Nearly anyone between the ages of 25-40 can probably recite at least one or two lines from The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles. But what about those movies that faded away when their decade ended?
Surely there are some important lessons to be learned from also-ran teen movies, films that tragically attempted to capture the times but ended up always a step behind their most prestigious competitors. As someone who grew up in the 90's, it seemed that even when these movies where brand new, they reeked of half-ass production values and fairly crappy scripting. The teen films of the 80's always seemed superior to their 90's brethren. However, many years later, these films are brilliant time capsules of how stupid it was, at times, to be a teenager in the 90's. Let's look back at some of the important lessons we learned, from the lesser celebrated films of the era.
Drive Me Crazy:
Drive Me Crazy is my absolute favorite bad movie of the 90's. It is so horrendously bad that it's epically brilliant. It stars Melissa Joan Hart, who can really be in any shitty movie she wants, as she gets a lifetime pass for being Clarissa and explaining it all, and Adrian Grenier, who would later grow up to star on Entourage, where his character would attempt to avoid being placed in films such as this. The premise of Drive Me Crazy is stupid and cliche: Hart and Grenier attempt to get their exes attention by pretending to be in love...and wouldn't you know it? They DO fall in love. The lesson here is: if you allow yourself to be madeover, the popular kid will fall in love with you. Bonus 90's Points: a subplot involving an internet romance, the Donnas playing the school dance, and a Britney Spears tie-in video. Awesome.
Never Been Kissed: Drew Barrymore travels back to a super-hip high school to discover what it's like to be a teen in the 90's. Trouble is, she was a total geek when she was in high school, and it's super tough for her to relate. Luckily, her brother, played by David Arquette (who is supposed to be
18 24 but looks at least 35 in this movie) helps her become popular. Of course, as we've already learned, it takes a makeover to attract the popular boy. In this case, Barrymore has a ridiculously inappropriate flirty relationship with her English teacher, who is so hip, you guys, he insists that his students call him "Sam." The lesson here is this: If you lie, eventually you'll get what you want. Bonus 90's Points: The suggestion of a Millennium Dance, the super Contempo wardrobe, attempting to make the word "rufus" happen.
Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead: One way to tell if a person is worth your time or not is to say "I'm right on top of that, Rose!" If they have no idea what you're talking about, dismiss them instantly, for they have never taken the time to watch this early 90's gem. Christina Applegate stars as Sue Ellen (Swell), who takes over the reigns after the family's babysitter kicks the bucket so that she and her siblings can spend a summer parent-free. Of course this leads to many shenanigans and issues with petty cash, but in the end, Swell gets to throw an insanely 90's fashion show and gets the man she's after. The lesson here is: Sometimes you have to lie, but things will work out in the end. Bonus 90's Points: Everything Christina Applegate wears or designs, grungy stoner brother, a young David Duchovny.
There is, perhaps, no greater sight than that of Fairuza Balk, standing on a beach, yelling "These are my GIFTS!" to the horror of her fellow coven members. This was the film that turned all of us into faux-Wiccans for about 3 weeks in 1996. I will watch this movie any time it comes on, because I am still, at heart, a gothy 15 year old. The lesson we learn here is this: "Be careful. You don't want to end up like Nancy." Bonus 90's Points: Skeet Ulrich, Our Lady Peace on the soundtrack, quite a bit of flannel.
Angus: Why this movie isn't on DVD is beyond me, as it is the one of the best coming-of-age films of the 90's. Young Angus Bethune has to navigate through the brutal world of high school, and his troubles worsen after he's elected homecoming king as a joke by the popular kids, who are led by 90's legend James Van Der Beek. This is every emo kids dream movie, as the geeks fight back and give a giant middle finger to the bullies, all to a pretty kickass soundtrack. The lesson from Angus comes from his grandfather, and is actually pretty great: "Superman isn't brave. He's smart, handsome, even decent. But he's not brave. No, listen to me. Superman is indestructible, and you can't be brave if you're indestructible. It's people like you and your mother. People who are different, and can be crushed and know it. Yet they keep on going out there every time." Bonus 90's Points: The Green Day, Weezer, and Muffs filled soundtrack, the boys try to win Green Day tickets, the aforementioned Van Der Beek.
Can't Hardly Wait: Can't Hardly Wait, I'm almost ashamed to say, is one of my favorite films of all time. Mostly because it is, I think, the only film that perfectly captures being a high schooler in the late 90's. Every single 90's cliche is represented, with Seth Green's ridiculous character, Kenny, representing the worst trends of the era. Although it gets brushed aside a lot, I think Can't Hardly Wait, as stupid and cliche as it is, at times, is probably (alongside Clueless) one of the only films to carry on the John Hughes sentiment of the 80's. The one night at this graduation party is a decent snapshot of 90's high school life, featuring the same crap that has been going on for ages: unrequited love, fears of moving on, and realizing that the people you grew up with are rapidly changing, all set to a 90's soundtrack. The lesson in this film, I suppose, is that you never know until you take a chance. Oh, and also that 92% of females are walking around UCLA going, "Class or Sex? What should I do?" 92 per-cent, yo! Bonus 90's Points: Seth Green's ski goggle accessories, Jennifer Love Hewitt as the prom queen, Donald Faison and Breckin Meyer playing together in Loveburger.
While I know there are many films I've missed (Varsity Blues, She's All That, Fear, and Jawbreaker, to name a few), I think the basics have at least been touched upon. In the 90's, we learned all sorts of ways to lie and manipulate in order to get our way. And when that didn't work out, we tried to be brave, wrote a letter to the one we loved, stole from petty cash, and pushed Skeet Ulrich out a window with our insane powers. These films may be forgotten soon enough, but for those of us who grew up with them, even the worst movies had a few stellar moments that will stick with us through the years. Or, you know, at least make us laugh on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
As always, feel free to add your favorites in the comments.