The best days of our lives?

Perhaps it’s because they’re such a sharp contrast to my own school days, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to American high school movies. From the moment I first watched Grease (July 18th 1993), I was intrigued by this world so different to my own – the lack of uniforms, the presence of boys, the hordes of students, strange cliques, tall lockers – it was like another planet.

RIP Heath…

Many of my all-time favourite films fit into the genre, with several coming out in 1999 –  the year I left school forever. It was a particularly good year for the genre, producing three classics:
Cruel Intentions  – for years I argued with a friend about this being a good film, he always insistent that Dangerous Liaisons was vastly superior. Having finally seen it, I agree that the latter is an excellent film, but of a different genre and therefore doesn’t need to be superior.
10 Things I Hate About You – an utter classic and featuring the scene for which Heath Ledger will always be remembered in my mind. Plus, it sparked an ambition to play drums on the top of a very tall building overlooking the ocean. To quote a Twitter friend for whom it’s also a favourite: “one day a man will commission a brass band for me too…” – my hopes exactly!
Election – A much darker example of the genre, containing possibly the best performance by Reese Witherspoon until Walk the Line came along. Her character is mean and manipulative, masked by a goody-goody exterior, and drives her Civics teacher (Matthew Broderick) into a mid-life crisis.

The 1980s obviously brought us John Hughes’ classics – if you’ve only seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off then watching the rest of his work is essential. The Breakfast Club is possibly THE high school movie of the decade and has inspired so many take-offs and re-interpretations (Dawson’s Creek and ER both have episodes inspired by it and I vaguely recall a Family Guy involving a flannel shirted Judd Nelson); Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles are grittier and more realistic than the somewhat fantastical Bueller and help you understand why Molly Ringwald was so highly regarded at the time. An honourable 80’s mention should also go to Heathers, truly the darkest of all high school movies and possibly Winona Ryder’s finest moment – any film that manages to combine croquet with multiple teenage deaths ranks highly in my book!

Others that would be up there include:
Mean Girls
Bring it On (possibly the best cheerleading film ever).
Say Anything (can’t believe I only saw this for the first time last year).

Scream & Scream 2

Anyway, there was a point to this listing – last week I found a new film to add to the list. Easy A was an early addition to my LoveFilm rental list thanks to an enthusiastic review by Mark Kermode. A Dr K approval on a high school movie meant that I had high expectations that I hoped to be realised – and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s clever, it’s a bit offbeat, it has potential to be ‘worthy’ yet doesn’t overdo it, it has Lisa Kudrow in the cast and has some dorky Christians – fabulous. Olive suddenly finds herself portrayed as the school slut after rumour gets round about how she spent her weekend – they think she slept with a college guy when in fact she was home alone being the nerd that she is. It spirals out of control and leads to some interesting ethical situations that are dealt with in an unusually non-schmaltzy American way.

The main reason why Easy A got me reminiscing about my favourite genre is because it deliberately references several of the classics. For example:

“Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80’s movies? I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from Sixteen Candles waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80’s movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life.” [I concur]

The sharp intelligent wit reminded me of Juno, but I enjoyed the film a whole lot more. Similarly serious issues, yet handled in a very different way. [This is a controversial opinion, but I’m really not a fan of Juno. Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched it for the first time in an edited form on a Royal Brunei Airways flight, but I’ve now watched it four times and still haven’t been converted. Love the soundtrack though.]

High school movies remind us of the best of times and the worst of times. We remember why we don’t really ever want to be a teenager again and that people were always lying when they said our time at school would be ‘the best days of your life’; and ultimately, we convince ourselves that we’d probably have had a much more interesting time of it had we grown up State-side – we wouldn’t, none of it is real.

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