The teen years are when we discover who we are and how we fit into the world… such a shame that such a delicate and vital process occurs in a brutal dystopian microcosm of society called “high school.”
Adam Clarke and Michael Collins explore a few Hollywood visions and revisions of high school to see how aptly such films capture the experience.
Plot: Girl meets boy. Boy is vampire. Vampire isn’t evil, just boring. They kiss.
Michael: Let’s say a few nice things before the savaging begins. Uh. The cinematography is good. I like the washed-out color palette. There are some neatly framed shots. Unfortunately, high school does not come with an editing suite. That’s all I’ve got.
Adam: Kristen Stewart is a likeable actor. Oh, and the token Asian kid in Bella’s clique had a haircut that looked like Megaman’s helmet! That made me laugh. Otherwise, the depiction of high school life was the most poorly-reasoned one in memory.
M: Let me get this straight. A shy, bookish introvert moves to an isolated small town. Immediately all the boys want to date her and all the girls want to be her friend? Yes. Exactly.
A: Why is everyone so chipper at this high school? The supporting characters spout cutesie Grey’s Anatomy-ish new-speak with clumsy references to Facebook, iPod playlists and Google. If this movie were made fifteen years ago, they’d all be talking about Pogs and the “uh-oh” noise ICQ makes.
M: We have smart, sensitive female protagonist—where is bitchy female antagonist? Pah! This high school is not up to code.
A: And what is up with vamp love-interest, Edward Eunuch-Hands? This is the dream man for legions of young women? A socially delayed Dracula who looks like Pee Wee Herman with two caterpillars taped to his face? When he and Bella have a tiff in the film, I half-expected him to say “please don’t leave. I’m charmless and demanding”.
M: Twilight is accurate in one sense. This movie is tedious, drawn-out, full of unremarkable characters, lacking any over-arching narrative… Just like high school!
A: I’ll be more charitable and say that it gets one more thing right, albeit by accident. Edward is needy, awkward, and ultimately not worth anyone’s time. That sounds like every high school crush to me.
Dead Poet’s Society
Plot: Robin Williams is an English teacher who tries to get close to his students. One student commits suicide because his dad (Robocop‘s Kurtwood Smith) tells him he can’t act. Robin Williams fired. Williams retaliates by standing on a desk.
Accurate? Only for super-rich kids.
A: I hate the Robin Williams Oscar-bait performance. It’s the same in nearly every drama he does, trying ever so hard to look thoughtful and deep, but always coming across as a parody of humanity. Williams plays stock film role #37-b (A Teacher Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules) and he wants to whisper Latin in your ears and do a bad John Wayne impression so that you appreciate life. Revolting.
M: I am sorry Adam Clarke. Until the mid-point, I think this movie is inspiring and awesome. The power of literature compels us to be charming eccentrics! School is a conformity factory except for English class, which is about being a free-thinker and all that jazz, man. Carpe Diem! Except, uh, it’s easy to seize the day when you’re super wealthy and privileged. Unless your dad is a douche, I mean.
A: I’d prefer if the movie was about the Dad from That 70’s Show getting teenagers to commit suicide through his disappointed sighs and passive-aggressiveness. You could call it Kurtwood Smith Hates Your Dreams.
M: “Son, I’ve made a lot of sacrifices so you can grow up to be an unfulfilled emotional cripple like myself. It’s a WASP tradition. Don’t mess it up.”
A: Each time someone said “seize the day”, I kept thinking “I could be doing laundry right now”.
M: Carpe Diem, don’t carpe your dad’s revolver. Anyway, I like this film. The homo-erotic tension is NIGH UNBEARABLE, which is totally unrealistic. But then, I didn’t go to an all-boy’s boarding school. DANG.
Plot: Two teenagers methodically kill their peers. It’s a comedy.
M: I love this one. The dialogue is snappy, and the pitch black comedy is refreshingly pre-Columbine. We’ve got a war between a cynic and a nihilist. Both know the world is bullshit, but one wants to make it nicer, the other wants it dead.
A: But it has Winona Ryder in it.
M: I think, “why can’t you just be a friend? Why do you have to be such a mega-bitch?” is the quintessential high-school question.
A: But… Winona Ryder!
M: If you’re smart and socially savvy, you do need a cloak of irony or a shield of don’t-give-a-shit to make it through high school unscathed. Look past Winona Ryder and you’ve got a very sympathetic character in Veronica. Please look past Winona Ryder.
A: True. I circumvented my prejudice towards the simpering, angst-fawn that is Ryder and was rewarded. Even Christian Slater acquits himself well.
M: Christian Slater, your stupid face doesn’t come near to making nihilism attractive. Remember, kids: teenaged boys who wear black coats and read Nietzche aren’t cool, they’re just arrogant and unloved!
A: Heathers may be the most accurate depiction of high school on film in terms of tone and atmosphere. High school is claustrophobic, hellish and cruel. Aside from Veronica, everyone in the film is a caricature. However, these caricatures accurately represent many of the mindless CHUDs I went to high school with. As for Martha Dumptruck…
M: MARTHA DUMPTRUCK IS MY HERO.
A: She’s the troubled fat kid in all of us.