Director: Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan
Finally, a real high school movie for the 90s. “American Graffiti” and “Grease” took a fun look at the 50s, as “Dazed and Confused” toward the 70s. In the 80s, we had John Hughes, who wrote and directed a bunch of unforgettable movies about teenagers, as well as Amy Heckerling, who gave us “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”. Amy did create an really good movie about 90s kids, the hilarious “Clueless”, but I wouldn’t say that it really represent a large number of 90s teens. Same thing for these disgusting indie pictures à la “Kids”. All that to say that we desperately needed a film to jump start back the genre, and I think we have it now.
Spring of 1998, the last day of high school. One helluvah important day for teenagers, who will go on with their lives as soon as tomorrow. But before, there’s one last big bash : the after-prom party! Music, booze and sex; the love affairs that die or begin; and since this is a movie, some people might even finally shine to the eyes of others. The film revolves around a bunch of different teenagers. Some film reviewers criticized that these characters were really generic and stereotypical. Maybe, but I think it’s the only way to make a film that reflects everyone. By exaggerating each kind of teenager, it’s easier to relate to a characteristic or another. Okay, so first, you got the timeless cliques, as “The Breakfast” Club defined them. Molly Ringwald was the Princess back then, this time it’s Jennifer Love Hewitt who plays the Prom Queen. Hewitt’s role is underwritten, but she’s naturally charming. The film has her leaving her jock boyfriend, who’s more like Michael Bowen in “Valley Girl” than Breakfast’s Emilio Estevez.
Ally Sheedy was cool as the weird, misfit, basket case chick in “BK”. There’s a similar character in “CHW”, but she’s more of a semi-goth loner à la Molly Ringwald in “16 Candles”. And who could forget the eternal geek, immortalized in the 80s by Anthony Michael Hall. This new film has a geek, who achieves to gain some respect at the party, like Hall in “Weird Science”. Watch for his wild impersonation of Axl Rose! He has two buddies who are way nerdier than him (they’re obsessed by the “X-Files”, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”), as Hall did in “16 Candles”. All these characters are pure John Hughes, and many twists are so 16 Candles.
The only character missing (and that’s one of the film’s flaws) is the as cool as they get tough guy, aka Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club”. Why? Because for some reasons, the people behind this new movie decided to sugar-coat it. So you got absolutely no one who has real problems or causes real trouble. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I just think that a little teen angst à la Hughes wouldn’t have hurt. Another odd thing is that absolutely no drug use is seen in the film. Hello, 1998 America anyone? Some kids do seem stoned, but things are left unsaid. Gone is the time when the most popular films among young people could include extended, guilt-free scenes of pot-smoking (see “Breakfast” once again, or Sean Penn in “Fast Times”) So, if the film is inoffensive, it’s still really enjoyable. I especially liked the few characters that seemed more original to the genre, and these are the infamous wiggers! You know, these white suburban kids who dress and behave like homeboys? Well, Seth Green is hilarious as one of these wiggers, who’s also dying to get laid.
There’s also some fun smaller roles/cameos. There’s the foreign exchange guy who just gets goofed on; an all smiley-happy cheerleader played by Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch); Jerry O’Connell as a college jock who still hangs around high school (kinda like Matthew McConaughey in “Dazed & Confused”) and even Jenna Elfman as an angel stripper (don’t ask!)
I kept Preston for the end because I have a special affection for this character. I related to him, and I’m sure many guys will too. He’s the kind of teenager who just doesn’t apply to any cliché. He’s not in the in-crowd, but he ain’t a loser either. Just like me, right ? And like yours truly, he’s an old fashioned romantic, the kinda guy who worships a girl during 4 years without telling her. Preston is in the line of Mark in “Fast Times”, Brad Renfro in “Telling Lies in America” or Paul in “The Ice Storm”. This last guy, played by Tobey Maguire, was the most realistic, because he didn’t get the girl. But “Can’t Hardly Wait” is just so warm-hearted that it’s obvious that everyone will end up happy. Still, I loved the cheerful performance of Ethan Embry (he was also Mark in “Empire Records”).
One of the surprises of the film is how well directed it is. Visually, it’s actually not far from what John Hughes did at his best. The film is filled with cool shots and camera tricks. As for the soundtrack, it’s sometimes feel forced, but I was still happy to hear some of 97-98’s essential high school hits. In the end, the film is a bit too optimistic, but it’s still pretty representative. It’s funny and refreshing from so-called adult movies. Like I said, the only thing that bugged me was that darn PG rating. I would have liked some of “The Breakfast Club”‘s R stuff. I’m still recommending the film, even though it doesn’t contain anything really new. I enjoyed the enthusiasm, a thing that’s getting rare in movies. Here, the people on-screen really look like they’re having a blast. If it’s fun for them, it is for us too, right?