Yes, Another Teen Movie

Nearly Every Last One of Us Felt Misunderstood or “Other” as a Teenager. Many of Us Still Do.

Charlotte Getz / 1.4.22

This list appears in the new issue of The Mockingbird magazine:

I am the sort of 37-year-old woman who has never emotionally matured past the age of 17. And so I continue to find deep, satisfying truths in movies that examine the high school experience.

When I first started to compile this list, I realized there was an obvious trend in my favorite teen movies: A central female character, who is either painfully nerdy, poor, merely mortal, or all of these things, romantically nabs the hunky hotshot. Maybe (almost certainly) this is something I ought to address in therapy, but I also think this fantasy speaks to the longings that groan at the center of all of our hearts. Nearly every last one of us felt misunderstood or “other” as a teenager. Many of us still do. And oh that heavenly notion that we might be perfectly worthy, just as we are. Just imagine: that guy on the lawn with a boombox overhead is standing there for you.



Some Kind of Wonderful (1987):

This is your classic “wrong side of the tracks” high school love triangle narrative (if this isn’t an official genre, it should be). No matter where you fit into your own high school ecosystem, I think just about everybody feels like Watts, this movie’s eccentric tomboy/drummer. Deep down, we feel lonely, glossed over for something shinier, the chauffeur on someone else’s date, metaphorically sitting in the audience while the one you love makes out with another girl on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. Which is what makes the ending of this movie—if not a touch abrupt—truly some kind of wonderful. Watts doesn’t have to change a lick of who she is to get her happy ending.

Twilight (2008):

I can smell your judgment from here, reader. But I ask you, is there any deeper reality than this—that you and I long to be chosen by someone who is both immortal and sexually attractive, and who also loves us so much he wants to consume us? Not to mention the hope of one day becoming immortal ourselves! Tell me this isn’t the Christian story, I dare you!

Rushmore (1998):

Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, which has one of the greatest soundtracks of all time, follows the antics of Max Fischer, an overachiever trying to gain the affections of a beautiful teacher at his prep school, Rushmore Academy. On its surface, this is a weird and whimsical movie about love and obsession, but underneath is a story of grief and friendship. At times one cannot tell if Max is truly in love with Ms. Cross or trying to figuratively replace the love of his mother. Aren’t we all trying to rediscover that perfect love we sense was once ours?

Never Been Kissed (1999):

A seemingly illicit and improbable attraction between a spastic and dorky high school student and her saucy lit teacher. BUT WAIT. The student is actually an adult undercover journalist. Whew. That was close. Nobody has to get canceled when (spoiler) at the end they kiss on the pitcher’s mound in the middle of the high school baseball championships. Swoon. Hot take: Beneath our well-manicured skin, we are all Josie Grossie.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016):

The teenage years are brutal, especially when your twin brother Darian is cute and popular and you’re still in Struggle City, population one. “There are two types of people in this world,” protagonist Nadine tells us, “the people who radiate confidence and naturally excel in life, and the people who hope all those people die in an explosion.” Can Nadine find love for herself when the few people who truly loved her have apparently abandoned her?

Romeo + Juliet (1996):

A Shakespeare and Baz Luhrmann classic. Is it possible that there exists a more delicious cinematic moment than when our two star-crossed lovers fall in love at first sight, standing in their respective bathrooms on two different sides of a large fish tank, never having exchanged a single word? It isn’t. Love unto death is romantic, and it’s the gospel. (But I still say the end of this one is crap.)

Sixteen Candles (1984):

In my favorite John Hughes movie, Samantha Baker wakes up to everyone’s worst nightmare: Everybody has forgotten about her sixteenth birthday. And yet this hellacious day ends with the hottest guy in school waiting for her on the street, standing in front of his blazing red Porsche 944. “You came here for me?” “Is that okay?” Cut to: Samantha and Jake smooching with nothing but a twinkling birthday cake between them. This is almost verbatim the story of Revelation and the heavens coming down to Earth, no?

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018):

In a pseudo-nod to the 1987 classic, Can’t Buy Me Love, Lara Jean Covey—our high school underdog—fakes a relationship with lacrosse hotshot, Peter Kavinsky, in order to make their actual crushes jealous. No surprise, these two end up falling for each other, though Lara Jean continues to self-sabotage because she cannot imagine herself as worthy, as chosen—until she can. Peter says, “There’s no one like you, Covey.” We dream these words could be about us. They sound a little like this: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3).

Can’t Hardly Wait (1998):

This movie is categorically ridiculous. And yet it was my favorite to pop into the VCR whenever I was home sick as a teenager. All the high school tropes are there: the geeks, the cool kids, the jocks, the druggies, the nobodies. The entire movie takes place at a house party on grad night when our protagonist, Preston, your average outsider, decides to finally proclaim his love to the most popular girl in school, Amanda. And it turns out there is more to Preston and Amanda than where they rank in the cafeteria caste system—the end of high school crumbles all the stereotypes. The popular girl has depth, the outsider is cool, the jock is a dweeb, the geek has swag… The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Lady Bird (2017):

The tender opening line of this film resonates profoundly: “Do I look like I’m from Sacramento?” Am I really just ordinary? Do I have a story worth telling? Will my life ever be anything more than this? I don’t know about you, but these same questions that I asked myself in high school still sometimes reverberate in my mind when things get too quiet. “What if this is the best version of me?” This hilarious and poignant coming-of-age story speaks to the beauty of all our ordinary, extraordinary lives and the love of the people who knew us back-when, the people who love us as we really are.

Honorable Mentions:

10 Things I Hate About You, Booksmart, Pretty in Pink, Juno, Bend It Like Beckham, Mean Girls, Donnie Darko, Step Up 2: The Streets, Easy A, She’s All That, The Breakfast Club


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