching this film, audiences will laugh with Lady bird, cry with her, and fall in love with her. It is a love letter to adolescence and growing up, and Greta Gerwig succeeds in turning an occasionally cliche genre into a masterpiece.
Kate Peplowski is a critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.