Apopular Twitter and Facebook game is to describe a classic movie in the most boring way possible. It’s easy to do with “The Breakfast Club” (1985): Five students spend eight hours in the school library. It’s such a boring premise that it seems like an Eighth Amendment violation for this quintet of high schoolers, and cruel and unusual punishment for viewers, too. But in the follow-up to his clunky directorial debut, “Sixteen Candles” (1984), writer-director John Hughes has learned how to make a diamond out of coal.
Here’s where it all begins: “Sixteen Candles” (1984) marks the start of John Hughes’ reign as a teen-cinema king and it’s the first of Molly Ringwald’s three Hughes films. I’m in the minority in finding it to be an inauspicious beginning. While Hughes’ directorial debut offers loads of talking points as it establishes tropes and popularizes the genre for a new generation, “Sixteen Candles” is a thin and sometimes even boring movie.
Some Kind of Wonderful” (1987) offers little we haven’t seen in other movies, but it has such heart and such an easygoing, naturalistic charm that it’s, well, some kind of wonderful little gem. Writer John Hughes and director Howard Deutch – in the second of their three collaborations – treat a teen love triangle and associated issues with the maturity and respectability of an adult romance film, eschewing big laughs. This is one of those “romantic comedies” that is much more of the former than the latter.
In 1998, I thought “Disturbing Behavior” was an elite portrayal of high school as a conformity factory, as that concept was a new discovery for me at the time. While the theme is now old hat, the movie still makes me smile as it meets at the intersection of blunt metaphor and derivative sci-fi warning but comes off as a dark comedy. It features a dizzying variety of performances in a tight 84 minutes, cut down by the studio into almost a trailer of itself. It’s a crystallization of 1998 (flannel), yet it exists in a parallel reality (“razor”). It’s not objectively great – and I can see why some people hate it — but it’s so fun to watch.
Being a “chick flick” and based on the 19th century Jane Austen novel “Emma,” “Clueless” (1995) isn’t usually cited when I and my friends discuss the core 1990s teen films. But 25 years after its release, the film’s (purposeful) agelessness and (inevitable) nostalgia remain effectively intertwined. It’s clear that writer-director Amy Heckerling’s film deserves a place alongside the likes of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Varsity Blues” and “American Pie.”
I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer” (2006) goes low-budget, low-talent and straight-to-video to wrap up the trilogy. Since it came out eight years after the second entry, I didn’t even notice this film’s existence at the time. When I noticed it years later, some curiosity percolated at the back of my mind about how the franchise continued after the first two films, both of which I liked.
Sleepaway Camp” (1983) is one of the most prominent lakeside summer camp slasher flicks in the wake of “Friday the 13th” (1980), and refreshingly its tone is nothing like “Friday the 13th.” If it were made today, maybe by Robert Rodriguez teaming up with David Robert Mitchell, we’d say it’s a masterful homage/parody to the style of the time. Writer-director Robert Hiltzik’s film is often technically bad, sometimes aimless, and inexplicably engrossing.
Stargirl” (Mondays on DC Universe; Tuesdays on CW) – one of 14 current TV series executive-produced by Greg Berlanti – falls into the category of what my buddy Michael calls “product”: something that exists for commercial rather than artistic reasons. That doesn’t mean it can’t be good, but this latest addition to the DC TV universe is as stiff as the Cosmic Staff wielded by its title character, teen Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged”).
With an unusually long gap between new Marvel Cinematic Universe releases, I decided to finally check out “Marvel’s Runaways” Season 1 (2017-18, Hulu). Now through three seasons, it’s part of the young-adult wing of the MCU, and I appreciate that it’s more colorful, sunnier (it’s set in Los Angeles, the opposite side of the continent from most MCU goings-on) and more fathomable than the other YA series, Freeform’s recently canceled “Cloak & Dagger.” It also has an amazing cast, but Season 1 has one big problem at its core.
All the Bright Places” (February, Netflix) walks a fine line. For some young viewers, it’ll be the best movie they’ve ever seen; for cynical older viewers, it’ll be a cliché-ridden bore fest. For me, it’s pretty much the best Gen-Z teen romance I’ve seen (Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are late-era millennials, but they play younger than their ages). There’s always the fear that modern teens will be off-puttingly self-centered and all-knowing, but I liked Fanning’s Violet and Smith’s Finch, and they are quite cute when going through the cliches.