The rise of the teen movie in the era of millenials
A lot has changed since “Sixteen Candles” first hit the big screen both culturally and cinematically. I’m the first to admit I’ve never been a fan of just about anything John Hughes brought to cinemas both in terms of cinematic style and thematic content.
His obsession with purity and the absolutely phony way he portrayed teen life in the 80s makes me almost physically ill, but his films became a cultural touchstone with middle class white people and as such they serve as a great reference point to the coming of age films of today.
The revolution probably begins before “Juno,” but that’s when most began paying attention so let’s start there. The film is written by a woman which, spoiler alert, helps a whole bunch and stars a woman who isn’t vilified for having sex before marriage. You can trace that forward through all sorts of films with female leads who may not be “strong” in the traditional, cinematic sense but at least feel real all the way to 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen” starring Hailee Steinfeld.
These films have a lot in common, but one thing that stands in common? A female writer. “Seventeen” is directed by its writer, while “Juno” was directed by Jason Reitman. Regardless, stories told through the lens of a woman that are also shot by a woman have a leg up on those shot by a man. That shouldn’t be a controversial take and yet it seems like it is in 2017. That’s not a knock on Hughes as much as it’s a credit to where the genre is now — though we still have a long way to go.
The diversity has improved; “Seventeen” features a minority character in a lead role but it’s still exceptionally white. That’s something not unique to Hughes, but the films of his era were very male-centric — even the ones starring females. So we’re moving in the right direction, even if it’s happening too slowly.
Most frustrating about Hughes’ films is the overwhelming softness of them. Think of the 1980s and your favorite film of the era. “Terminator,” or “Predator” or the other action films that highlight the era — those stand in stark contrast to Hughes’ teen films. You know, the films starring teenagers who were watching the films I just mentioned. The teenagers who didn’t swear in his films and didn’t have sex and didn’t smoke.
I’m not saying sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll is the only way to tell a coming of age story, but Hughes’ refusal to use them is a despicable whitewashing of the decade. If nothing else, we’ve moved to an era where stories can be told more authentically than ever before. We still have a long way to go, but more so than ever before I feel like we can get there.