MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Coming of Age at the Movies: Where’s the Brat Pack for Today’s Teens?

My own coming-of-age years were defined by Sixteen CandlesThe Breakfast ClubPretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (seasoned with a generous sprinkle of Purple Rain and a dash of Desperately Seeking Susan). If you were a couple years behind me in high school, it was probably Say Anything and Some Kind of Wonderful.  The 1980s teen flicks were great in a way that teen films today are not, in part because they didn’t talk down to the kids they were aiming at, and they got how real teens act and react. They weren’t sitcoms blown up into movie storylines, but clever stories in their own right, cleverly told. And they worked.

And I wonder… are my kids getting that kind of nourishment from any of the films that are coming out now?

The 80s teen mecca movies assumed (correctly) that teenagers were curious about sex and sexuality, and (also correctly) that sexual activity and exploration among teens is hardly uncommon. They knew that cursing is a teen rite-of-passage; my friends and I thrilled to Molly Ringwald‘s Sam in Sixteen Candles daring to say “fucking” – a word we only dared mutter under our breaths when adults were in hearing range — out loud. “Fuck” is an adult word, a power word, and John Hughes understood that this is so even when (perhaps especially when) you’re writing for and about teens.

Why is that most of the films targeted specifically at teens these days seem so tame and … lame compared to the films we had back in my day? I can’t think of a single teen film from the 1990s and beyond that I’d consider pivotal to my kids’ overall cinematic development, but there’s a whole list of 1980s teen flicks on my list.

A lot of films targeted at teens these days are remarkably chaste compared to the Brat Pack films. Can you imagine Zac Efron saying, “I can’t fucking believe they forgot my birthday?” Or Miley Cyrus and her best pal Lilly talking about who they want to “do it” with or spying on the head cheerleader naked in the shower? I think not. Twilight may not have been the best movie of last year but at least it acknowledges that teens spend a lot of time thinking about sex and when and where they might be able to have it. And maybe that nod to sexuality (combined with the overt sexuality of vamps in general, of course) has a lot to do with its appeal to girls that age.

I realized this weekend that my younger kids had never seen any of my favorite 1980s films; we were looking for a pay-per-view movie my younger kids and their teenage friend could all agree on that none of them had seen, and when I saw Sixteen Candles on there, I recommended it to them, thinking the teen would like all of it, and the youngers would enjoy the comedy while the racier bits sailed harmlessly over their little heads.

I wasn’t worried about them hearing the Ringwald F-bombs, or even about explaining the guys wearing the jockstraps on their heads; I’d somehow forgotten, however, that naked shower scene featuring Caroline (Haviland Morris), Sam’s rival for the affections of handsome Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Oops. So they had to cover their eyes for a minute (I’m pretty sure they peeked anyhow, but I had to assert my parental censorship authority nonetheless).

That scene ties in with the many other scenes in the film that revolve around Sam’s worries that she’s not as sexually developed as she ought to be — a concern that’s very common among teenage girls, and one that they’re often embarrassed to discuss with anyone.  Yes, this could have been conveyed with a silhouette rather than the camera lens focusing on naked boobs, but the point of the scene is that we are seeing what Sam is seeing as she sneaks a peek at Caroline in the shower: full, mature, and (to Sam) unattainably perfect breasts that she herself can never hope to have.

How will any guy, much less the perfect, older Jake Ryan, ever want to “do it” with her while her body is still more child than woman? What if her boobs never look like that? Sam wants those boobs, and she wants them now. It’s an expression of budding female sexuality in a bold way that few teen movies today dare to handle it because it’s internal to Sam as a character, rather than being from the perspective of guys objectifying girls or talking about their body parts.

Shifting societal mores (and, probably, the fact that I’m now an adult with kids careening toward their own teen years rather than a rebellious teen myself now) have altered how certain things in the film came across to me. For instance, is Long Duk Dong a racist character, or does he serve as a conduit through which the racial and cultural assumptions of the other (white) characters are channeled? Sam’s casually snide, “You’re a fag” insult to Farmer Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) on the bus made me wince (for that matter, my own kids, well aware of our household rule about that word, looked at me as if waiting to see what I’d say to Sam about it).

The overt references to sexuality in the film, from Sam filling out a “sex quiz” asking her if she’s ever “done it” or “would do it” or wants to “do it” to Farmer Ted’s confession to Sam that he’s a still a virgin at 14, to the presumed loss of his virginity at the end of the film, all struck me differently watching them as a mother than they did when I was a teenager curious about and exploring sexuality myself. Oh, and damn, I wanted to smack Sam’s mouthy younger brother — the kid’s preening at the camera and smart-ass line delivery made me wish at least one of his wishy-washy parents would incorporate some discipline into their household.

My kids really enjoyed Sixteen Candles, finding humor and things to relate to in Sam’s teenage angst and the overall tone and feel of the film. They’d never seen anything quite like it for a reason: it’s very different than the films out there for this age demographic today. Aside from the films Lindsay Lohan was making for a while there (Freaky FridayConfessions of a Teenage Drama QueenMean Girls), what films do pre-teens and teens today have to choose from that serve the same purpose? There’s squeaky-clean, purity-ring-wearing Disney flicks, or fantasy fare like Twilight and the Harry Potter flicks, with the rare film like Juno that offers them something a bit smarter and the occasional Superbad for something a bit raunchier, sure … but where’s this generation’s Sixteen Candles?

I think the kids today would eat up a revival of the kind of teen films that we had back in the day. Updated remakes of films like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Some Kind of Wonderful, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Heathers — or entirely new films that serve the same purpose, and that address “teen issues” like sexuality, teen pregnancy, peer pressure, social/class stratification, drug and alcohol use and parent issues in edgy, smart ways, absent any “After School Special” sap.

Which ’80s teen flicks do you think would work best remade for today’s teens? And any thoughts on young actors who could step into the Brat Pack’s sneakers?

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon