By Wade Rockett
SCOPE Magazine, September 1996
A few weeks ago the top brass at SCOPE contacted me about the possibility of doing a review of 80s teen movies, ones that in some way influenced the generation known as X, said something about the decade in which they were made, or were a watershed of some sort. Normally I am opposed to such blatant attempts at hastening the arrival of 80s nostalgia — I know for a fact that one of the editors of this magazine has a case of Flock Of Seagulls pins he is waiting to unload once the market’s right-but as the rent is due and I am momentarily short of funds, I reluctantly squeezed myself into a pair of parachute pants and a Sex Wax t-shirt and hobbled down to the video store.
The best place to start is with Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which kicked off this whole crazy mess. It remains one of the finest examples of the genre, due in a large part to stellar performances by the likes of Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The story involves a diverse group of high school students in search of love, the minimum wage, and a killer buzz. Director Amy Heckerling treats her characters as real human beings with complex emotions rather than one-dimensional stereotypes. These factors, along with an outstanding screenplay, have made Fast Times a pop culture landmark. Aloha, Mister Hand!
Sixteen Candles marks the first appearance of one of the great screen couples of the 80s, Molly Ringwald (the Gen-X Hayley Mills) and Anthony Michael Hall, appropriately listed in the credits as “the geek.” Ringwald’s efforts to cope with her family’s forgetting her sixteenth birthday, the amorous advances of the inept Hall, her crush on the Hunkiest Guy In School, and the invasion of her home by Chinese exchange student Long Duc Dong (Gedde Watanabe, who nearly walks off with the movie) are laugh-out-loud funny.
Seeing Footloose again will give you a serious edge the next time you play “Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon.”. Here Bacon co-stars with post-Square Pegs nerd, pre-sex symbol Sarah Jessica Parker, John Lithgow, Fame‘s Lori Singer, and Christopher Penn. The plot concerns a city boy’s battle against a small town’s narrow-minded ban on dancing. What could be an insipid tale of MTV-style rebellion is saved from total schlockdom by Bacon and Lithgow, who bring surprising depth to their roles. Footloose is also the quintessential “soundtrack film,” featuring the musical stylings of Kenny Loggins, Bonnie Tyler, Quiet Riot, Shalamar, and a duet between Mike (Loverboy) Reno and Ann (Heart) Wilson. Don’t miss the opening montage of 80s footwear in action and a brief explosion of breakdance fever at the climax!
Thank God some studio exec decided to crank out a movie to capitalize on the “valley girl” craze, because Valley Girl the movie is delightful. Nicholas Cage is perfect as a young punk who falls for Valley babe Julie, much to the consternation of her friends. She bows to peer pressure and dumps him, whereupon he relentlessly pursues her in a hilarious series of vignettes. (“Is this movie in 3-D?” “No, but your face is.”) It has a terrific soundtrack too, and a climactic performance by bubblegum vixen Josie Cotton. You really should see it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when I first saw it, but several repeat viewings later I began to get a bit uneasy. Finally I had to admit it: I hated Ferris Bueller. Here’s a spoiled, smirking rich kid who gloatingly uses his friends and family with little concern for anything other than his own immediate gratification. The story is that Ferris (Matthew Broderick) ditches school and drags his best friend along with him and is stalked throughout his wacky adventures by his enraged sister (Jennifer Grey) and an evil school functionary. Everyone in the world besides me loves this movie and you probably will too. Redeeming feature: you get to hear Sigue Sigue Sputnik‘s “Love Missile F1-11” again.
Michael’s staying out all night and sleeping all day. He wears sunglasses in the house, has begun talking back to his mother, and is hanging out with a new, rough crowd of kids. Is he on drugs? Close! The controlled substance Michael (Jason Patric) has been ingesting with Keifer Sutherland and Jamie Gertz is blood-they’re vampires, and are in the process of turning him into one. In addition to being one of the best vampire movies around, The Lost Boys is deeply important for its pairing of pubescent idols Corey Haim and Corey Feldman.
Haim’s character tips the viewer off pretty clearly that the producers have absolutely no clue about youth culture-how many 14-year-old boys do you know that wear fluffy bathrobes, “Born To Shop” t-shirts, and hang posters of a half-naked Rob Lowe in their rooms? (Also among the many double-take inducing moments is the vampires’ attack on a group of Mohawked punkers rocking out to Aerosmith.) Such goofiness aside, the vampire gang looks way bitchin’ in their black duds and earrings and if you look past the hair extensions and gold contacts you can spot Alex (Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure) Winter in the group.
You can’t go wrong with a comedy starring John Cusack, and here’s the one that made him a household name: The Sure Thing. More restrained than later Cusack outings, it’s a sweet romantic comedy in which he and uptight coed Daphne Zuniga are forced to hitchhike across the country together, eventually (of course) falling in love. See it with a date.
Man, when The Breakfast Club first came out I thought it was the most incredible movie in the world. It spoke to the core of my 17-year-old self. That was my life up there on the screen! So perhaps it isn’t surprising that it now makes my adult self want to crawl under a chair. TBC is an overwrought high school play starring Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald (again), Anthony Michael Hall (again), and Ally Sheedy as students from different social groups who are forced into detention for a day together by yet another evil school functionary. They overcome their differences, bare their souls, and unite against the Man.
I will give it points for pretty accurately depicting the rigid caste system that prevails in the high school halls, or did when I was a lad; and it holds a place in history as the first official “Brat Pack” movie. If you are currently a teenager, this film may still have the power to rock your world. If you’re an adult, you might empathize more with the janitor who shows up halfway through.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a way to get out of these damn pants. My legs have gone numb.