BY ADRIANA FLORIDIA
Teen movies aren’t always blockbuster hits, but they definitely resonate with an audience who need to see reflections (or exaggerations) of their own chaotic, drama-filled lives on screen. There are many prominent teen films that would strike your mind in an instant when the topic is mentioned, such as Mean Girls, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club or Easy A. However, there are many teen films that at times are miles better than the “classic” high school drama that many do not know about. Here, we highlight five titles that need to be recognized as the thought-provoking, hilarious and impacting films that they are.
Film-noir meets teen drama in Rian Johnson’s ambitious crime film, Brick. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenager who is thrust into an underworld of guns and drugs when his ex-girlfriend goes missing, Brick is a film that mixes genre in a daring way that can introduce young viewers to a different kind of mystery film. Brick may not be your typical teenage thriller but it presents itself in a way that throws back to a time that most teenagers would not be familiar with. Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries the film and demonstrates why director Rian Johnson is a frequent collaborator with him, as the two also worked together on 2013’s Looper. For fans of crime, drama, mystery and murder, Brick places a younger group of criminals and victims as the focus and it is a mystery worth unraveling.
A teacher’s life is turned upside down in Election, a satirical telling of a high school election season. Featuring one of the most prominent teen characters in recent memory and, arguably, Reese Witherspoon’s best performance, Tracy Flick is a go-getter on a whole other level. Her ambition is unparalleled and slightly frightening as she competes in her high school student election. Dark, sharp and over-the-top, Alexander Payne’s adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel is one of the director’s best, and yet many teenagers are unaware of it. Although the film is not particularly suited to younger audiences, it is still a relevant and witty insight into the politics of high school.
Richard Ayoade’s debut film, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, is the quirky and sweet story of Oliver Tate’s life. His goals are not too far off from any teenage boy, which are mainly just to find out about what has gone wrong with his parent’s love life, and to try and fulfill his own. This British film is quirky and original, with on-the-nose dialogue that is both laugh out loud funny and endearing. Oliver is a protagonist that anyone can relate to and his narration of the film gives the audience all the more reason to root for him. The film is not just groundbreaking in terms of teen comedy, but it is also the stamp of a fresh director whose style is refreshing and full of potential. Richard Ayoade, who some may know as Maurice Moss on the British comedy show The IT Crowd, shows that he is multi-talented, and this year’s The Double will be further proof of that. Featuring a beautiful soundtrack from the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner, memorable performances and vivid direction, Submarine is deserving of a much broader audience than it currently has.
2) Mysterious Skin
Following two teenage boys who are related in a disturbing and unknown way, Mysterious Skin is a dark portrait of the loss of childhood innocence. A haunting film by director Greg Araki, the two leads in this film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet deliver unforgettable performances as two radically different teenage boys; Neil is a hustler and Brian is a confused introvert who suffers from blackouts and is obsessed with alien abduction. Dealing with pedophilia, rape, homosexuality and disability among other striking themes, Mysterious Skin dares to go where most teen films don’t, which may explain why it is so under the radar. This is a film that stays with you long after viewing, as its disturbing scenes and blatant storytelling is hard hitting. The ending of the film will leave a mark, and a Sigur Ros song has rarely been so expertly used in a film. Mysterious Skin is for the brave young viewer, but is highly worthwhile.
My personal favourite teen film of all time, Margaret delivers possibly the most realistic depiction of what it is like to be a confused teenager grappling with her own purpose through Lisa Cohen, a girl who’s life loses meaning after she inadvertently causes a bus accident. Available in two versions, a theatrical cut and an extended version, no matter how you watch Margaret it is bound to be a profound experience. The film went through problems during production which lead it to an extremely limited release, making it criminally under seen. Despite this, I urge everyone to seek out the film, as it offers the differing perspectives between teenagers and adults when tragedy strikes. Anna Paquin gives a marvel of a performance among a cast filled with talent and the film balances its authenticity through a broader scope of alluding to an opera, making it epic and realistic at the same time. The film deals with existential issues from the perspective of a teenage girl, showing how being faced with death and guilt can misguide a child’s life. The teenagers in this film are all such developed characters who are smart but in over their heads and dealing with very mature issues. Arguably, no screenplay has ever captured the complex nature of adolescence as Margaret has.
Adriana Floridia is a girl who has been passionate about film her whole life. Get to know her on Twitter @adrifloridia.