Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, arrives in New Zealand cinemas today and we firmly believe it's one of the best teen movies ever made. Wilde has somehow managed to create a high-speed, raucous, laugh-a-minute comedy that also doubles as a portrait of a deep friendship coming to a fork in the road. Booksmart is as funny as it is moving; a fast-paced flick that breathes new life into the coming-of-age genre.
There's something truly magic about a great teen movie – they're the kind of films you can return to again and again for comfort and catharsis. We put our heads together to compile a list of our favourites from the past few decades, in no particular order:
Juno marked the first collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody and the pair have gone on to create a number of stellar comedies since (Young Adult, Up In the Air, Tully). Juno revealed the way Cody's poignant, biting dialogue works beautifully with Reitman's naturalistic, normcore style – and in the hands of a brilliant actress (Ellen Page), Juno became something truly magical. Never before – nor since – has teen pregnancy been depicted so empathetically on screen. While Juno is full of zappy one-liners, at its core is a big-hearted story about dysfunctional people trying to love each other in the best way they know how.
Younger readers won't recall a time when "whatever" wasn't part of our everyday lexicon but it was real. It was a simple time, full of grunge music and over-sized plaid shirts. But it ended with the arrival of Cher Horowitz and her thigh-high sock-wearing posse. Clueless burst on to our screens in 1995, redefining how teens dressed, spoke and the music they listened to (goodbye Nirvana, hello Coolio). Alicia Silverstone's Horowitz was every teen's idol – and every parent's nightmare. She was smart, sassy and ridiculously superficial. Based on Jane Austen's 1815 classic, Emma, the Amy Heckerling film spurred a revival of the teen comedy genre, which had all but died out after Ferris Bueller's Day Off in 1986. Did it represent real life? Not remotely. Did it matter? As if…!
This list would be incomplete without a spot dedicated to the most quotable film of the 2000s (or any decade?). This comedy, written by Tina Fey, embedded itself in the cultural psyche upon its release and its influence on the teen genre was unmistakeable. With iconic performances from Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried (in her debut role), Amy Poehler and Fey herself, Mean Girls took every high school cliche and stereotype and both embellished and subverted them. And despite the scrappy implications of its title, Mean Girls slipped in a much more potent message: take teenage girls seriously.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
When Matthew Broderick joined Graham Norton on the sofa this April, the conversation inevitably turned to one thing: Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Never mind the fact the actor has starred in several Oscar-nominated films – or won multiple Tony Awards for his work on Broadway. Thirty-three years after the film was released, its legacy lives on and Ferris remains a hero to anyone who's ever had enough of the daily grind. Unlike other 80s and 90s comedies, which have dated awkwardly, Ferris Bueller's humour remains charmingly funny and on point, no matter how many times you watch it.
Greta Gerwig's beautifully rendered memory of adolescence was one of the most acclaimed films of 2017. With her photographic visual style and gently elliptical pace, Gerwig perfectly captures coming-of-age for all its confusion and euphoria - but primarily, she paints a heartbreaking portrait of a mother and daughter who love each other far too much. With stunning turns from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as her mother, Lady Bird can make you laugh, cringe and cry all within one scene.
10 Things I Hate About You
Ingeniously riffing on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You is the rare kind of teen rom-com that features unexpected emotional intelligence beneath its comical romantic plot. Held together by breakout performances from Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as well as a fantastic script, 10 Things won teens over at the turn of the century and has continued to do so ever since.
The Breakfast Club
Another of John Hughes' coming-of-age teen drama-comedies, this 1985 classic brings together a group of teenagers from different high school cliques while they spend their Saturday in detention under the watch of their hardnosed principal. Starring Brat Pack core members Judd Nelson (bad-boy stoner John), Molly Ringwald (rich princess Claire), Ally Sheedy (goth outcast), Anthony Michael Hall (nerdy Brian) and Emilio Estevez (jock Andrew), each character gets their chance to reveal their back-story to the group. They manage to find common ground but despite the triumphant ending (cue Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me), we're left unsure whether they'll talk to each other again come Monday morning.
Not many teen films have gone right back the deranged and downright awful beginnings of adolescence, but Eighth Grade bravely brought it to life in harrowing detail. Elsie Fisher is brilliant as Kayla, a 13-year-old girl trying to survive her last week of middle school, and director Bo Burnham lets her interactions unfold in natural, painfully awkward ways (apart from when he opts for some brilliant musical choices, such as Kayla scrolling social media late into the night to the tune of Enya's Sail Away). It's hilarious, but also intensely emotional; the audience aches for Kayla as she embarks on the terrifying undertaking of forging a self.