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 Reviews – Romeo and Juliet (2013)

bullshit, film, films, fucking awful, fucking beautiful, love, meh, review, Shakespeare, teenagers

I know this isn’t really a recent film but, with the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Romeo and Juliet last month, I decided, in order to compare and contrast, that it was time to watch the most recent film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most annoying plays. I know people generally love it because it’s about true love and shit but I just find it boring and really stupid. I mean people build these two teenagers up because they are so desperately in love with each other but they’re actually just idiots. Firstly, they know each other for about 2 seconds before they tie the knot and secondly they both die for really unnecessary reasons. It’s supposed to be the greatest love story ever told but isn’t it actually just the greatest story about horny teenagers ever told? I mean Romeo was madly in love with another girl literally seconds before he first saw Juliet. I don’t think we can trust anything he says about his feelings. Call me cynical if you wish but the idea that “true love” is so unconquerable that you must bow to its every whim is just a hyperbolic idea. Why does all love have to be so fucking insane that it leads to untold anguish and death? Surely the greatest love story ever told is one where two people fall in love over a prolonged period and become so comfortable and happy that they spend their lives together? Isn’t that what we should be striving for as a society? Not a crazy ride full of sword fights, feuding, and the death of two young people? Anyway, this turned into a massive rant so it’s best I just get onto the review.

When you think about it screenwriter Julian Fellowes is exactly the kind of person who would be super into Romeo and Juliet. The creator of Downton Abbey, the weirdly beloved period drama about rich people having rich people, is clearly going to love the tale of two young rich kids who end up dying. It’s basically an episode of Downton Abbey set in Verona. Which perhaps explains why so much effort has been put into the look of the film. This is a production that is focused on style and lavish backdrops have been created so the lovers can happily frolic in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The costumes are fairly astounding and the picturesque settings are just breathtaking. It adds to the authenticity of the production and ensures that the film remains beautiful throughout. However, there is little beyond the visual that really makes this film worth seeing.

If you ask me, there is little to get too excited about by Romeo and Juliet anyway. The characters always seemed like stubborn and irritating teenagers anyway but, in the hands of Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld, it is even harder to feel sympathetic towards their plight. Steinfeld was only 15 years old when the film was being made and she seems to struggle from the off to get to the substance of the lines she’s quoting. Steinfeld isn’t a terrible performer, as we have seen in True Grit, but she is merely saying lines instead of exploring the feelings and consequences lying behind Juliet’s words. ConsideringRomeo and Juliet contains some great quotes, it is disappointing that the language isn’t celebrated better.  Douglas Booth, who was around 20 during production, is as handsome as you would want for the title role and seems to have a greater understanding of his character. However, he as the drama and emotions ramp up, he fails to rise to the challenge and becomes rather monotone and flat. Neither actor really creates much of an idea of the supposedly astonishing love that their words insist exists between them.

So we are faced with a film about Romeo and Juliet where the audience finds is difficult to care about either of the star-crossed lovers. When we don’t care about the doomed relationship what else is there about this story? Thankfully, there are some shining stars amongst the cast. The rest of the younger cast fair better than the main characters but they still seem to be at odds with Shakespeare’s tale. They are each starring in their own play and, when they come together, it doesn’t always gel. It is up to the senior cast members to provide the needed talent for the audience. It is Paul Giamatti who steals the show and manages to bring a credibility to normally caricatured Friar Laurence. Then Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, and Lesley Manville, as Juliet’s parents and nurse, all bring depth and emotion to their characters despite limited chances to do so. I can’t help but feel this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet would have excelled had it’s attention been elsewhere.

Director Carlo Carlei has placed his actors in some beautiful backdrops but doesn’t always manage to get the story across on screen. The pictures themselves are gorgeous but there is nothing about the direction that sets the audience’s passions alight. It’s all rather rudimentary and flat. The kind of shots that want to be arty and impressive but just become mindless. It’s as is the film-makers believed the film would just make itself but found the reality was less simplistic. Julian Fellowe’s script has taken the play and hacked it to pieces. It’s so oversimplified that any magic that the Bard’s script could have created is destroyed. It’s not enough to simply make a well-known love story in a pretty way. Romeo and Juliet just goes to show that there is more to adapting Shakespeare than pretty faces and good costumes.

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 – Submarine (2011)

dark comedy, fucking funny, Richard Ayoade, TBT, teenagers

Writing this now, it seems weird that there was a time when Richard Ayoade was just that weird yet hilarious bloke from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley and The IT Crowd. Yes, he was a comedic force to be reckoned with but it wasn’t until the release of his directorial debut that we all realised how much filmic potential lay underneath the surface. Submarine was the film that had film critics all over the world proclaiming that Ayoade was destined to be the next big thing in British cinema. It was also the only film I was thinking about after watching The Fundamentals of Caring recently. That’s the great thing about this TBT feature; whenever I can a hankering to revisit an old favourite I can do it with the excuse of writing a post. If this means I get to feel less guilty about hanging out watching a film I love and listening to nothing but Alex Turner for the next few weeks then it’s an added bonus.

Submarine is the coming-of-age story of 15 year old Oliver Tate, a loner who is desperate to fit in with his school mates. Like every other teenage boy Oliver is obsessed with girls and sex so sets his sights on losing his virginity with the mysterious Jordana. After a successful first tryst, Oliver finds himself trying to come to terms with the realities of being in a relationship whilst worrying about his parents dwindling marriage. Ever since his mother’s (Sally Hawkins) ex-boyfriend (Paddy Considine) moved next door, Oliver has been worried about how far apart his parents having been getting. His mother is chasing the past and his father (Noah Taylor) is spiralling into a depression. Oliver decides that, before he can settle down with Jordana, he needs to fix his parents.

Submarine sounds likes a thoroughly bleak affair and, really, Oliver’s continued voice-over does little to discourage this idea. In the film’s opening, Oliver imagines the impact his death would have on the people around him. He dreams about the girls at his school lamenting about their wasted romantic feelings and is parents woefully making statements about their son. Yet, within this darkness there lies an undeniable humorous tone. It is the kind of humour that comes out of discomfort and the awkwardness of weird adolescent drama. It is certainly uncomfortable and frank but it’s undeniably funny.

Something that director, Richard Ayoade, certainly knows how to work with. As someone who has made a name for himself thanks to the weirder side of comedy Ayoade is on familiar ground here. When you consider this was the film that introduced him to the list of British filmmakers to watch you can undertand why people were so quick to hail the comedian for greatness. Submarine is a self-assured and stylish debut. It has many connections with the world of cinema and has more than a few similarities to the likes of Wes Anderson. I mean, if I had to quibble, I would say that the voice-over and subtitles thing was a little played out even by 2011 but, if that’s the worst criticism I can muster, it’s hardly a catastrophe.

Submarine doesn’t exactly sit within our reality, which lends itself well to Ayoade’s style. The characters are all just a little too quirky and their thought processes are a little too skewed. Oliver, in particular, feels a little too out there to really resonate on anything more than a strange, comedic level. At his worst he is contemplating killing his girlfriend’s dog to prepare her for the potential death of her mother. At his best he is creating a pamphlet to help a victim of schoolyard bullying fit in better. This is the kind of film in which an adulterous mother explains to her son that she just gave her ex a hand-job instead of dealing with the issue in private. It’s all very funny but sometimes it’s hard to connect with.

Still, Submarine is an undeniably adorable and unforgettable portrait of those awkward teenage years where you’re trying to make sense of yourself and the world around you. It’s captured brilliantly by Ayoade and the amazing cast he assembled. The two leads, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, have great chemistry and a great understanding of their character’s eccentricities. If I’m being honest, Submarine won’t be for everyone but, if you can get on board with it, you’ll find yourself revisiting it plenty of times.