Teenage protagonists and comedic stories of romance have always went together, hand in hand, on the big screen; from 1970’s weepies such as Love Story, to the output of John Hughes, modern versions of famous works of literature in the 90’s, to the current crop of YA adaptations, such as the forthcoming Love, Simon.
With Greg Berlanti’s adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s best-selling and critically acclaimed novel, the teen romance genre has hit a new standard of excellence, not least because unlike many teen romantic comedy dramas from previous years, it’s putting, somewhat unbelievably for the first time, a gay romance front and centre.
While teen television has been somewhat ahead of the curve in this regards, with the likes of Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Degrassi all exploring gay relationships at one time or another, not to mention books such as Albertalli’s and the wonderful Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levitan, (which needs to be made into a movie ASAP), amazingly that most mainstream and popular of genres has only now finally caught up, with Greg Berlanti, who started his career on Dawson’s Creek, bringing the book to the screen, and being met with critical and audience acclaim.
Having said that, the movies picked here are representative of entertaining and well told teen romances, that, while somewhat myopic in depicting, for the most part, white middle class teenagers finding love, they have done so in ways that have captured the imaginations of audiences, becoming firm favourites on video, DVD and streaming for generations of their time and beyond.
Pretty in Pink
Perhaps one of the most famous from the many John Hughes’ output from the 1980’s, it forms part of a loose trilogy that could be best described as the “Ringwald Trilogy”, being the final film with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club coming before it. Amazingly, it was not directed by Hughes, that honour going to his frequent collaborator Howard Deutch, the film presents Ringwald with her most iconic role as Andie, caught between the affections of her best friend Ducky (Jon Cryer) and rich boy Blane (Andrew McCarthy).
As always with Hughes-scripted teen dramas from the era, the film has a lovely balance between witty comedy and insightful and poignant drama, with Ringwald fantastic throughout, and superb use of that theme song from The Psychedelic Furs.
Famously, it had its ending altered due to a test screening, while the following year would see Hughes and Deutch semi-remake the movie with Some Kind of Wonderful, another superb teen movie from the era, that effectively gender switched the three lead roles and made the ending more in line with what both writer and director wanted with Andie’s story, but had to change due to the test screening process.
10 Things I Hate About You
A modern variation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You is the purest 90’s movie on this list and is all the better for it, with star making turns from Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Krumholtz, plus scene stealing support from Allison Janney.
Be prepared to have Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want me” stuck in your head for days on end, Gil Junger’s movie is a legitimate charmer, complete with a scene stealing moment where Heath Ledger’s character Patrick serenades Stiles’ character Kat with a performance of “Can’t Take Me My Eyes Off You” and characters to root for on the one hand and hiss at on the other. Yes, I am looking at you Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan).
A key part of any 90’s teenager who loved movies (this reviewer included), it’s pretty much a definitive teen movie of its decade and defines the movie going habits of any teenager of that era in the way Hughes’ movies did the decade before.
The moment that Emma Stone became a legitimate star after supporting turns in the likes of Superbad and The House Bunny, Easy A, like 10 Things I Hate About You, is a modern telling of an older source material, in this case The Scarlet Letter, in an American high school, and is one of the most biting and brilliant satires in recent years that will probably only become more potent as the years go on.
Complete with an amazing support cast such as Stanley Tucci, Thomas Hayden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Patricia Clarkson, it really says something about Stone that she still manages to one hundred per cent make the movie her own.
One of the wittiest movies of this decade, it’s not afraid to go serious at various points, not least in its themes, as well as with a sub-plot involving the characters portrayed by Kudrow and Hayden Church, the latter proving an incredibly sympathetic presence throughout.
Even more brilliant, it’s completely aware of the teen movie genre it’s a part of and makes numerous references throughout to other movies, not least in its final scene, all the while being it’s own wonderful, brilliant thing.
Based on Kody Keplinger’s novel, The DUFF features a superb central performance from Mae Whitman, complete with themes that are highly relevant, all the while throwing in a plethora of witty dialogue and great comedy, most of which comes from Mae Whitman.
With a title that is an abbreviation for Designated Ugly Fat Friend, the movie has a lot to say about teenage hierarchies in high school settings, but does so in a way that it never becomes preachy, but instead relies on wit and charm, while actually making important points about it story and treatment of it central character, Bianca (Whitman).
While some parts are maybe a little unsubtle, not least the character development of mean girl Madison (Bella Thorne), it wins points and its place here for Whitman’s superb central performance which is so personable and wins you over so easily that is remarkable that she hasn’t been cast in the lead role more often.
Essentially Privilege:The Movie, Clueless really should not have aged well, but, for the best part of over twenty years, it has remained every bit as funny as it was when it first showed up in 1995.
The fact that it came out in 1995 and is about to reach the age of 25 years of age should give anyone who was on the cusp of becoming a teenager when it first came out pause for concern.
With superb central performances from Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash and Brittany Murphy, and support from Paul Rudd, Dan Hedaya and Donald Faison, and being a modern interpretation of Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is witty, fast paced, incredibly quotable and is directed with aplomb by Amy Heckerling, giving the 90’s a definitive teen movie in much the same way as she did with Fast Times in Ridgemont High in the 80’s.
It spawned a television spin-off that lasted for three seasons, with some of the main cast coming back for it, with the obvious exception of Silverstone. Her subsequent attempt at a Hollywood career was somewhat curtailed, sadly, by Batman and Robin. It remains Silverstone’s most iconic performance and is still every bit as funny today as it was back then.