Tag Archives: high school movies

Still Just a Rat in a Cage

Some Freaks

by Christie Robb

High school, amirite? Setting of so many movies: The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Clueless, Mean Girls… and lately, Some Freaks, written and directed by Ian MacAllister McDonald.

McDonald’s perspective on high school is bleak, lonely. The other kids whisper about you behind your back, when not being physically menacing. The adults are absent. And even your closest friends are kind of douchey, sensing your weak spots and needling them under the guise of jokes.

The action starts with a one-eyed dude named Matt (Thomas Mann), who is stalked by classmates desperate to see what’s under the eyepatch. And maybe capture a photo of the gaping hole to upload to the internet.

He’s partnered up with the new girl, Jill (Lily Mae Harrington), to dissect a fetal pig in biology. Turns out she’s related to his only friend Elmo (Ely Henry), a fast-talking wannabe popular kid who monologues about getting into his jock crush’s gym shorts, but is quick to lash out at anyone but Matt who seems clued into his sexuality.

After school, Matt and Elmo chat while playing video games on Elmo’s couch, sharing some misogynistic fat girl jokes. Then Jill walks in.

She’s living with Elmo’s family for a while. She’s fat – and the clear butt of the jokes. But she just lets it slide. Jill has clearly been putting up with this bullshit for years and has a fairly thick skin when it comes to sexism and body shaming.

With this auspicious beginning, Jill and Matt stumble into the sort of romantic relationship you have when your main reason for being there is to put a temporary patch on the gaping wound of your own loneliness and poor self-esteem.

Jill flies across country to college, but Jill and Matt take their relationship long distance with Jill sending Matt provocative selfies.

After six months, Matt flies out, step one in his plan to move in with Jill permanently. She’s lost 50 pounds, changed her formerly green hair to a sunny blonde, and traded in her punk gear for a more boho vibe. All the photos she’d sent him were taken before her transformation. He hates it.

Unwilling to let Jill change, Matt attempts to regain the status quo. A quo in which Matt was the only man who could find her attractive (besides “elderly degenerates”), and thus, had no competition. No reason to think about how he measures up to other guys.

Contrary to movies like John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club, the coming together of these teenage misfits doesn’t do much to bond them and bolster their self-esteem. Instead, each of the central characters remains isolated with their own damage, even if sometimes physically close. Their very proximity gives them increased ability to wound each other.

The climax of the film, in which each character attends a party that provides a setting for them to confront their greatest insecurities, seems a little contrived. Some characters are underwritten, making their motivations in these moments a bit confusing.

However, the film is well acted. Each member of the cast does a decent job of portraying their character as a mixture of victim and aggressor. Harrington stands out, providing emotional depth behind her wariness and verbal armor, undergoing an impressive physical transformation for the role.

Some Freaks does not provide a cheery John Hughes ending, but may be a more authentic representation of the high school experience for some.



High School Confidential

The Edge of Seventeen

by George Wolf

Even if you had a good time in high school, let’s be honest. Would you really want to go back?

Doubtful. And The Edge of Seventeen is another reminder that one time through a battlefield littered with drama, hormones, benzoyl peroxide and general awkwardness is plenty, thanks.

Oregon teen Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is navigating that struggle with a standard mix of panic and self-absorption. She feels like a social outcast, is convinced she’s an old soul, resents the golden boy status of her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and has one real friend in Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Just as Nadine is plotting a strategy to catch the eye of her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert), she catches Krista and Darian canoodling, and dramatically issues the “him or me!” ultimatum.

It doesn’t go well.

In her debut as writer/director, Kelly Fremon Craig crafts a “Nora Ephron for teens” type of vibe, and buoys Steinfeld’s terrific lead performance with just enough refreshing frankness to offset the standard teen cliches.

We get voiceover narration, forced quirkiness and the nice boy who waits while Nadine chases the bad boy, but we also get commitments to a layered main character and complicated relationships. Nadine doesn’t give us many reasons to like her, and though you know this is going to change, her journey to the edge of maturity feels more real than most.

Her theatrics are undercut by the amusing reactions of Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), a history teacher who’s seen way too much of her kind and is more concerned about Nadine’s run-on sentences than her latest social suicide. After dismissing Bruner as an out of touch fogey, Nadine’s peek inside his home life is an effectively subtle wake up.

Even better, Fremon Craig uses the friction between Nadine and Krista as a nice metaphor for leaving childhood things behind and moving on.

The Edge of Seventeen is not without its own growing pains, but much like Nadine, it accumulates enough moments of depth for a well-earned resonance.





This Week’s Countdown is Off Like a Prom Dress

It’s  almost May…what’s that I smell? Lilacs? Goose poop? Fresh spring roadkill? Nope, it’s that similar fragrance mashup of boutonnieres, hair spray, and desperation that equals prom.

Let’s all relive our own prom anxieties while the kids struggle through their real-life horror, shall we?


Carrie (1976)

Yes! Best prom movie ever! Sure, it opens like a ‘70s soft core porno with images created by a director who has clearly never been in a girls’ locker room. But as soon as that bloody stream punctures the dreamlike shower sequence, we witness the definitive moment in mean girl cinema.

No, Senior Prom, or “Love Among the Stars,” doesn’t go as well as it might have for poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) and her classmates. Contrite Sue Snell (Amy Irving), who’d given up her own prom so boyfriend Tommy (William Katt, sporting an awe inspiring ‘fro) could accompany Carrie, sneaks in to witness her own good deed. Unfortunately for Sue, the strict rules of horror cinema demand that outcasts remain outcasts. Sure, Sue shouldn’t have been mean to Carrie in the first place, but being nice was the big mistake. Only bad things would follow.

Quote: They’re all going to laugh at you.


Prom Night (1980)

This bland Jamie Lee Curtis slasher crystalized a formula that would be mimicked (often more successfully) for decades. Open with a flashback, turn it into a secret kept among a handful of friends, flash forward to one big event these friends are planning, nightmare resurfaces and red herrings await.

But that’s not the reason to see Prom Night. See it for the super-colossal dance floor boogie. Go Jamie Lee and Jamie Lee’s thumbs, go! Is that Leslie Nielsen? Who brought that glitter? It’s always fun to see someone die on prom night.

Quote: It’s not who you go with, honey. It’s who takes you home.



Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

No one rocks a brown corduroy suit at a formal dance like my husband, but Napoleon Dynamite comes in second. And what about Deb’s awesome sleeves? That’s a styling couple.

Kip may have found his soul mate, but poor Napoleon’s still swimming the tepid pool of young love, llama food, best friends, delusional uncles, ailing grandmas, and sweet moves. Thank God for it.

Quote: I like your sleeves.


Grease (1978)

Poodle skirt to hot pants, that’s the transformation at the heart of this generation-pleaser. Did Sandy (Olivia Newton John) have a yeast infection by the time she got those pants off? Well, of course she did, but it was worth it to call John Travolta a stud and do a frisky dance in the Shake Shack.

Let’s not forget the prom, though. Cha Cha DiGregorio (the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s…with the worst reputation!) might have planned to dump Kenickie and steal Danny (Travolta) away from the fair and timid Sandy, but she did not know the hygienically questionable lengths Sandy was willing to go to keep her man.

Quote: It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s what you do with your dancin’ shoes.


Footloose (1984)

See this one now, not the ridiculous remake. (How do I know it’s ridiculous? Because it’s a remake of Footloose, for Lord’s sake.)

Kevin Bacon moves to a hyper-conservative town and has to dance his way out. John Lithgow scowls. Sarah Jessica Parker looks unfashionable. Chris Penn learns to disco. Tears are shed, families are mended.

Quote: If our Lord wasn’t testing us, how would you account for the proliferation, these days, of this obscene rock and roll music, with its gospel of easy sexuality and relaxed morality?



Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Years before Sarah Michelle Gellar began her 145-episode vampire battle royale, and one year before writer Joss Whedon would pen the animated masterpiece Toy Story, Kristy Swanson joined that guy from 90210 (Luke Perry) to stake the undead at the big high school formal as the silver screen Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Bonus points for casting choices in Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer as marauding, stinky vampires. Additional points for an early, non-Oscar nominated role for Hilary Swank.

Quote: All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.


Pretty in Pink (1986)

Part 3 of the Molly Trilogy, Pretty in Pink mopes with a cool redhead (Ringwald) from the wrong side of the tracks as she stokes her anxiety about prom and its place in her existential dread.

Some claim you can learn all you need to know about a person by asking which is their favorite Beatle. I disagree. The real question: who did you root for, Blane or Duckie?

Quote:  His name is Blane?! That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance.