Part of growing up in the ’80s listening to adults complain that they “don’t make movies like they used to” is the inevitability of growing up to complain that they “don’t make movies like they used to.”
Of course my generation is right about that. As was my parents’ generation and as today’s generation will be when, 20 years from now, they start complaining that they “don’t make movies like they used to.”
The thing is that’s not entirely a bad thing. Or a good thing. It’s just a thing. Better and worse, movies are simply different from how they were and how they will be.
Take off the rose-coloured glasses and the “classics” of the past aren’t quite as rosy. Sure the latest teen comedy to get accolades, Easy A, might lack the polish and heart of John Hughes’ best work, but it also lacks Long Duk Dong and the marijuana-granted superpower to shatter sound proof glass with your voice. There’s always something in those ’80s teen classic that the memory magically glosses-over.
Perhaps the ’80s romp to weather the worst is the fondly remembered Can’t Buy Me Love. The story of a young nerd who actually does buy the love of the head cheerleader. On paper, and in my memory, the concept is sound.
Nice guy Ronald Miller is tired of being unpopular and when he sees beautiful Cindy in trouble, he seizes the opportunity to come to $1000 worth of rescue. In exchange she pretends to be his girlfriend. Things go as planned and he is skyrocketed into popularity. Of course it goes to his head, he ditches his old friends, becomes arrogant and hubristic, and eventually falls from grace. He learns a valuable lesson, makes amends and a slow-clap is involved. In the end, he gets the girl and is a little wiser, having made peace with who he is and his place in the world.
Absolutely fantastic. The classic hero’s journey but in a highschool setting.
Except, despite my memory’s stubborn insistence to the contrary, the movie doesn’t deliver the goods. You see, Ronnie Miller isn’t a nice guy at any point in the movie. He’s a pathetic douchebag.
At the beginning he’s a pathetic self-loathing douchebag ; a cringingly dorky and heartless douche in the middle; and, at the end, a pathetic, whiny twerp who hasn’t learned a life lesson and is just sorry he got caught bagging douches. The few instances in the beginning when he’s actually being a nice guy, he still comes off as a painfully dorky loser and, frankly, a bit of a self-important asshole.
If the film were made today, by a Paul Thomas Anderson (or even a Judd Apatow ), this all might have added up to a deep, subtle film about a dynamic, nuanced character. But it was made in the ’80s with the focus placed more on fart jokes than the study of personal identity.
But when I was fifteen, I thought it was totally radical. Now, however, over another fifteen years older, I see it for the middlerate example of its genre that it really is. That’s probably not a suprise to most people reading this.
Of course, this doesn’t mean teen comedies today are prefect either. Another film that looks better on paper than on celluloid is Easy A.
A wallflower allows the rumour she’s lost her virginity to continue in order to raise her social status finds herself bitten by the hand that feeds.
Again, fantastic. A post-modern Shakespearean farce with overtones of The Scarlet Letter. Except, as is the case with all movies these days, the wallflower is played by a stunner.
Emma Stone isn’t any awkward Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. The premise falls apart in the first scene when her character, Olive, walks on screen. This girl can’t get a date, much less get noticed? In Sixteen Candles when Jake doesn’t notice Samantha, it’s believable. She’s cute, but awkward, gawky, and also maybe a bit ugly. Unless things really have changed since I left highschool, Olive should have had guys lining up with gift cards long before they thought she was a tramp.
Once you suspend your disbelief, the film motors along okay. It’s not never as clever as it wants to be, but at least it has no Long Duk Dong character (just as Sixteen Candles had no Mr. Yunioshi). In fact, Easy A deals with homosexuality in a way no ’80s teen comedy ever did. That would be positively, by the way.
So the more things change, the more they don’t stay the same. But don’t really change, either. They’re just different than they used to be.
Long Duk don’t: