Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The class conflict of teen movies


Teen romance movies, like Jane Austen novels, are always about class conflict. Sometimes the conflict is quite literally about economic class (as in Pretty in Pink and the superior Some Kind of Wonderful, or Gossip Girl for a contemporary example), sometimes it's just about who's cool/popular and who's a gigantic nerd (Sixteen Candles, Can't Buy Me Love, Weird Science). Sometimes it's about both (The Breakfast Club).

The '80s were the golden age of teen movies, to be sure, but the '90s produced at least one really good teen romance: Drive Me Crazy. I've been dying to watch this movie lately. It stars Melissa Joan Hart (of Clarissa Explains It All fame), right before she became totally unappealing, Adrian Grenier (of Entourage), and a few other recognizables (e.g., Ali Larter). Drive Me Crazy puts a good spin on the standard theme: The would-be lovers are star-crossed not because one of them is lame or poor, but because they hang with different crowds. MJH is a "joiner," goes to all the games, etc. AG is more of a stoner type, goes to all-ages clubs, wouldn't be caught dead having school spirit. The trope of how they end up "dating" is the usual setup: Just a scheme to make AG's ex, played by AL, jealous. Does it work? Totally. But oh no! Then they fall in love!

I like this twist because I think people in real life are too stuck in their little in-groups. Just look at sites like Match.com -- the whole principle is that they match you up with someone who's really similar to you. People put way too much emphasis on having things in common. Dating someone who likes all the same shit as you is a recipe for never learning anything. Having overlap in likes and dislikes is somewhat important, but not nearly as important as having the same sort of general outlook or value system, and having chemistry (a desire to be around each other whatever the activity might be). And that's the magical lesson of Drive Me Crazy. I'd sing along to top 40 radio with you, etc. (This movie also has a good soundtrack -- by which I mean it's fun while you're watching the movie, not that I bought it and listen to it independently -- including a cover of "Keep on Lovin' You" by The Donnas -- they play at the school dance!)

The fact that this movie has only 5.1 stars on IMDb is a travesty. Pretentious shitfest Shakespeare in Love, of course, gets 7.4.

24 comments:

  1. everyone hates Shakespeare in Love! i thought it was pleasant, not to be taken too seriously. (definitely not "best picture" though.)

    it's hard for me to get interested in learning about people who are not like me, if i'm not into their interests. of course, this isn't to say i know what i'm doing, considering my dating record. but that's my predicament. the problem with not having much in common is that conversation can be quite painful. there are some i've tried talking about poetry to, and their faces just remain blank.

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  2. Not everyone! 7.4!!!

    Painful conversations aren't all bad. I mean, sometimes they just kind of stoke the fire. Fine line between love etc. I've had both kinds of relationships, the kind where conversation was totally natural and easy right away, and the kind where we started off at cross purposes and had to adapt just to talk. I mean obviously, either way, you have to be attracted to each other.

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  3. there's a lot of pressure on a date to really hit it off right away, or within, like, the first 20 minutes. if it's still awkward at that point, it never seems to improve. there's not much time to adapt...

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  4. That's the whole problem with going on dates with people you don't know. When you meet someone organically, like through friends or a class or at work, there's more room to fail first and get thrown back into the mix. I rarely know how I feel about someone the *first* time I meet them.

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  5. meeting organically = easier said than done! i'd love for it to happen that way, but so far in my life it hasn't.

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  6. You need to construct your life more like a teen movie, clearly. Get someone to be your girlfriend for a while on a bet, something like that...

    You heard about the guy who is outsourcing his love life, I presume?

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  7. no, i didn't hear about that

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  8. he really does need to do something about those pants.

    30 in 30 is going to be brutal. i once went on 5 dates in 7 days. you start to feel like a broken record, repeating the same stories over and over.

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  9. Yeah it sounds terrible. what if he meets someone he likes? It's like "Sorry, see ya next month, I got 29 more chicks to bang (or not bang, as the case may be)"

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  10. that was exactly the lesson i learned.

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  11. Wow, the conversations you drop into in the blog world. :)

    I've never been much on teen romance movies. There are a few that have really grabbed me, including one you mentioned, The Breakfast Club, though most of the ones I've really liked haven't strictly been romance stories, or at least not silly romance stories.

    Surely the greatest teen movie that's ever been made is Rebel Without a Cause. Not a romance in the usual sense, though it has its moments. There's also Splendor in the Grass (wonderful classic featuring early Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood). And The Summer of '42.

    Also (though it's got a lot of other stuff going on in it too) American Graffiti. And I suppose I should mention the ancestor of all of them, Romeo and Juliet -- I'm thinking here of the version (ca. 1968) with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, a sublime masterpiece.

    A couple of others, a little more off the beaten path, that I've also liked, are The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, and Juniper (this last not strictly a romance, though close enough). I like the unusual turns Juniper takes, the characters mostly not acting like people usually do in movies.

    And -- though it's also not strictly a romance story, and it's about a lot of things in addition to teenage anything -- I really liked the way the teenage characters (and their relationships) were portrayed in The Ice Storm.

    At the other end of the spectrum, I couldn't stand Heathers.

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  12. I love The Ice Storm ... but I also love Heathers (its main appeal is the totally made up teen lexicon).

    Just thought of another great teen movie from the late 90s or maybe early 00s: Show Me Love, or in the Swedish, Fucking Amal. It plays with the cool/uncool dynamic, but the twist is, they're both girls. It's so great.

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  13. Interesting post, as always, Elisa. I think though, what also should be noted, is that one's social class is extremely relevant to one's clique or group so that this idea of "chemistry" with another person is fairly readily explained by analyzing class relations. I guess another way to say this is that taste, who you hang out with, what you like, can be explained, for the most part, by looking at where you're from. Also, this match.com thing that you bring up is a good example of the idea that people want to "marry up"--especially women because they are conditioned to do so. So, for example, even if a woman has taste overlap with a man, she's probably not going to be interested in him unless he has a job and makes a good living (to bring it back to Jane Austen). I'm not saying everyone is like this, but I think it's the norm. Anyway, thanks again!

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  14. Hi Sandra! You're right, of course, that class determines or at least influences tastes/hobbies/habits to a large degree. Peirre Bourdon's book Distinction is all about that.

    It's hard to meet people who are very different from us (in terms of socio-economic status and so forth). The world's not set up that way. But it seems a shame when we try to further narrow the gap between ourselves and the people we spend most of our time with.

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  15. "she's probably not going to be interested in him unless he has a job and makes a good living"

    this is honestly my biggest fear. and my #1 motivator for finding a better job.

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  16. It's definitely a curious idea---for people of radically different classes to marry one another as a kind of protest, using romantic relationships as a way to violently disrupt our society. I'm also thinking about how royal marriages (men and women of feuding countries) were put together in order to maintain peace. Of course these were marriages of people within the same ruling class.

    I hope that you find someone, Matt :) You can always lie about how much money you make!

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  17. Small erratum -- in my comment above, I intended to say "Juno," not "Juniper.

    (Juniper ???) (Confused cat expression)

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  18. I love this post, Elisa. Love is all about the "being" and the "doing." Content just to BE with someone: no conversation or activity required; just being in their presence is enough. And doing: you know what they need and you act on it before they can ask.

    Nothing like the wisdom of chick flicks. Though I must say there was no crossing of class lines in *my* highschool.

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  19. Thanks, Rose! Do you think of the above movies as "chick flicks"? I always felt like they were targeted at a general audience, maybe not the case for romance flicks with an older cast.

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  20. Speaking of overrated movies, what about The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I mean 90+% tomatometer huh what? The Tomatometer has never been this wrong before!

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  21. Does that movie suck? I've never seen it (read the book though)

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  22. I thought it sucked. Friend said the book was waaaay better.

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  23. i never finished the book. it was kind of annoying. haven't seen the movie.

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