And The Good Thing Is...
by Lovell Mahan-Moutaw


And the Good Thing Is...

Movies about High School

Scooby do wah!. - Oz, in jazz choir, feeling it in order to impress a girl in American Pie.

Recently, I called my 16 year old brother and spoke with him about a variety of things. One of which was the fact that three of his classmates had overdosed on heroin this summer, two of them fatally. Another more lighthearted discussion was that he thought I just had to see American Pie. I had to see it because, "This is my life," he said.

After watching American Pie and laughing my ass off, I was shocked, scared, and amused by the fact that my brother thought "This is my life." Thank God he wasnıt talking about Sid and Nancy.

Mmy brother's life is, I'm sure, more than just the hunt for pussy. It is probably the humiliation a high school boy suffers in his hunt for pussy. It is probably even more than that, it is his need to fit in, to be a man, to shirk childhood and enter adulthood by hunting and obtaining pussy. Only men would think a pussy conquest would bring them to adulthood. The passage to adulthood being a pussy conquest or drinking a dead deer's blood (as depicted in another high school movie that also happens to be a gross, and now hilarious, piece of propaganda, Red Dawn), - men are just plain strange.

But I digress.

This got me to thinking of films about High School. When I was in High School, the talented John Hughes was making such films. Sixteen Candles was the first to come to my attention. If at least a few of Samantha's crises aren't indicative of 99.99999% of every freshman and sophomore girls' life, then color me astounded. I personally was, perhaps, cooler than Molly Ringwald, simply because I had a better wardrobe. Those pumps at the dance, girl, what were you thinking? Even in the 80s I was frightened of them.

Sixteen Candles was wonderful. It was more than funny, it was the knowledge that someone out there understood me and what was happening in my life. When you are a teenager, other, older people just don't understand. Grandparents are alternately scary and cool. Parents are clueless (until they show you, in one shining moment, they really arenıt, but that moment usually dies quickly). Sisters and brothers are annoying. And high school is a confusing, frightening, humiliating, fun-as-hell, four year long trip to a different dimension where one or two people don't care what is cool and so become what is the definition of cool, and everyone else emulates them (even though just the fact that they donıt care what is cool is what is cool). The vicious cycle of peer pressure.

After Sixteen Candles came such endeavors from Hughes as Ferris Bueller's Day Off (total hilarity), Pretty in Pink (I'm in the minority thinking that this was one of Hughes' lesser efforts, regardless of how fantastic Annie Potts and John Crier were), The Breakfast Club (absolutely brilliant - I watch it today and think that kids are probably still relating to it), Some Kind of Wonderful (underrated) and Weird Science (highly quotable, showcasing the forgotten (if not lost) comedic talents of Anthony Michael Hall). These were my movies (throw in John Cusackıs Say Anything, Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer and the slightly off-topic college fantasy, the absolutely perfect The Sure Thing). Each of these films in some way depicted my life from 1984 through 1990 - sophomore year of High School through graduation from college.

The topics of other high school hits, both before my time (including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Outsiders and Porky's) and after my time (Pump Up the Volume, Angus, Clueless, American Pie) seem almost interchangeable with those that were my movies. Fashion, parental wealth (or lack thereof), popularity, pussy/romance, peer pressure, older people not understanding, plans after high school, etc., etc., etc.

Watching American Pie, some of the games the boys played in hopes of getting laid were so embarrassing that I was wincing through my laughter. At one point, during the Internet scene, I almost had to leave the theater, I was so embarrassed for that kid. Even though I had been on one or the other side of this kind of juvenile idiocy, at the time it doesn't seem humiliating, it is just the way it is. Or it does seem humiliating, but somehow you find the will to keep your head up the next day at school. High School seems such a shaping factor of our life but as we leave it behind and get more and more away from it, its importance fades. When firmly ensconced in adulthood, that importance is replaced by nostalgia and wondering why we were so desperate to leave our childhood behind. Why did we want so badly to leave behind the snowmen and snowball fights to worry about driving to work through snow storms on the snow-packed roads? Why were so desperate to take on mortgages and dead-end jobs and squalling infants? Why did we want to be in relationships at all? Why did we think childhood so bad that we ran from it even though we werenıt sure what we were running to?

I wonder if my brother thought American Pie was embarrassing, or just life, or didn't think about it either way, just thought it was familiar and funny. I wonder if my brother will watch it again in ten years, no longer a virgin, no longer caught between childhood and adulthood, perhaps married with children, and roll his eyes and laugh with that wince of embarrassment and turn to his wife and say, "That was my life," and sheıll think, "God, men are so strange." I wonder if he'll look back and think wistfully that he wished he could go back, maybe just for a day, to see how he might do things now.

I wonder if he'll make it through high school without getting shot.

I love high school movies. When you are in high school, they make you feel someone understands. When you are past high school, they make you remember how wonderful and how wonderfully bad it all was.

So bring them on, all these crazy high school movies. Donıt let's ever forget the crushes and the silly "Did I really wear that?" fashions and the pranks and the embarrassments and the accomplishments and the passage away from childhood to more responsibility and more maturity and the realization that high school wasn't that important, we just thought it was, no need to shoot your classmates and bomb the cafeteria - it will all be over and the memories will fade and life will be more of what you make of it, not what other people expect of you.

So bring them on and let's laugh and remember, or wonder when we will forget. High school movies, they are the best.

Lovell Mahan-Moutaw
CineScene
1999