This week sees two very different, and very worthwhile, films hit theaters, each dealing with youthful rebellion as their central characters. The first, Sally Potter's "Ginger & Rosa," follows two young teen girls (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) in 1960s England as they play hooky from school, discover politics, and have their first sexual experiences. The second is a little less wistful: Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers," starring Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine as four co-eds who head to Florida on spring break, fall in with a drug dealer (James Franco) and leave their old lives behind.
The two couldn't be further apart in content or execution, but they're both very much worth checking out (have a look at our reviews of "Ginger & Rosa," and "Spring Breakers"), and both show the continuing popularity of teenage rebellion as a cinematic subject matter. Because ever since people worked out that teenagers, you know, existed, sometime in the 1950s, angsty, anti-conformist adolescents have been easy to find in your theaters. So to mark the release of this week's double-header, we've picked out some of our favorites from over the years. Check them out below, and let us know your favorites in the comments section.
Earnest and irresistible, like the best John Hughes films, "The Breakfast Club" shows you a world you want to believe in, in spite of yourself. One Saturday morning detention brings together five high-school archetypes: a Jock, a Nerd, a Princess, a Rebel and a Freak. The five gradually begin to share parts of their ordinarily segregated lives, and realise that they are not so different after all. A potential horrorshow of cliché is averted by sensitive and memorable performances from the young leads -- Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy -- who were collectively launched to stardom on the back of it. Its influence cannot be overstated, both on the lives of real teenagers and on a generation of filmmakers. Kevin Smith called them "the best friends that most of us never had" and Judd Apatow said, “Everything I do is based on 'The Breakfast Club.'” The rebellion on show may be a bit soft-core compared to some of the other movies we'll discuss, but few films have ever been as perspicuous about adolescents. Lines like: “My God are we gonna be like our parents?” and “When you grow up your heart dies” echo the eternal concerns of teenagers in everywhere and, for all their innocence, the scenes where the gang come to terms with the harsh realities of adult life still pack an emotional punch. "The Breakfast Club" may to the '80s what "The Great Gatsby" is to the '20s: if you were there, you know that it’s not how it really was, but it’s how people will choose to remember it anyway.
Few films could be less like "The Breakfast Club" if they tried. In fact, for the whole of the '80s, it was legally impossible to see the film in parts of the world, most notably the UK, after the stylized violence it portrayed allegedly inspired copycat incidents, and director Stanley Kubrick withdrew the film from circulation shortly after its release. What a crime it would have been if this film had disappeared from view. Based on the 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange" is a towering work of philosophical cinema; a social treatise which only grows more prescient with every passing decade. Kubrick came to the film after a long-gestating project on the life of Napoleon project fell through (Steven Spielberg is now developing a Napoleon miniseries based on the Kubrick script), and the notoriously perfectionist director made "A Clockwork Orange" on a small budget in a matter of months. Malcolm McDowell, at his goggle-eyed, manic best, portrays Alex, the disaffected gang-leader with a penchant for ultra-violence who undergoes a brutal course of paternalistic correctional treatment. McDowell endured a particularly arduous shoot, damaging a cornea, breaking ribs and bearing the brunt of Kubrick’s demanding directorial style. The science-fiction stylings, the futuristic costume and Russian-influenced patois that Alex’s gang of "droogs" use, have aged remarkably well, and as a portrayal of destructive youth, it is peerless. The movie also stands as a rare act of bravery from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which rewarded a shocking and controversial work with nominations for Best Picture and Best Director (though it ultimately lost out to "The French Connection"). If "The Breakfast Club" is a toasty comfort blanket of teen cinema, then "A Clockwork Orange" is a cold, hard dagger to the heart.
“Rebel Without a Cause” crossed with an Elvis movie, all from the warped mind of the “Pope of Trash,” John Waters. “Cry-Baby” stars Johnny Depp as the dreamy and troubled Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, teen gang leader of the “Drapes”. Able to only cry a single tear, Cry-Baby makes all the girls go wild though the only one he wants is “square” Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane). Unfortunately, Cry-Baby ends up in jail after being falsely accused of starting a riot by Allison’s boyfriend. With all of the odds against them (including her grandmother, his stalker, and the police), Allison rallies for his release and the two teens in love are reunited, after Cry-Baby wins a chicken race against her beau, in true 1950s rebel fashion. By the end, Cry-Baby has finally resolved his issues with the past and is able to cry from both eyes, rather than leaking a solitary tear. With song titles like “Doin’ Time for Bein’ Young” and “High School Hellcats,” and a cast including Waters-ian oddballs Traci Lords and Patty Hearst, “Cry-Baby” is a masterful, tongue-in-cheek homage to the 1950s teen rebel as only John Waters could make it. Depp took the role of Cry-Baby to rebel against the Hollywood machine and being pigeonholed as a mainstream teen heartthrob. Waters said that while they were discussing the movie, Depp told him that, “he hated being a teen idol. I said, 'Stick with us, we'll kill that. Don't worry.'" Depp credited Waters as turning his career around, saying “John saved me, he really did, because I was desperate to get out of that mold, y’know, and desperate to not be a product anymore.” For the record, Depp will star in "Pirates of the Caribbean 5" in the summer of 2015.
Movies aimed at, or about teenagers, seek to illustrate the teenage “experience” and how said experiences shape their future. Director Lone Scherfig adapted writer Lynn Barber’s book of the same name into a film exploring how one teenager comes to find and learn from her experiences. The film follows 1960s London teen Jenny (Carey Mulligan), an idealistic 16-year-old who dreams of becoming a French existentialist. Her wiser-than-her-age sensibility finds a match in the thirtysomething David (Peter Sarsgaard), who wows her with trips to concerts and conversation with his sophisticated friends. The two find something in each other, but is it more than Jenny can handle? Throughout the movie Jenny is forced to question the life of young women in 1960s London, many of whom end up becoming secretaries and wives. Jenny’s need to rebel stems from a desire to see the world and live, and she believes that she‘s found a man who sees her as a woman, and not a child. By the end, Jenny’s fantasy is shattered and she’s confronted with questioning whether she ever knew what she wanted to begin with. Is the simple experience of being with David, enough to please her for the moment? Jenny may be accomplished for sixteen, but she learns the harsh truth that she may not know as much as she believes, and that’s always a hard truth to discover.
Sometimes a film is such a cultural touchpoint that it’s hard to see it’s actually pretty atypical of the kind of movie it has come to represent. And so it is with John Hughes’ 1986 sine qua non of the high school film, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Without a doubt deserving its spot in the pantheon, one of the things that makes ‘Ferris’ so enduringly popular, and endlessly referenced is that, in one of the most formulaic of genres, the particular trick it pulls off has never really been repeated. Other movies on this list deal with the pain of being an outsider, the longing for acceptance, and the cruel alienations and humiliations that seem world-ending when viewed through the magnifying prism of hormonal teenagerdom. But Ferris? Nope. Ferris is popular. Crazy popular, no less, with a pretty girlfriend (Mia Sara), a doggedly loyal best friend (Alan Ruck) and a school seemingly stuffed to the brim not just with admirers, but with fans; if his bitchy sister (Jennifer Grey) and arch adversary principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) don’t buy into the hype, they are the only two. Ferris is beloved by all, manipulative to the point of smug, extroverted, self-confident and ridiculously lucky. It's this self-assuredness that lets him rebel by cutting school, rather than angst or feeling like he doesn't fit in. By all rights we should hate the hell out of him. But we don’t, because Matthew Broderick is so guilelessly adorable in the role, and because Ferris, winking and wisecracking to camera, wins us over too, damn him. Long before he leaps in agonizing slow-mo over that backyard fence to the strains of Yello, long before Cameron has wrecked his Dad’s Ferrari (but is gonna be OK), long before sister Jeanie has had the bitch snogged out of her by a winning (sorry) Charlie Sheen, we are totally with Ferris. Still simply one of the most exuberant and strangely innocent celebrations of how fucking great it can be to be young and cool.