Tuesday’s Reviews – A Christmas Prince (2017)

Christmas, films, fucking awful, fucking twee, fucking weird, Netflix, rom-com, romance, so bad it's good, teen movie


You gotta love Netflix. I mean the platform has revolutionised how we all consume television and film. It’s made our lives all so much easier for such a small price. I’m waiting for the day they get their own version of the cinema where you can pay to watch current film releases from the comfort of you own home for a small fee. But until that day Netflix is on hand to provide its own original programming. Let’s be honest, what with Stranger Things and everything Marvel related, the site is nailing the television element. Although, they haven’t exactly found their niche when it comes to films. They’ve done some great things and some truly horrendous things. Something that it is more than willing to admit. Yesterday, 11th December, the twitter account tweeted the following:

To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?

Now that that’s a bold move on behalf of their social media person. Not only are they openly calling their newest Christmas release shit but they’re making it seem as though they use their stats to mock their members. I know that, supposedly, there’s no such thing as bad publicity but this might be one of the exceptions. This tweet didn’t really get me thinking about Netflix and their use of my viewing data. I assumed they’d be doing all sorts of shit with that anyway. No, it got me thinking, just how bad is A Christmas Prince?

TBT – The Breakfast Club (1985)

favourite, John Hughes, TBT, teen movie, teenagers

After the disappointment that was One of Us is Lying last week, I decided that there was only one thing I could do to revive my faith in teen narratives. I sat down and watched The Breakfast Club. This John Hughes classic has been one of my favourite films forever but it’s been a while since I last watched it. It’s weird to watch it again in 2017 and realise that these five “kids” would still be considered fashionable if they walked into any modern high school. Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson look exactly like the kind of hipster millennials that you can’t avoid these days. Turns out the 80s vibe really isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Although, I can’t really criticise them. When rewatching this film I was struck by two things: number 1, Judd Nelson’s face is beautiful and, number 2, I would happily wear everything he was. The man’s got style. And, to be honest, I’d happily be Ally Sheedy too… well pre-makeover Ally Sheedy anyway. When I was younger I was obsessed with Molly Ringwald but, as I grew up, I realised I’m less Molly Ringwald and more Ally Sheedy. Which is fine with me. Well, as long as I can make different food choices.

The premise of The Breakfast Club is a simple one: five students sit through detention on a Saturday. These five are all wildly different and intend to remain so. There is the jock (Emilio Estevez), the Prom Queen  (Molly Ringwald), the geek (Anthony Michael Hall), the freak (Ally Sheedy) and the criminal (Judd Nelson). They spend their time arguing, laughing, and, ultimately, learning about themselves. It may be light on real action but it’s super heavy on character and development. Being a John Hughes movie, it actually feels as though you’re watching teenagers despite the fact that they all look like 20-somethings. He has a way of capturing the teenage voice and culture in way that feels natural. It’s something that not many other filmmakers have ever managed to achieve. A lot of teen movies and novels these days rely too heavily on stuffing their stories with slang to seem realistic but it only ends up making dated almost instantaneously. Hughes’ films have a universal and timeless appeal that means watching them in 2017 will appeal to teenagers in much the same way that it did in 1985.

That’s not to say that The Breakfast Club is the perfect film. The script was written by Hughes in about 2 weeks and, if we’re honest, it kind of shows. It’s an often clumsy mess that flies all over the place and overuses stereotypes that have plagued teen movies since the beginning of teen movies. Each of the members of detention are the archetypal teens who have all of the cliched problems you’d expect them too. Then there’s the fact that the adult figures are so underdeveloped. The two, a vicious teacher and a laboured janitor, that show up in person are forgettable and one-dimensional. The moment where they bond in the basement is unnecessary and feels super out of place. It’s best just to let it go by without a second thought.

Watching it with as objective an eye as I can possibly muster, The Breakfast Club is particularly dicey. It’s often unintentionally funny, overindulgent, confused with tone and pacing, and, generally, just confused. There can be no denying that Hughes has made better, funnier, and more emotional films than this. However, this is the one that has become the icon. It made Simple Minds a much bigger deal than they really deserved and has meant that, one day, I want to walk slowly across a football field with my fist in the air. Despite all of the potential flaws this film may have, it has a universal appeal and charm. The intimate setting means you really get to grips with the characters and the relationships. This is the kind of film that will appeal to anyone who has ever gone through puberty and it will continually appeal to them. Yes, it’s a bit par for the course but every time I watch this I get the same familiar feeling. It’s hard not to fall in love with this film.

So, I accept the fact that this film isn’t the greatest you’ll ever see. But I think you’re crazy to just dismiss it out of hand. You see it as you want to see it – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what you need to find out is that this film is perfect. Does than answer your question?

Tuesday’s (ish) Reviews – Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

comic book, comic books, films, fucking funny, Marvel, review, Robert Downey Jr, Spider-Man, super powers, superhero, teen movie, Tom Holland

I’ve always felt that Andrew Garfield got a bit of a rough deal when it came to his time as Spider-Man. He is now widely considered the worst version of the character to appear on screen but it’s hardly his fault. Now, I liked The Amazing Spider-Man and thought Garfield did a really good job with the character of Peter Parker. Yes, he wasn’t the same geeky, isolated young man that we’re used to but we’re living in a world where geek is cool. Garfield gave Peter some sass and it could have worked really well for him because Spider-Man has always been the sassy one. The films didn’t work because Garfield was bad but because he wasn’t given the right material. Sony fucked up the reboot in order to get it out in time. I think the things would have been very different if the actor had been given more of a chance and there had been more thought in the whole thing. Plus, there’s a lot of weird nostalgia surrounding Toby Magurire’s time as the character that I don’t really get. He’s not that good. It’s just that he was the first major big screen version of the character. It just boggles my mind that so much of the stuff I read before I saw Tom Holland’s first solo outing as the web-slinger was focused on how great Maguire was and how shit Garfield was. Let’s be honest, we could do better than both of the attempts Sony made and his brief time in Civil War showed that maybe Holland had what it took.

First off, I have to say it is super refreshing that the third reboot of Spider-Man in 15 years doesn’t feel the need to remind us of how the superhero came into being. We all get it by now: radioactive spider bite, superpowers, move into heroics. Yes, there is a brief reference to it but it is so underplayed that it doesn’t matter. Instead, the main action picks up shortly after the evens of Captain America: Civil War as Peter Parker is eagerly awaiting his next call to assemble. Instead, he is left dealing with petty street crime and helping old ladies carry their shopping. Safe to say, the young man is bored. Until he stumbles upon a black market that is selling weapons made out of salvaged alien technology. Run by the mysterious Vulture (Michael Keaton) who literally, thanks to his mechanical wings, swoops in and steals the technology from under the government’s nose.

Spidey, keen to prove to Tony Stark that he can handle the big stuff, starts investigating the Vulture’s gang but constantly finds himself out of his depth. Especially as he’s also trying to make his way through highschool unscathed and get noticed by school hottie, Liz (Laura Harrier). As well as being influenced by the MCU in general, director Jon Watts clearly takes a lot from the coming-of-age films of people like John Hughes. There are countless on-screen references to high-school comedies and there is one particular Ferris Bueller joke that is totally on point. This is a Peter Parker who really is living in two worlds and trying to balance the two. He is an awkward but intelligent young man who worries about girls and grades just as much as he worries about stopping bad guys.

Despite only being on screen for a few minutes in Civil War, Tom Holland had already made a massive impressive on fans of the MCU before Homecoming came along thanks to his portrayal of Peter Parker. It is the best on screen version of the teenager that we’ve ever seen. Holland’s Parker feels the most realistically young version that we’ve ever seen and has been updated for 2017 teenagers. He is techno-savvy but awkward in a way that doesn’t come across as annoying. He reacts to getting superpowers the way that most of us would have done at that age. We can all empathise  with his fanboy reaction to the likes of Tony Stark. He gets caught up in the bigger picture and tries to run before he can walk but it is done with the best intentions. The character definitely has that Marvel sense of development that was lacking in both Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s turns. Holland finally gives us the Peter we deserve.

That is not to say that I agree with the people happily declaring that Homecoming is the best superhero movie of the year. I really enjoyed the film and did so as soon as I heard the arrangement of the ‘Spider-Man theme song’ playing over the film’s opening sequence. It is a light-hearted and fun affair that captures the spirit of the character. However, I confess that I felt there was a bit of a disparity between it’s two identities. I realise that the film wanted to situate itself within the MCU whilst also ensuring that this was a Spider-Man film in it’s own right. However, it just feels a bit too confused. It just doesn’t feel enough like either. We have the standard MCU final showdown that is kind of underwhelming in the grand scheme of things but then we also have the teen movie moments like high school parties. Individually these things are fine but they just seemed a bit too at odds for me. I’d have preferred one or the other. I think future Spider-Man films with Holland have the potential to be superb if he can remove himself from the Avengers. This film seemed more about taking the character and showing us that he was firmly part of the family instead of giving him a solo outing.

Still, this isn’t something that really hindered my overall enjoyment of the film. There is plenty to love about the film and, despite my annoyance, it’s always nice to see more RBJ and Jon Favreau on screen. Of course, the greatest strength, after Holland, is clearly Michael Keaton’s Vulture. The Vulture isn’t the biggest or baddest villain that we’ve ever seen in the MCU but he is perfect. Keaton plays him so well and he feels like a realistic result of the increased super-activity in the MCU. There is a scene towards the end of the film where the Vulture and Peter Parker come face-to-face for the first time and the whole scene is perfect. Keaton doesn’t overplay the character but still manages to be chilling and terrifying. Spider-Man: Homecoming has some mistakes, that can’t be ignored, but it’s been 13 years since we last had a film about the character to get really excited about. I see a great deal of potential with this incarnation.

TBT – The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

drugs, fucking funny, Kristen Wiig, TBT, teen movie, teenagers, women

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl came out last year I was desperate to see it. Of course, I didn’t see it at the time and it has been calling to me every time I opened Netflix recently. The graphic novel has been in my Amazon basket for months as well. It’s exactly the kind of thing I was bound to get obsessed with. You know the score by now: feminism and shit. Although, upon its release it caused something of a controversy as all the best things do. The critics loved it but the 18 rating was a fairly controversial topic in the UK. The film was given a high rating for its sexual content. However, as a film about a teenage girl coming to terms with her own sexuality, it meant nobody that this story was relevant to would have seen it at the cinema. Even the film’s star Bel Powley came out to urge teenagers to sneak into the film to embrace its message. I mean, really, it’s a fair point. Yes, there’s a lot of dark and adult themes running through the film but, it’s not more sexually suggestive than many of the films out there with a lower rated. I realise that we live in a world where we try and protect people from certain things but it always seemed fucked up that people were trying to keep this film from the people who it was made for. Still, that doesn’t matter now it’s been out for so long. Anyone can see it now and, without wanting to spoil anything, they all should.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is set in the 1970s and is the story of 15 year old Minnie Goetz (Bel Powley) as she starts to explore her sexuality. The object of her misguided affections is her bohemian mother’s (Kristen Wiig) 35 year old boyfriend, Monroe, (Alexander Skarsgård). Minnie makes the choice to loser her virginity to Monroe. Minnie is desperate for affection and love so quickly falls into a torrid and emotionally unstable relationship. She further descends into a world of drugs, alcohol and sex to come to help her understand who she is becoming. It’s a difficult, dark and real portrayal of what it is to be teenage girl. I mean it’s not exactly everyone’s story but it gets to the heart of teenage identity and female sexuality that has often been hidden in films like this. We’re used to representing young men accepting their role as Lothario but women are still being encouraged to keep their virtue. It’s about time we had a healthy view of growing up as a girl.

It makes for uncomfortable viewing at times thanks to the morally questionably major relationship. It’s not always easy to watch as Minnie falls deeper into a spiral of destructive behaviour. However, the film is still incredibly watchable and enjoyable. Deep down there lies plenty of love and comfort beneath the addictive behaviour and toxic relationships. It is still a funny and unashamedly bawdy story but it so well made that it works remarkably well. First time director Marielle Heller understands the message at the heart of Minnie’s story and she knows how to work with it. Acting as writer as well, she has managed to forge a great and multi-layered script out of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel.

Although, really, this film is made on the performances and the main trio are all equally fantastic. Alexander Skarsgård never overplays his position of an adult man entering into a sexual relationship with a teenage girl. Equally, Kristen Wiig is strong as Minnie’s mother who has left a stable marriage to a scientist in favour of a life of drugs, alcohol and relationships with dodgy men. She laments her lost youth and is increasingly jealous of her blossoming daughter. She can’t make her mind up between showing Minnie affection or being hard and cold. In Charlotte we see the problems that come from growing up believing you are nothing better than your looks and the man you’re with. Wiig is astonishing in her role. But it is Bel Powley who is standout and is breakthaking in the role of Minnie. She is funny, confused and scared. It’s a great performance that, even within the context of a drug-influenced lifestyle, is recognisable for anyone who grew up as a female.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is the kind of film we need to embrace for he sheer fact that is presents a side of female identity that is often hidden away. It manages to do it in an incredibly sensitive way and without placing any judgement on its main character. Bel makes mistakes but it is never her undoing. She likes sex but never finds herself becoming the social outcast because of it. The film doesn’t end with her fall from grace but with her confidently accepting her sense of self. She learns a lot about who she is and who she can be. It’s empowering and I am really fucking sad it wasn’t made when I was still in my teens. Any teenage girls out there who haven’t see it, see it as soon as you can.

TBT: She’s the Man (2006)

modernisation, Shakespeare, TBT, teen movie

I got the idea to review this modern Shakespeare film after I shamefully clicked on an article about actors hooking up on set. Two revelations came from this simple act: Firstly, when I’m bored enough I’ll click on any old shit and, secondly, Channing Tatum must be super glad the Amanda Bynes things didn’t work out. So this Twelfth Night update has been in my head for a while and, as someone who loves to talk about shitty updated Shakespeare films, I sort of wanted the chance to revisit it. However, it was only once I’d started writing that I realised it might be a bit misjudged when taken alongside my Tuesday review. Talking about real-life trans woman Lili Elbe alongside a film called She’s the Man might seem at best stupid and at worst offensive. Still, it’s too late to go back so I’ll have to hope I’m just being a little too neurotic.

She’s the Man updates Shakespeare’s tale of cross-dressing twins. However, instead of a court in Illyria the action centres around the soccer team of an elite boarding school. When he high school girl’s team is disbanded due to lack of funds, Viola makes the unusual and fucking drastic decision to pretend to be her twin brother, Sebastian, so she can play for a male team instead. Even though it’s bizarrely easy for Viola to convince everyone she’s actually a teenage boy, she does run into some issues along the way.

In keeping with the original she unwittingly enters into a weird love triangle. Turns out Sebastian’s roommate is the incredibly hot and often shirtless Duke (Channing Tatum) and Viola struggles to keep her attraction a secret. Duke is in turn after Olivia (Laura Ramsey) who actually has a thing for her science partner, Sebastian. There’s a lot of misunderstandings, hijinks and cosume changes in there keep the film going for that little bit longer than it needed to. It’s safe to say there is a lot of unnecessary game playing and twists in the narrative before we arrive at the inevitable happy ending.

She’s the Man isn’t just a bad adaptation of a Shakespeare play; it’s a bad film. There is very little to rave about here and during most of my time watching I was just fucking aghast that we were expected to believe Amanda Bynes can pass for a boy. We’re meant to accept that when her actual brother shows up nobody seems concerned that Sebastian starts to look and act completely different.

Everything about this narrative is horrible. There is no real thought process going on here. It’s literally just dumped Shakespeare’s narrative in an American high school and let things go whichever way they please. The narrative just runs away with itself and there was clearly nobody able to control it. It got to the point where the writer’s felt they were doing their job properly as long as everyone interacts with each other at some point.

The main performance by Bynes, in both roles, is just over-the-top and a massive assault on your senses. The comedy is driven through completely misguided attempts at slapstick and an obnoxious use of gender stereotypes. Bynes’ presence on screen is just very big and very bad. You can see that she’s trying to play it for laughs but nothing ever pans out. She’s not a natural comedian and her physical comedy is just a little too on the side of awkward to really land.

Of all the plays to adapt, Twelfth Night is one of the stupidest. It’s always been a bit of stretch even compared to his most ridiculous cross-dressing plots. At least the original has enough wit within its script to obscure the daft premise. She’s the Man has nothing to fall back on. It isn’t winning with its narrative or screenplay. It also fails to draw you in on an emotional level. It’s obvious that the two main characters are destined to end up together but there’s nothing about them that makes you give a damn. It’s all just vacuous, high school movie nonsense… and I say that as someone who’s standards are pretty fucking low when it comes to teen movies.

TBT – Clueless (1995)

anniversary, Jane Austen, Paul Rudd, review, TBT, teen movie
If you’ve been around these parts before, you may be aware that I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen. I know, I know. It’s not the kind of thing book nerds tend to admit to. I did two literature degrees that focused on Romanticism and had to suffer the sneers of my professors and fellow students whenever Austen appeared on my reading list. Turns out nobody trusts a book lover who hates the Queen of chick lit. But, frankly my dears, I don’t give a shit. Austen is a paint-by-numbers kind of writer so once you’ve read one novel you’ve read them all. However, I’m a pretty big fan of the attempts by other media to adapt her novels into something people can genuinely enjoy. Of course, the pinnacle of these attempts is still one of the best teen movie of all fucking time.

Clueless is celebrating it’s 20thanniversary this week. With the unfortunate 90s fashion revival recently, it has become a fairly trendy piece of Hollywood history which is something that would usually fill me with annoyance. As a bitter and cynical 27 year old, I don’t really like it when the younger generations start taking something I love as their own. They’re sacred. However, Cluelessis one of those films that I’ve been forcing my friends to watch for years. It’s amazing. Everyone should watch and enjoy it… despite the fact it’s based on a Jane Austen novel.
Emmais my father’s favourite Jane Austen novel. I found this out during an argument with my friend during which I hypothesised that Northanger Abbey is the only Austen novel worth reading. I realise this is a strange fact to include but it’s something that always makes me want to be nicer about it. Although no amount of paternal love can convince me that Emma is anything more than Sex and the Cityfor a 19thcentury audience. Of course, this does make it the perfect basis for an outrageous, 90s teen movie.
Clueless stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, a high school student with a wardrobe that made every teenage girl in the 90s sick with jealousy and the desperate need to solve people’s problems. Cher is the stereotypical California rich girl but with something deeper underneath. She is incredibly self-absorbed but shows just enough awareness to those around her that you can’t hate her. Silverstone does a great job of portraying the character wholeheartedly that you get the joke but there is just enough irony there that you understand Cher is more than she seems.
Cher and her friend Dionne are high school students who are treading the murky waters of romance and popularity. Cher, who is more than happy to set up her teachers to improve her grades, has a tough time finding love for herself. So instead she focuses on a seemingly hopeless case, new girl Tai (Britanny Murphy). Cher moulds Tai into a carbon copy of herself because she really cares. She just doesn’t know how best to help this clueless young woman.

The narrative is fairly uninspiring in terms of originality: I mean it’s not like those who haven’t read the book won’t be able to see how things will end. However, it has fun with itself. It pokes fun at the section of society it portrays and, in its own way, the traditions of teen movies. Cluelessis a funny, silly and fresh take on a classic novel. Able to forgo the typical britches and bonnets style interpretation, it becomes a film that is both a successful adaptation of Emmaand a successful teen movie in its own right. It introduced me to the wonder that is Paul Rudd and I will happily watch this film again and again… and I will always be jealous of Cher’s computerised wardrobe. 

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Anna Kendrick, films, musical, Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson, review, teen movie
Pitch Perfectwas one of those films that took me surprise when I eventually saw it. Expecting it to be nothing more than the story of awful teenagers whining self-indulgently in between songs, I found myself actually enjoying it. I spent most of that year trying to convince my cynical friends that, despite appearances, it was worth their time. Pitch Perfect is never going to be my favourite film but I liked it enough to be fairly excited about the sequel. Especially when it was announced that YouTube sensation Flula Borg was joining the cast. I’ve been hooked on Flula’s channel ever since I was introduced to his video on Daddy Longlegs where he bemoaned their weird appearance and “spiderweb leggies”. Flula is an underrated comedian and could easily serve as a great foil for the likes of Fat Amy.

I don’t think anyone really expected the a cappella comedy to be such a runaway hit back in 2012 but as soon as it did there were whispers about a second and a third film. It’s taken a few years but the Bellas are back. Clearly not confident with their ability to strike lucky a second time, the sequel is bigger, brasher and bursting with even more pop culture references and cameo appearances. There’s a slight whiff of desperation that hangs in the air until the closing credits.
Still on the winning streak started at the end of the first film, the Bellas are given the honour of singing for President Obama. Unfortunately, with higher expectations come more complicated routines. One particular stunt in which Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is suspended in the air singing Wrecking Ball ends with her revealing her Down Unders to the President. As you can expect, this is a massive fucking scandal and the Bellas are banned from any further national competitions. It only seems fitting after all.
Luckily, the group find a loophole that allows them to compete in the World Championships in Copenhagen. Their plan is to crush the competition and regain their once flawless reputation. Much like last time, they come up against some incredibly talented opponents in the shape of Das Sound Machine, their German counterparts. They must face a ca-challenges like another riff-off, another heart-to-heart and Beca’s divided attention. Now doesn’t that all sound a little bit familiar?
To say that Pitch Perfect 2 is following the same formula as the first is a bit of a joke. It’s a copy and paste job where even most of the jokes are recycled. Where we once had weirdo Lilly freaking everyone out, we now have the awfully misjudged Flo, a Guatemalan Bella who creates awkward silences thanks to incessant references to her impoverished upbringing. Then we have the antagonists, DSM, who are relegated to horrible stereotypes whose heavily stereotyped renditions of ’90s hip-hop just feels like cheap and lazy comedy.
Although one major positive outcome to the new film is that the focus is no longer solely on Beca and Jesse, although I will say that Jesse is so underused it’s a fucking waste of a wage check. Of course, we have the awful teen movie cliché plot about Beca’s internship showing her that life isn’t as simple as the naïve student believes it is. The only positive to come out of this narrative strand is Keegan-Michael Key’s hard-assed music producer. In just a few scenes Key almost steals the film.
Pitch Perfect 2acts more like a group film and gives other characters, like the incredibly popular Fat Amy, more material to work with. There are two, yes TWO, new romance plots to contend with and some moments of heavy realisation where the Bellas realise they need to think about their life after college. This widened lens has both positives and negatives: the film actually feels like an ensemble piece but there is still too much happening to allow everyone to get their moment to shine. Most of the girls are still left in the dark.
What does work this time around, just as it did before, is the music. The arrangements are chock-a-block with modern hits and classics of recent history. Forgoing the ’80s nostalgia that was so annoying in the first film, the soundtrack is another winner. Even if the more obvious presence of auto-tune felt like we were moving more into Glee territory.
Pitch Perfect2 was never going to be a failure in terms of money and will continue to see the immense success it already has. The winning combination of Elizabeth Banks (in her directorial debut), Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson was always going to have some laughs and enough heart to work. However, there is just too much that doesn’t quite make it. I mean if you throw enough darts at a board at least one will land but the majority won’t.
This film has energy and passion, that cannot be denied. However, it is so desperate to ride the coattails of its predecessor that it becomes fucking annoying. Even the reprise of the fucking Cup Song is so obviously pandering that I couldn’t help but cringe my way through it. Pitch Perfect 2could have been better and could have been funnier; there can be no denying that. However, I can’t quite bring myself to write it off. There is enough to like about the characters, the familiarity and the underlying message to bring enough joy. Even a cynic like me found the Bella’s final performance heart-warming.

TBT – Election (1999)

Matthew Broderick, politics, review, TBT, teen movie
Last Thursday I voted in the second General Election that has taken place since I’ve been of the legal age to vote. It was an election that had everyone confused until the last second. I was still umming and ahhing on my walk to my nearest voting station. I’m still not sure I made the right choice now because, in the words of Tim Minchin, “the more you know the harder you will find it to make up your mind”. Unlike my two co-workers who unquestioningly did whatever the fucking Daily Mail told them to but I’ve argued with them about it until my voice was hoarse. Suffice it to say, election fever has been rife throughout the UK for what feels like a lifetime and, despite the results being in for nearly a week, it’s not going away any time soon. So I’m jumping on the bandwagon and looking back to a political film that I only first watched because it came in a box-set with Mean Girls.

Electiontakes us to a small community in Omaha as popular High School teacher, Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), prepares to supervise the election for Student Council President. Jim is a simple man who loves his job, his wife and his students: all except the over-achieving Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) who is a constant pain in his ass. Jim has an ingrained hatred towards Tracy because she has been brought up to believe that she should do anything in her power to get what she wants, no matter who gets hurt in the long run. Like her maths teacher, and Jim’s best friend, who lost his job and family when news of his affair with Tracy became public.
Unfortunately, Tracy is the only candidate in the election, meaning that she and Jim would have to spend a shit load of time together. Understandably, Jim is eager to ensure that his time with the girl who ruined his best friend’s life doesn’t get everything she ever wanted. So he enlists the help of popular Jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to push smug Tracy off her pedestal. Paul is a dumb but incredibly well-meaning guy who Jim easily manipulates in doing his bidding.
The pair quickly become a trio when Paul’s angry younger sister, Tammy (Jessica Campbell) uses the election to exact revenge after being scorned by the cheerleader she was secretly hooking up with. Tammy threatens to make a mockery out of the proceedings in order to get kicked out of school and being sent to an all-girls school. I’ll just wait for my eyes to stop rolling before I continue with this. Whilst I do, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the sensitive way in which Election deals with sexual identity in young people. Insert slow clap here.
Anyway, horrible stereotyping aside, Electionprovides an often witty and shrewd satire about the world of high school politics. It deals with issues of popularity, aspirations, and morality. Alexander Payne is the kind of director who likes to satirise in equal measure and there is no side of the Election story that doesn’t become a target. All of the main players have their positives and negatives: Tracy isn’t just the obnoxious know-it-all and Jim isn’t simply the poor teacher dealing with a difficult student.
Helping dole out his satire bullets evenly, the narration is split between all four parties. Reese Witherspoon is brilliant at playing the stoic Tracy whose façade occasionally slips and shows off a delightfully violent anger. This is Witherspoon in some of best early work: Tracy is the perfect mix of demure student, sultry vixen, and aggressive opponent. As someone who has never really been a fan of the actress, this went some way towards changing my opinion.
Matthew Broderick is on equally compelling form as the crumbling Jim who finds himself on a path leading onto increasingly murky moral ground. His narration is so often caught between wonder and horror. Jim hates Tracy’s attitude and sense of self importance but at the same time he is both impressed by her and annoyed by his attraction to her. Broderick’s performance makes this balance clear and he manages to portray all of Jim’s conflicting feelings.
Electionisn’t just the story of a High School election and the complicated social structure that plays such a massive part in deciding who wins. It is about the need to get what you want and how far you are willing to go to achieve that. Both Tracy and Jim put themselves fully into their desires and we get an interesting character study amidst all of the hormones. Election is a film that is haunted by the self-serving attitude that has the risk of tearing apart a happy life.

Electionis a fun and interesting dark comedy that has a lot of confidence in the message that its trying to give out. It is not an unpleasant experience but it is definitely a more superficial film than it wanted to be. Sure the satire is there but it never really runs deep enough. It is a film that spends so long trying to reach a destination before ultimately breaking down before it gets there. The place it ends up is fine but its not what you expected when you set off. 

The Duff (2015)

meh, review, rom-com, social media, teen movie, twitter, women, YouTube

I know we’ve been here before, dear friends, but I love teen movies. It comes from a childhood of watching John Hughes films and wanting to be Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald. There is nothing like sitting down with a shitty teen film; mostly because they only last about 90 minutes and don’t require any real thought. Although, now I’m inching ever closer to the big 3-0, I can’t help but find teen movies to be too fucking egotistical. Most films I’ve seen think they are much better than they actually are and than their predecessors. Obviously there are some exceptions, like 2010’s Easy A, but I’m just cold to most modern films in this genre. Particularly when the latest one, The Duff, opens with a declaration that The Breakfast Club (the King of all teen movies) is now irrelevant. You aren’t winning any fucking points with that kind of talk.

The phrase “the DUFF” is an acronym for Designated Ugly Fat Friend: a delightful term for that one member of any social group that is less desirable and easy to overlook. God knows, we needed a name for it. The job of the DUFF is to make their hot friends seem hotter and give lesser humans the chance to get closer to the beautiful people. Just when you thought modern society couldn’t get anymore fucking depressing Urban dictionary comes along with another gem like this.
After being forced to go to a party she didn’t want to attend, Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is crushed to be told that she is the DUFF of her threesome. Her childhood friend and jock neighbour Wesley (Robbie Amell) delights in explaining that, whilst she’s not exactly fat or ugly, Bianca is nothing in the grand scheme of things and only seen as a way for other guys to get close to her best friends, Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and Jess (Skyler Samuels).
This revelation sends Bianca into a downward spiral where she abandons her friends and questions her entire existence. Bianca, as it turns out, is a fucking idiot. Rather than ignoring the morons that fail to see her for who she is, Bianca turns to Wesley to My Fair Ladyher into someone men can’t ignore: particularly her long-term crush, Toby.
Unfortunately, the increased attention that Wesley is giving Bianca is noticed by the popular people and his ex-girlfriend, Madison (Bella Thorne), is particularly pissed-off. Madison is the Regina George of 2015 but with a greater arsenal of social media outlets to help her campaign of hate. The Duffmakes countless references to popular internet outlets at every turn: Bianca and her friends “defriend”, block and delete each other from their various accounts whilst Madison posts socially crippling videos of Bianca on YouTube. Whilst it may appeal to the younger generation, it seemed like a fucking desperate attempt by the filmmaker to seem relevant. The Duffwill get annoyingly dated the second the world realises Snapchat is a piece of shit.
It’s fair to say that Mae Whitman and Robbie Amell are the two bright points in an otherwise pedestrian teen comedy. Whitman has proved many times before that she excels in a supporting role thanks to her turns in Arrested Development, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Parenthood. Here she is able to make Bianca a funny, clever and realistic portrayal of a teenage girl. She is a charming character more easily compared to Juno than the typical teen movie heroine. I immediately warmed to Bianca and have added her to my list of style icons. She’s a fucking babe and I want her wardrobe.
Whitman has a great co-star in Amell to help her develop the emotional side of the story. Bianca and Wes have known each other since childhood and have delightful moments of banter and refreshing honesty with each other. The moments when the pair are allowed to remove themselves from the High School backdrop and get to grips with one another are the moments that really stand out. The pair bring heart and wit to a story that doesn’t really stand-out from the crowd.
For there is nothing clever about The Duffand certainly nothing that makes it a classic in the way that Clueless, Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You are. The narrative is so fucking obvious from the outset that you won’t even get through the opening introductions before you realise who Bianca will end up with. There is no real time for character development within the tight plot. The supporting cast never get the chance to make much of an impression and proven actors like Allison Janney are left spouting uninspiring platitudes.

Even the two main characters only get a small amount of emotional growth as the writers seem too scared to tackle subjects that may seem too deep. There are moments when the pair bond over their fractured home-lives but this connection is quickly severed in favour of more soppy teen romance. It is true that Amell is able to bring out a second layer to the stereotypical Wes but he isn’t able to go any deeper.

The Duffis a good enough entry into the world of teen movies but it’s not the kind of thing that will stand the test of time. More than anything, it’s confused about what it’s trying to say: on the one hand it’s extolling the virtues of being true to yourself and on the other praising the decision to reject society’s labels and improve yourself. It’s too much of a fucking chicken to go deep enough in certain key issues like cyberbullying and merely scratches the surface in the way a Daily Mail scare piece might..

The Duffwill no doubt appeal to its target audience thanks to its main cast and characters but it’s unlikely to speak to an older audience. There is nothing too terrible about it but there is much that could and probably should have been improved. It tries to say something meaningful about society but in the laziest possible way. There are a few humorous turns and amusing lines regarding the teenage reliance on their phones and social media. You won’t necessarily remember The Duff in twelve months time but you also won’t still be regretting watching it. 

TBT – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)

anniversary, magic fucking pants, review, TBT, teen movie, women
I have a secret shame that has been eating away at me for years. In my first year of university, a depressing 7.5 years ago, a male friend and I hid ourselves away and watched a film so embarrassing we vowed never to speak of it again. Until that point I’d allowed myself to openly mock the narrative as I imagined it to be. It was a source of derision between me and my school friends because we were teenagers and it’s what we did. Having kept the secret deep within for so long, I go through periods where I forget that I’ve even seen the film but then it comes crashing back into my memory. When researching ideas for my next few TBT posts I discovered my dirty secret, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, was celebrating its 10thbirthday. It seemed like fate.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the 2005 film based on Ann Brashares’ novel of the same name. It follows four teenage friends – Carmen (America Ferrera), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Bridget (Blake Lively), and Lena (Alexis Bledel) – who are devastated to discover that they will be spending their summers apart for the first time ever. Lena finds herself destined for Greece and her Grandparents; Bridget will be attending soccer camp (it fucking pains me to Americanise myself but needs must); Carmen is reconnecting with her father; and film-maker Tibby is left at home on her own.
Obviously, not seeing each other for a few weeks is the worst fucking thing to happen to these girls so they spend as much time as possible with each other. On one of their final days together they go shopping and, for some fucking weird reason, these four girls, all different shapes and sizes, decide it’d be fun to try on the same pair of jeans. It’s something I didn’t understand in 2007 and something I understand even less now.
Thankfully, in the magical world of movies, the jeans fit all girls perfectly. In an attempt to feel closer during their soul-destroying absence, the girls buy the jeans and vow to share them over the coming weeks. Just imagine the hassle and the cost of mailing one pair of jeans to all the girls: if you want to feel closer, why not just text each other every day for fuck’s sake?
Well, that’s just not Hollywood now, is it? So the four girls all set out on their different Summer journeys waiting for the chance to wear the same jeans as their friends. I do hope they wash them in between owners. There is the usual mix of teenage girl drama to be had here: there’s a boy, another boy, father/daughter drama and boring summer jobs. The film splits between the four girls’ separate stories in such a way that none of them get the chance to outstay their welcome. It limits the amount of fucking teenage drama you have to sit through.
Although, I have to admit that there is actually a lot more depth to TSTP than I originally thought there would be. Though it may contain certain familiar elements, the film is nowhere near as brain-meltingly bad as the usual guff created for this audience. Each girl gets their chance to experience the world and grow as young people. Despite my ingrained need to mock everything not intended for me, I actually found the film to be annoying sweet and strangely touching.
When the proud Puerto Rican Carmen comes face-to-face with her absentee father’s picture perfect, suburban family, she is forced to face the realisation that he is not as wonderful as she thought he was. She begins to question her identity and her sense of self-awareness. How can she compete with his ready-made family and why should she?
In Greece, Lena comes the closest of the four to teenage melodrama with her own version of Romeo and Julietbut, thankfully, without the double suicide. She meets a lovely Greek boy only to discover some unknown feud running between the two families. Fucking Greeks. Although, they should be thankful as TSTPwould have been fucking priceless marketing for the country. Endless footage of sun-drenched villages, with kindly old people always ready to throw a massive feast should the need arise.
While Lena is stuffing her face with Greek food, Bridget is causing a stir at soccer camp in Mexico. Using the magical pants of the title to seduce her older, camp counsellor. The group should probably have planned ahead and created a sex clause when they came up with their arrangements. I dread to think about the sand issues the next wearer was having. Of course, being a teenage film, this is a worrying area to deal with and, after ‘doing the deed’, Bridget spends much of the rest of her Summer hiding away in shame. Well who needs a fucking healthy attitude towards sex anyway?
Finally, we have the most engaging and also the most infuriating plot of all. Tibby, pulling all kinds of Dawson Leary shit, gets a boring job in a grocery shop so she can make a ridiculously pretentious documentary. Luckily, she meets an enthusiastic, kind and warm-hearted young girl who designates herself as Tibby’s assistant. This young girl, Bailey, shows Tibby that looking at life through a lens isn’t always the best way and, inadvertently, forces her to face up to some of life’s toughest realities.

Now, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantswill never be my favourite film. However, for something I would have once deemed too silly for me to even bother with, I was surprised by how good it actually was. The young actresses playing the main four were all doing great work before this and manage to bring a touching reality to this strange, magical tale. It is, at times, heart-warming and charming whilst still having enough comedy to fulfil its major goal. Despite nearly 8 years of secrecy, I think I’m finally ready to come to terms with the fact that I watched this film. Even if I’m in no real hurry to watch it again.