READ| 26 April 2021

Text: Celine Lika
Title Photo: arianta via flickr

Just a heads-up, the following is essentially a love letter full of nerdy references to the best thing that cinema has ever produced: teen rom coms.

As you can probably tell already, I’m a real junkie. I guess you could even call me a teen movie connoisseur. Snuggling up on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn, a cup of tea, and a teenage rom com – my idea of a perfect night in. Since university has started again, I so prefer watching these films over studying. Who gives a damn about academic texts when you can stare into Paul Rudd’s (aka Josh in Clueless) incredibly green eyes?

However, I don’t really go bragging to everybody about my passion for teen movies. And if I do tell someone, I usually refer to them as my ‘guilty pleasure’, laugh and shrug it off. After all, I want to let the person I’m talking to know that I’m fully aware there’s something embarrassing about watching these kinds of films as an adult. But why? Why do I have to be ashamed of enjoying What a Girl Wants more than some intellectual film like Cloud Atlas? (Does anyone even understand this film anyway?)   

What a Girl Wants Trailer

Well, haters of teen movies – those poor people must live such miserable and empty lives – often argue that many of the storylines are unrealistic or don’t make sense at all. Unfortunately, I have to agree with them to some degree. One thing that’s been bugging me for over 10 years is how no one recognises Sam aka Hilary Duff at the fancy-dress ball in A Cinderella Story. Her tiny mask barely covered anything – just open your eyes, Austin Ames! Remember when Viola impersonated her brother in She’s the Man? Literally the worst disguise ever. Don’t even get me started on how Drew Barrymore’s 25-year-old character in Never Been Kissed gets away with posing as a high school student – and with dating her teacher. Needless to say, no one’s legally persecuted for any of this.

Another problematic event that should definitely have legal consequences happens in Sixteen Candles. Suffering from period cramps on her wedding day, the protagonist’s sister overdoses on muscle relaxers. Instead of postponing the wedding, the stumbling, barely conscious bride is practically carried down the aisle. Cringeworthy. What’s particularly annoying to me as someone who loves to eat is how teenagers in these films have an incredible breakfast, but they only ever grab a strawberry and rush off to school. Such a waste of perfect pancakes – it pains me every single time.

Sure, teen rom coms are not the most intellectually demanding films to watch – or are they? Many of them are actually based on classic literature and are full of clever references to the originals. For example, 10 Things I Hate about You and She’s the Man are teen adaptations of plays by Shakespeare, while Easy A is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Similarly, Clueless is a modernised version of Jane Austen’s Emma, set in 1990s Beverly Hills. So, to an English student like me, watching teen films is basically a form of studying.

Another criticism of teen movies is that they’re cliché and predictable. True enough, there are a few scenes that can be found in almost every teen movie. The prom scene, for example. It’s usually a pretty big deal for the characters and the plot. There’s also often a makeover scene, which either shows a girl just dressing up nicely and putting on some makeup or someone getting an entirely new look. Afterwards, there’s a 250 percent chance that said girl slowly comes down a staircase, while her love interest is admiring her. To be honest, these are my favourites. Take The Princess Diaries, for example, and, of course, She’s All That – ugh, what I’d do to wear Mia’s dresses or have young Freddie Prinze Jr. looking at me like that.  

Freddie Prinze Jr.
Credit: Athena LeTrelle via flickr

Not only are scenes often formulaic, but also many characters in teen movies embody certain stereotypes. We’ve all seen the athlete who’s the most popular guy in school, the stoner who just wants to chill out, the troublemaker who doesn’t fit in, the nice nerd, and the ‘ugly’ girl wearing glasses (she often gets a makeover that involves taking off said glasses). These characters belong to different groups of students, who sit at separate tables in the school cafeteria. Can members of different groups be friends? (Cher Horowitz voice:) Ugh, as if! Of course, no teen movie is complete without that popular clique of three girls walking in slow motion in a triangular formation with their hair being blown back. What happens to these characters is totally predictable, too. The mean ‘it girl’ always gets what she deserves, while the former outcast girl gets either the most popular guy at school, or the troublemaker who’s actually nice, or the guy who’s been her best friend all along.

So yes, these films are nothing like real life – which is exactly what makes them so great. The world of teen movies is a simple and wholesome one, where a happy ending is something you can actually rely on. When I put on To All the Boys I Loved Before, unrealistic and predictable is exactly what I’m looking for. We all knew from the start that shy Lara Jean and popular Peter would end up together. But aren’t we all in need of a perfect happy ending sometimes? The real world can be dreadful enough, and we all deserve a small escape every now and then. Jenna will always kiss her best friend Josh in the end of 13 Going on 30, no matter how messed up things might be in our own lives. That is why teen rom coms make us feel good.

In fact, they make us feel something, no matter how cliché and unrealistic they can be. They make us laugh – when self-tanner turns Georgia’s legs bright orange, and she tries to impress her crush with a handstand in the pool in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. They make us cry – when Gabriella and Troy break up in High School Musical 2 because she ‘gotta go her own way’. And they make us sigh – when Josie is finally kissed for the first time ever in Never Been Kissed. I always get emotional watching these films. They’re sometimes so painfully real and remind us of our own glorious teenage years. The highs and lows of first love, arguing with your mum who just doesn’t seem to understand you at all, as seen in Freaky Friday, and singing ‘Angels’ whilst completely wasted at the end of a party like they do in Wild Child. Finally, there are overwhelming scenes like the ending of The Breakfast Club, when John punches his fist in the air, and ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ starts playing. Anyone else getting goosebumps?

Besides, our favourite teen movies taught us countless indispensable life lessons. Such as, there's nothing that a bit of shopping can't fix. Carrying a huge Christian Dior shopping bag, Cher from Clueless finally realises that she's ‘majorly, totally, butt crazy in love with Josh’. Remember Mean Girls and The Duff? Women shouldn’t try to bring other women down, but rather stick together, because ‘calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter’, just like being surrounded by beautiful women doesn’t make you less beautiful. If people do decide to talk shit about you, then own the gossip like Olive does in Easy A. Who cares what other people think?

Teen movies also come in handy whenever you’re in desperate need for fashion inspiration. Cher in Clueless, enough said. You could also copy one of the iconic 80s looks from Pretty in Pink or put on a plaid schoolgirl skirt. Cry Baby and Grease taught us that a black leather jacket with a white t-shirt and blue jeans always works. Don’t forget that, ‘on Wednesdays, we wear pink’, though. After all, Legally Blonde and Mean Girls have proved how powerful this colour is.

So, in the future, I won’t be embarrassed anymore. Instead, I’ll proudly admit, ‘I LOVE teen movies!’ Whatever it is about them, they just never lose their charm. I can rewatch them over and over again, and they don’t get boring. In fact, I could listen to Kat reading her poem about the 10 things she ‘hates’ about Patrick a 100 times and I'd still cry like a baby. That’s the magic of teen movies.

Heath Ledger
Credit: teadrinker via flickr