I know most schools started a couple weeks ago but it’s September and to me the mindset of “Back to School” lasts the whole month. We’ve finally bid adieu to the films of summer and even those of us who don’t have to return to a classroom still feel the change in mood. With that, I’m dedicating this week to my Top Five Films for Back to School.
5. Mean Girls (2004)
A sharply funny and smart film about the crazy (and evil) world of teenage girls. This has become such a classic for my generation, with it’s memorable quotes and iconic characters. While the story may be over-the-top in some areas, the basic meanness of the teenage girls is not exaggerated. High school was about survival for a lot of people. Trying to go through the day to day without attracting the attention of someone who could ruin your life for the next four years. Regina George is every teenage girl’s nightmare and dream. How do you avoid the Queen Bee while at the same time try to become her?
4. Dazed and Confused (1993)
While it is actually about the end of the school year and the anticipation of an awesome summer, it also deals with the stresses of high school and the expectations we try to live up to or escape (okay, I may be stretching it a little). It’s mostly about partying and embracing the joys and carefreeness of youth but the whole Randall “Pink” Floyd storyline adds a little conflict to the film. While he is angry about having to sign a contract agreeing to stop his partying ways, Pink also grapples with his desire to continue playing football. Does he compromise his morals and sign the contract, or does he give up the chance to live the dream year of a high school senior and throw the contract back in the coach’s face? That’s the puzzle that is high school. You struggle to find your place and once you’ve found it (if you’re that lucky), you fight to keep it, and even question whether or not it’s the right place.
3. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
The film that introduced Heath Ledger to many young girls’ hearts. It’s hard to go wrong when your original source material is courtesy of William Shakespeare. This updating of “The Taming of the Shrew” takes the Bard’s story to high school. The film deals with the usual drama of the teenage life (love, popularity, siblings, friendship, etc.) but adds a bit of flair with the occasional biting Shakespearean language. I didn’t know anyone in high school that was as composed or loquacious as some of the teens on screen but that didn’t stop me from enjoying or relating to the movie. The actors are all perfect for the slightly over dramatic tone of the film, the story is nicely adapted to fit a modern atmosphere, and the issues are still relevant, even today. Plus, how can you not like a film that has Allison Janney as a guidance counselor who moonlights as a trashy romance novelist?
2. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The ultimate high school clique film. No list of school-related movies would be complete without this John Hughes classic about five mismatched students spending a Saturday detention together. Hughes reached a perfection with many of his films that filmmakers have been trying to duplicate ever since. The issue is that it is very hard, if not impossible, to recreate something so wonderful and few people are talented enough to do so. Hughes knew how to write good characters and when to step back and let the story sit on its own. Ending the film where it did, and not exploring the consequences of that day in detention in the following week at school, makes it more enchanting. Don’t destroy the charm of the characters and their story by over complicating and extending it. And the voice over at the end doesn’t feel cheesy (as some cynical people would have you believe) but instead demonstrates the unabashed mindset of the time that emotions and sentiment were to be embraced and celebrated rather than buried.
1. National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Now that I’ve been praising sentimentality and sappiness let me talk about Animal House. The one and only college film on my list is about a rambunctious group of misfit fraternity brothers (who doesn’t love an underdog film?). This film is different than the others in that it doesn’t have any deeper emotional message. It is simply a hilarious ride of high jinks and pranks that anyone who went to college should appreciate. There must have been that one irritating rival fraternity/sorority/classmate that you just couldn’t wait to pull a fast one on. If watching the guys from Delta pull one stupid antic after another doesn’t leave you crying tears of laughter then you must be much more refined and mature than I am (but where is the fun in that?). Not to mention that watching John Belushi on screen is a bittersweet treat for comedy lovers. He was a comedic genius (worship him like he deserves).