Movie Quiz: How Clichéd Is Your Main Teen Character?

1. Appearance-wise, I can be described as:
a) Average
b) Plain but with great makeover potential
c) Attractive if I just upgraded my wardrobe and ditched the heavy eyeliner

2. My suburban house:
a) Is pretty unremarkable
b) Could not be picked out of a police lineup of neighborhood residences.
c) Has a flawless exterior, velvety green landscaping, a pool and a multi-car garage containing several expensive cars.

3. The climate can best be described as:
a) Warm in the summer months; cold in the winter
b) Sunny every morning; with birds chirping regardless of month
c) Always sunny and pleasant except when a tragedy is taking place

4. My parents’ various issues affect me in the form of:
a) Finding excuses to stay away from home
b) Twice a week sessions with a sympathetic shrink
c) Illegal and antisocial behavior that may bring me in contact with the law

5. My mom is newly single again, and she
a) Is working more than ever, since our family income has since decreased.
b) Asks me for tips on her dating site profile.
c) Has frank talks about exceedingly awkward subjects.

6. My crush:
a) Attends my school
b) Bisects my path once or twice a day.
c) Lives next door, and we used to run around the yard naked as toddlers

7. It’s my senior year, and I’m applying to:
a) A reach school and a couple of safeties
b) One school only, and it’s an Ivy League one
c) No schools in particular, I’m just going to decide what to do after graduation.

8. My attitude toward popularity is:
a) It is what it is.
b) College will be a great time to make up for my deficits in this area in high school.
c) Since it’s senior year, I’m going to make every minute count!

9. A classmate tells me there’s a big party, and I should go. Next, I
a) Ask when and where it will be.
b) Get the details online or from a friend.
c) Say, “Great!” because I automatically know all the particulars.

10. My favorite teacher __
a) Often chats with me about non-academic subjects.
b) Is so attractive that we may just breach age barriers to get together.
c) Gives me a long-term assignment that seems impossible, but in the end, has amazing relevance to my personal life.

11. Because my mom doesn’t want me to go out on the night of the party, I _____
a) Tell her I’ll be staying at a friend’s.
b) Sneak out by climbing down the trellis and get a ride from a friend.
c) Sneak out and decide to take the sports car that my dad loves more than me because why not complicate things needlessly?

12. When I finally get together with my crush, for our first date. I choose:
a) The movies or a family style restaurant.
b) A baseball game where I catch a fly ball and give it to my date.
c) A romantic dinner in my house complete with rose petals on the carpet and a gazillion lit candles.

13. For the prom, I ____
a) Rent/buy a normal looking outfit.
b) Go to the thrift shop and remake an outfit into something totally outrageous.
c) Not only wear an outrageous outfit but make an impromptu speech about values which is roundly applauded.

14. But just as everything is going great, I stumble upon what looks like some kind of encounter between my crush and my worst enemy. So I_
a) Take a deep breath and realize it’s probably nothing to get upset about.
b) Ask my crush later on in a rational way what’s going on.
c) Be immediately seized with a feeling of horror and doom, and decide to skip town by taking a plane to someplace far, far away.

15. As I prepare to board the plane, my biggest concern is___
a) Getting through security and finding my seat.
b) The weather conditions which are looking ominous.
c) My crush, who is attempting to get close enough to declare his/her eternal love.

16. And in the end,
a) I board and leave without incident.
b) I get a call, but because I am currently being frisked, I let it go to voice mail.
c) My crush succeeds in persuading the entire line of people boarding to let him/her go to the front and tell me that I am the only person in the world for him/her, whereupon everyone starts applauding, and we then live happily ever after.

If you answered mostly b’s and c’s, congratulations, you have succeeded in creating a classical teen movie cliché of a character.



A Look Back: The Breakfast Club

“Who do you think you are?”

It’s an inquiry often preceded by a “just,” and applied to everybody from the driver who broke a traffic infraction to a young person who has done something smart alecky or downright presumptuous. More confrontational than the other question that gets asked of young people a lot: i.e “What do you want to be when you grow up?” it may sound like a challenge or the start of an interrogation. Because kids and teens often have no idea where to start when it comes to replying. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t take it seriously, even if they’re not about to share the intricacies of the process with nosy adults.

When I was growing up, there were a set of strip malls downtown referred to collectively as a “Village.” The Village included a Burger King which had an outdoor playground on Astro-Turf, not asphalt like all the others of that decade, so it was harder to hurt yourself. There was a video arcade and a store where you had the option of selecting from over a hundred decals (!) in order to pick the perfect one that the staff would then iron on a t-shirt of your choosing. There was also the first video store in the area called Jasco’s. Jasco’s, run by an amiable but not creepily friendly man, was a site to which I made a pilgrimage at least once a week and the source of much of my early film education, including most of the teen classics directed and written by John Hughes.

I saw many such teen movies before I actually became one myself – it was sort of like being allowed to stay up and spy on the big kids. And while my family was not exactly from the wrong side of the tracks like “Pretty In Pink’s” Andie Walsh, neither was I friends with people who owned huge houses with in-ground pools and sports cars in the garage. (My friend’s dad did happen to be paranoid about anyone getting dirt in his car, but it was not a Ferrari or a Porsche.) Like John Hughes’ fictional Shermer, Illinois, my suburb was almost all Caucasian, but that’s where the similarities ended. Hughes’ teens existed in a parallel world where the figuring out who you were may have been a trip laced with embarrassment, pain and frustration, but it was also a place where magic could – and did happen. Dreams could come true – and connections could be made – even if they were just temporary. To me, that world was exotic – not just class-wise, but because it showed that clique boundaries were more fluid than I’d assumed.

“Sixteen Candles,” is a classic Cinderella story, and “Pretty in Pink,” is also about a girl who gets to go to the ball, despite all the obstacles placed in her way. However, the third film of the trio, “The Breakfast Club,” is set on a Saturday in an upper middle class suburban high school. At the start, we see five students arrive for all-day detention: Molly Ringwald (the princess), Emilio Estevez (the athlete), Judd Nelson (the criminal), Anthony Michael Hall (the brain), and Ally Sheedy (the “basket case.”) Stone-faced Principal Vernon (Paul Gleason) faces them down, informing them that by the day is through, they must compose an essay telling him who they think they are. Then he leaves them to their own devices.

Bit by bit, the characters break the silence. They doodle. They fidget. Ally draws an elaborate picture with her dandruff. Judd hones right onto Molly and starts baiting her. Then somehow, they’re talking. Soon they’re forming an alliance of sorts against the principal, who’s portrayed as far more sinister that “Ferris Bueller’s” Principal Rooney. Eventually, one inquires why another is in detention, which leads to a mutual opening up on the subject of parents, peers and cliques. The only outside ally comes in the form of the school janitor (John Kapelos), who stops by to offer some advice. By the end, they’ve made alliances – though if they will last until next Monday remains to be seen. Unlike Ferris, the five characters did not know what they were getting into when they woke up that morning, but by the end, even though the world is still an imperfect place, it feels a little less unforgiving and lonely.

“The Breakfast Club,” is missing many of the staples of films about young people. There are no car chases or crashes, no prom drama, no raucous house parties or big dances. Sex is freely discussed, but there’s little of it actually taking place. Instead there’s mostly sitting and talking – taking place within a contained environment (so arranged because Hughes was not used to directing at the time), an original high school which was rented for the set. The drama is psychic and the danger psychological, but that makes for a movie every bit as absorbing as one with the more traditional staples. “It’s unavoidable,” Ally Sheedy’s Allison says at one point, “…When you grow up, your heart dies.” Hughes proved by this movie that his heart was far from dead, and for the generation he made it (and for generations to come), he made sure that at least some of us would purposely try to avoid that fate.

Movie Review: Everybody Wants Some!!

If you’ve seen the trailer for Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” you’ll experience deja vu when you hear the opening beats of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” as the film begins. “My Sharona,” while a potent earworm, is an excellent song to use if you want your characters to do something mellow but determined, such as dance around a convenience store with your friends (like Winona Ryder and co. did in “Reality Bites”) or head off to your freshman year of college, as Jake (Blake Jenner) does. Blake’s coolness quotient was already high with me, considering he arrives at Texas Southeast University (not absolutely sure if that’s the name of the place) in a car of his own, a milk crate of sweet eighties’ era albums, and no parents in tow – but to the upperclassmen who share his house (donated to the school for the baseball team to use due to dorm overcrowding), he’s a fresh-face newbie in need of some serious schooling in the ways of this new world. That includes Wyatt Russell, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Jonathan (as the token black guy), who take Blake under their wing, as well as the other freshmen. The movie focuses on the precious free time before classes begin, which they fill with drinking, getting high, clubbing, getting lucky (at least sometimes), and all the other things that their parents would disapprove of. The single authority figure present is their new coach, who makes a token speech about avoiding drinking and girls (at least in the house itself), but then conveniently disappears for most of the film.

Blake is unfortunate enough to get the world’s worst roommate ever (the humorless country hick Will Brittain), but has better luck bonding with some of his other teammates, who scoff at his desire to unpack and take him out for a drive around the school, where they attempt to impress various coeds with their manliness by inviting them to a party. One young woman (Zoey Deutch) catches the eye of Blake, though it will take awhile before the two get together. Zoey is a first year drama major, and she and Blake eventually commiserate over the fact that now they are just little fish in a big pond, so to speak. But before they have a chance to start bonding, Blake is whisked off to a series of clubs and parties, each featuring a different theme. In his down time, he hangs out with his teammates, competing in just about everything, including Ping-Pong. He also gets high with his newfound buddies, led by Willoughby (Wyatt Russell), who treats them to his thoughts on Van Halen, life and mind-reading with the conviction that Rory Cochrane displayed in “Dazed and Confused,” when explaining what a hip lady Martha Washington was. Eventually, they begin baseball practice and start actual classes, and though J. Quinton Jonathan informs them that they are each on their own now, it seems likely that they will remain close – or close-ish.

I was a little worried that there were going to be lots of hazing scenes, a la “Dazed and Confused,” but there’s just the one featured in the trailer (“Freshmen batting practice!”), plus Linklater knows that any resentment can quickly dissipate after everyone gets together to cool off (literally). Like that movie, there’s lots of philosophizing, though except for Zoey, there aren’t any developed female characters here. Still, there are a few hints that Linklater is poking gentle fun at this crew, such as when one finally succeeds with a girl, who responds to his claim that he’s the strong silent type with definite interest. The characters may not always express themselves in the most eloquent of ways, but they’re very right when they point out that college is all about finding who you are, or as Zoey puts it, “having the courage to look dumb.” As another tells Will who’s steamed at being the butt of a joke, everyone has moments when they’re a chump, and the thing to do is just accept your chump-ness and move on.

A Look Back: Rushmore

When you think of adolescent outsiders on film, the last quality you expect them to have is boundless school spirit, but that’s just the case for “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), who’s a member of every society on his private school campus, including the Beekeeper’s Society. “Sharp little guy,” comments Bill Murray, after he gives a chapel talk and is waylaid by Jason afterwards (trailed by his young chapel partner, Mason Gamble). “And he’s failing everything,” replies the headmaster (Brian Cox), who isn’t (like most private school headmasters on film) portrayed as a one-dimensional prick. “Rushmore,” directed by Wes Anderson, who co-wrote it with Owen Wilson, is a bit of an odd school – there’s none of the adult stock characters you’d expect, including the inspirational teacher. Well, actually there’s a teacher (Olivia Williams) who attracts the attention of both Jason and Bill, and she does inspire them – but not exactly to greater scholastic and moral heights. “Rushmore” features a main character who is a playwright, and the movie itself takes place in three acts.

Bill has three sons, two of whom are twins Jason’s age, and who do not respect, connect with, or even like their father (the fact that he gave them rhyming first names may have something to do with it). When he asks if Jason will be attending their party, one points out in disgust that there will be girls there. But Jason actually has more serious problems than lack of social assets, as he is called into the headmaster’s office early on and informed that he is a class away from flunking out of Rushmore, to which he wound up receiving a scholarship based on a play he wrote. Jason may look like your typical movie dork, but he has cojones of brass – suggesting that Brian add the option of a post-graduate year so that he won’t have to leave the school. But he gets distracted when he finds a library book which leads him to try and arrange for an aquarium to be built for Olivia. He also manages to keep Latin from being dropped from the curriculum.

Bill, who is tapped to fund the project and is shown in the ultimate movie symbolism of submerging himself underwater in his pool, finds himself falling for Olivia, too, and soon he and Jason engage in a series of one-upmanship pranks, which lead to Jason leaving the school and having to go to a public one. Undeterred, Jason continues to stalk Olivia, who has a nice doctor boyfriend (Luke Wilson) already. But eventually, both Jason and Bill reconcile and do some growing up. Jason writes and directs another play, which makes a coda to the film, and even finds an age-appropriate love interest (Sara Tanaka). The film ends with a dance, but not the typical high school prom that would appear in a mainstream movie.

“Rushmore” does not have any scenes where the hero gets up in front of his peers and makes a speech about values because it isn’t always necessary for this to happen in order for the viewer to realize that the character has grown and changed. Instead, Bill and Jason, who at times appear identical in age and maturity, take some steps back and then finally, a few forward. Jason greets the audience of the play with the news that there are earplugs available if anyone needs them during the presentation, introduces his father as a non-neurosurgeon, and even apologizes to Sara for being a jerk. So the film does end, after all, on an optimistic note.



A Look Back: The Wedding Singer

Typically, the movies over-represent certain professions (lawyer, inspirational teacher/coach, undercover agent), but under-represent certain others. Fortunately, “The Wedding Singer,” picks up the slack for anyone wondering just what the qualifications and duties are of that titular subject. “The Wedding Singer,” stars Adam Sandler in a film where he plays a grownup, not an overgrown man-child – or at least someone who’s stumbling toward adulthood. The movie features an engaging co-star/love interest (Drew Barrymore), wacky high jinx, a message about drinking responsibly, a George Michael lookalike (Alexis Arquette), a cameo by Billy Idol and a rapping granny – an assortment of ingredients that actually make for a pretty good movie.

Being a wedding singer, judging from Adam’s performance, seems to require a sense of rhythm, a backup band, a quick wit, and a cool head in emergencies, such as when the brother of the groom (Steve Buscemi) imbibes a little too much champagne and proceeds to make a speech humiliating the groom and the groom’s dad. Luckily, Adam is right there to intercept and save the situation. After all, he, too, knows the thrill of having found that certain someone (Angela Featherstone), to whom he is about to wed. Alas, this goes awry, and he tastes the sting of rejection. Fortunately, there’s his new friend (Drew), a perky waitress who he meets at a gig, and who is also betrothed, but as per movie rule, to a complete prick (Matthew Glave). Not only does he go window shopping when his fiancé is busy getting sick in the club bathroom, but has the last name of “Gulia”. Drew’s character is named Julia. So it’s not a match made in heaven.

The movie follows the typical romantic comedy commandment, i.e. There shall be a series of misunderstandings that keep the two main characters from consummating their relationship until the end when one partner expresses his or her feelings in an over-the-top way. After Adam visits a bank in the hopes of getting a more stable job (he likes money, so figures it’s the perfect fit), and fails, he takes drastic action by hijacking a plane and declaring his love to Drew via song. This works beautifully (the film is set pre-9-11), as Drew doesn’t really want to spend the rest of her life watching people suppress snickers when she introduces herself. Will Adam keep his job as a wedding singer? Well, whatever happens, it’s likely, they’ll both live happily ever after.

A Look Back: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

When I was in junior high, we read T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” about the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. A few years later, I saw “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a movie which like the book, had ample slapstick, parody and satire about a king and his band of questing knights who ultimately proved to be neither brave, chaste or loyal. The book’s characters are often gullible but steadfast when they believe something to be false. When witnessing the wizard Merlin’s magic, young King Arthur’s guardian explains, “They do it with mirrors,” and when the movie knights gaze in awe at Camelot in the distance, one of their servants stage whispers, “It’s a model.” The book’s characters also are good at coming up with ridiculous explanations on the fly – one explains Robin Hood wears green because he is mourning an aunt who fell out of a tree, which neatly deflects curiosity about him – a line which would not be out of place in “MP and the Holy Grail.”

The movie starts with subtitles that aren’t subtitled properly, followed by the explanation that the people responsible for the subtitles have been sacked. And so forth. When the movie finally begins, we see King Arthur (Graham Chapman) riding across the plains. On second look, he (and the other characters) “ride” like a little kid plays horse – with one arm held in front while galloping on foot – the hoof beats simulated by a servant banging coconuts. It’s not long before we see that the King doesn’t command much respect from his subjects when he encounters several peasants – one of whom boldly points out that he isn’t even on a horse. The King, however, after several false starts, manages to recruit several knights: Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-As-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, and so on to accompany him on his search for the Holy Grail, as ordered by a disembodied Head of God, who greatly dislikes groveling and isn’t shy about saying so. The crew (Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones) sets off and meets various challenges (also played by the crew and others). On the way to their goal, they learn several important lessons. (They also maintain the illusion that they are on horses until the end command to “Dis-mount!”)

1. Being dead is just a state of mind. Characters insist that they aren’t technically dead but are ignored because they soon will be. Or perhaps not, as in the case of a messenger who survives an arrow wound, but can’t quite convince the knight he serves who gallops off on a quest and leaves him behind. Being dead is also an experience shaped by rank – one notes that the deceased must be a king, “because he hasn’t got any shit on him.” Being defeated is also a state of mind – as in the case of the Black Knight who loses all his limbs but insists that he’s going to keep fighting.

2. It’s tough being a woman in the Middle Ages. A group of over-excited villagers drags a woman up to a knight explaining that she’s a witch. Why? She turned one of them into a newt. Or so says a perfectly normal looking man. An absurd discussion of what makes a witch a witch follows, with the villagers having to be poked and prodded into giving the correct replies.

3. Knowing trivia can save your life, but not always in the ways you might expect. At the film’s end, the knights are forced to answer a series of riddles in order to cross the fearsome Bridge of Doom, otherwise they are hurled into a canyon. The wizard doesn’t appear to know the difference between opinions and facts (he asks them what their favorite colors are), but winds up being ejected into the pit himself when he fails to clarify a final question.

4. Sometimes friends’ help is worse than no help. Sir Galahad stumbles upon a castle of eager, nubile young maidens, all of whom are eager to be spanked, but before he can oblige, the other knights rush in and bear him away un-molested. Surprisingly, Sir Galahad is less than grateful.

5. When in major danger, it’s best to retreat. This happens frequently, as the heroes deal with such trauma as a mocking French soldier, a flying cow, an animated dragon and a bloodthirsty rabbit. Which leads them to lesson 6.

6. Sometimes it’s best to bring in the big guns. When none of the knights prove able to tame said rabbit, they decide to fetch the Holy Hand Grenade which does the job nicely. Until characters from the present show up and interfere with their journey. And the credit-less credits finally roll.

Movie Review: The Boss

So this morning, I heard two DJs on the radio discussing new releases.

First: “This week we have ‘The Boss’ opening…”

Second: “Bruce Springsteen has a movie out?!”

Now that would probably have been a better movie than this one. If you want to describe as a hybrid, you could sum it up as “Troop Beverly Hills” meets every generic redemption Hollywood movie ever made. Like eating green eggs and ham, there are a number of ways an egocentric movie character can seek redemption. For example, Will Ferrell (who produced “The Boss”) has sought redemption on the racetrack (“Talladega Nights”), on the ice (“Blades of Glory”) and on the baseball field (“Kicking and Screaming”). Here, Melissa McCarthy, who co-wrote the movie along with director Ben Falcone, plays a Martha Stewart-ish self-made businesswoman, Michelle Darnell, who overcomes being raised in an orphanage (though the nuns don’t exactly resemble Miss Hannigan) to make it to the top but who’s been left with a pathological fear of closeness. If you’ve seen the trailer, or even just caught part of it, you have basically seen the whole movie – although they do leave out an exciting showdown involving samurai swords, two Dobermans and a high rise.

As is common in such films, Melissa loses everything that matters to her in a comically short period of time. “What? It’s just insider trading – everybody does it!” she protests, as she’s manhandled into a cop car, directly after being humiliated on a TV interview. But she gets sentenced to the same place that Leo DiCaprio did in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and so is out fairly soon. Melissa can, in fact, convincingly play an ordinary person on film (“St. Vincent”), but here she’s fully in her usual mode: raunchy, klutzy and over the top. “The Boss” co-stars another refuge from hit TV nineties shows, Kristen Bell, who plays Melissa’s long-suffering assistant, and who winds up letting Melissa crash at her place after Melissa is released from prison. Kristen has a refreshingly normal-looking/acting preteen daughter (Ella Anderson), who bonds with Melissa, while her mother is at work, dealing with an even worse boss and a nebbishly cute colleague who really wants to date her. Ella and Melissa attend Ella’s Dandelion Troop meeting, and after learning how low their cookie sales are, Melissa decides to start a “brownie empire,” using a recipe of Kristen’s. But trouble will rear its head in the form of a Dandelion mother who doesn’t take kindly to having her troop members “poached,” and an ex-flame/rival (Peter Dinklage) also is itching to take Melissa down.

The venture is an instant success, but of course, there needs to be friction, including the kind of misunderstanding that happens all the time in such movies. Melissa ends up dueling for her life, after she, Kristen and the boyfriend break into Peter’s place for contrived movie reasons. Hence the samurai sword fight. “The Boss,” shares some similarities to “Tammy,” mainly a main character who could have been a lot wittier than the script lets her, a cameo by Kathy Bates, and the mention of Doritos. I have to admit that if this is intentional product placement, it’s woven very well into the movie. Otherwise, this movie has some funny parts but isn’t the kind of thing you’d want to watch again and again.