Hot and heavy

Ultimate American teen films to watch this summer
By Susie Joseph | Film+TV | 10 May 2016

Rosario Dawson and Chloe Sevigny in Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’ 1995

Top image: still from Dazed and Confused (1993) dir. Richard Linklater

Teenagers are ridiculous. Their drama is petty, their worries unsubstantial, their romances often inconsequential and fleeting. But at no other point in life is such optimism and hopelessness able to exist in tandem, and it is this unquenchable spirit which makes youth-centric films so inimitable in their ability to speak to all of us, regardless of age. Oh, to be young and reckless, with concerns only for your own libido!

No one does it better than natives of the home of hedonism, in the good old US of A. This is why we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite youthful all-American movies to get you in the mood for summer via frivolous teen antics old and new.

Dazed and Confused (1993) dir. Richard Linklater
The spiritual predecessor to Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater’s Dazed and Confused was instantly iconic, so much so that Matthew McConaughey opened his acceptance speech for his Oscar win in 2014 with his most famous line from the movie, “alright, alright, alright” (it’s all in the delivery). Set in 1976 on the last day of school, everyone is out to party, get laid and either deliver or avoid a beating, depending on their social standing. Masked behind an air of triviality, this coming-of-age comedy continues to resonate with modern audiences for its charming sincerity.

Kids (1995) dir. Larry Clark
Larry Clark’s Kids has risen to infamy post-release due to its frighteningly authentic look at youth culture in 1990s New York City. This film navigates the world according to Telly, Casper and their friends, whose primary interests consist of deflowering virgins, getting high and beating the living daylights out of passers-by with skateboards, in that order. However, a dark shadow is cast on the group by the HIV virus, which moves through its ranks with deadly ease. Kids is maybe not one for a post-exams celebration, but certainly a great reminder of why safe sex is good sex, at least.

Adventureland (2009) dir. Greg Mottola
Sulky Jesse Eisenburg and sulky Kristen Stewart combine to offer an altogether enjoyable portrayal of the highs and lows of being a sarcastic 80s teen working a dead-end job and trying to have a good time. Featuring everything you could ever wish for from a youth flick, including but not limited to uncertain futures, ill-advised sex, theme parks and children vomiting. If nothing else Adventureland will at least make you feel optimistic about the summer months ahead, although they probably won’t include Bill Hader being your boss. Bummer.

Nowhere (1997) dir. Greg Araki
An ensemble cast of almost-famous actors such as Heather Graham, Ryan Phillipe and Denise Richards, to name a few, assist in this exploration of sexuality and surrealism from director Greg Araki. Darkly humorous and razor sharp, in this psychedelic conclusion to Araki’s “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” – previous entries include Totally F***ed Up and The Doom Generation – everything from monogamy to extra-terrestrials is confronted through the eyes of a group of promiscuous teens.

The Spectacular Now (2013) dir. James Ponsoldt
Director James Ponsoldt earned comparisons to the late, great master of teen movies John Hughes for his adaption of Tim Tharp’s novel, and for good reason. Young adult darlings Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller play out a romance that is as charming as it is angst-ridden, with a screenplay that presents these would-be clichéd characters in a palatable manner. Male lead Sutter, played by Teller, epitomises the millennial mind-set as he passionately exclaims he’s “serious about not being serious!” Man, it sure smells like teen spirit.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001) dir. David Wain
An outrageous plot and star-filled cast have turned this film into a comedy cult classic, prompting a Netflix prequel series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. But before you go anywhere near that, make sure to take the original journey back to Camp Firewood in 1981, and be reminded just how imperative 24 hours can be at 17 – the thin line between councillor and camper; virgin and stud; even life and death with the impending doom of a satellite hurtling towards the camp. A hilarious script and stellar performances from the likes of Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler mean that Wet Hot American Summer is an unmissable watch, and summer goals to boot.

Heathers (1988) dir. Michael Lehmann
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a tactic we’ve all employed at times, but perhaps not quite to the extent of Michael Lehmann’s murderous dark comedy Heathers. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) gets more than she bargained for when her high-school romance with psychopath Jason “J.D.” Dean (Christian Slater) takes a bloodthirsty turn and, as Veronica puts it, means her “teen angst bullshit now has a body count”. Heathers serves the noble purpose of reminding us that our high-school years and indeed high-school exes could have been a whole lot worse.


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) dir. Edgar Wright
Featuring Michael Cera as disinterested 20-something almost-superhero Scott Pilgrim who, on his quest to win the heart of his dream girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), must defeat her 7 evil exes and his own past to become worthy. With a killer soundtrack and phenomenal direction from Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is the comic book movie adaption that has it all: action; romance; vegans; Captain America even has a starring role as an evil ex to appease those pining for Marvel.

Say Anything (1989) dir. Cameron Crowe
John Cusack stars as ultimate nice-guy Lloyd, who has nothing much to offer apart from being the most perfect human being known to man. Say Anything is that rarest of treasures, a refreshing high school rom-com. Somehow, somehow, director Cameron Crowe managed to craft a film that is so unrelentingly heart-warming and forthright that it made a bedroom window boom-box serenade seem the pinnacle of romance, as opposed to contrived and creepy. Mr. Crowe, we salute you, sir.

The Virgin Suicides (1999) dir. Sofia Coppola
Based on the eponymous novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, the melancholy tale of five sisters in an authoritarian household is told from some twenty years in the future by their old neighbours, boys that lived across the street who still hold a deep interest in them. It is this whimsical air of mystery that makes The Virgin Suicides so compelling. The endless fascination the boys have regarding the ill-fated girls a haunting reminder of how profoundly lost loves can affect us. Sofia Coppola’s first shot at directing a feature film is disarmingly bittersweet, tender and funny, capturing the viewer’s attention long after the final credits have rolled.

Easy A (2010) dir. Will Gluck
Emma Stone stars as the irrefutably charming Olive Pendergast in a coming-of-age comedy that finds its origins in The Scarlet Letter, a 19th Century novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Even with the support of her hilarious family of whom we are forever envious (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson feature as Olive’s parents), the seventeen-year-old falls foul of her school’s rumour mill after pretending to lose her virginity. The situation naturally descends, but a witty, current script brings this 1850 adaption bursting into the 21st Century, facing off issues like slut-shaming and homophobia with tongue-in-cheek, easy charisma.

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