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Are teen movies just fluff - or are they deeper than we think?

OMG.

Source: Beyond Clueless/YouTube

LIKE, WHATEVER. WE all have our favourite teen movie (if you don’t, you’ve wasted precious years of your life, sorry), and we all have very personal reasons as to why.

Maybe you were pulled in by the girl power of Clueless, or loved to hate the ‘ugly girl in glasses/hot girl without glasses’ trope in She’s All That. Or maybe the nod to Shakespeare in 10 Things I Hate About You (Taming of the Shrew, geddit?) was more your type of intellectual film fodder.

Beyond Clueless

Director Charlie Lyne adores teen movies (Eurotrip is his absolute favourite, and he says he’ll defend it to the death), but he’s gone a step further than your average enthusiast.

He fan-funded a project to create a feature-length film about those beloved teen feature-length films, called Beyond Clueless, and exceeded his £9,500 goal by £2,500. Clearly, this chunk of donated change was the first sign that there was an audience out there hungry for a discussion of why exactly viewers connect with teen movies.

In testament to true fandom, Lyne tells TheJournal.ie that his love for teen movies grew even as he got older and could see their flaws.

beyond clueless 2

“On a very personal level, these are movies I grew up with and I think I never fell out of love with. They are movies that fascinated me and get more and more interesting the older you get and the harsher light you see them in,” he says.

Beyond Clueless is cut together using scenes from a selection of teen movies (about 100 or so of them), with a voice-over by Fairuza Balk from The Craft, a movie about teenage amateur witches.

It’s an intellectual look at the genre, with the selected films spanning from about 1995 to the mid-2000s. Lyne describes it as “part historical account, part close textual analysis, part audiovisual mood piece and part head-over-heels love letter to the teen genre”.

A team of five people put the film together in Lyne’s bedroom, which could be the plot for a semi-decent teen movie itself, provided there’s at least one crush, one jock, one illicit kiss, and one wise-cracking best friend. Oh, and a life-changing prom at the end.

clueless gif

While that last line might be a facetious stab at summing up the clichés present in most teen movies, Lyne says that the similarities and recurring patterns helped him when putting the film together.

I think it’s a weird thing because people think of those tropes and clichés as perhaps a bad thing, but in a way I think the pervasiveness of some of them – and they really do carry true straight through from the most famous teen movies to ones you haven’t heard of – they instantly place the film in a shared universe and canon.

Lyne says this “gives them licence to then explore much more interesting, subversive, often dangerous ideas under the blanket of a very safe familiar territory”.

That’s why we see issues like plastic surgery, divorce and female empowerment explored in Clueless; cliques and destructive friendships in The Craft and Mean Girls; self-love and self image in She’s All That and Bring It On; life as an outsider, domineering parents and self-destructive behaviour in 10 Things I Hate About You.. and that’s aside from teen movies generally exploring what Lyne calls that “strange place half way between childhood and adulthood”.

Life after John Hughes

The movies in Beyond Clueless are part of a wave of teen films that came out post-John Hughes and post-Bratpack, during “a moment when the genre really broadened out”.

beyond clueless 1

“If you look at the 90s -noughties in comparison, it’s a much wider playing field. Instead of those few massive movies you see hundreds of different ones, jostling for attention.”

These movies get further away from what Lyne describes as “the monolithic view of teens as all the same and basically with the same needs and desires”. Instead, there was room for experimentation. 

This, says Lyne, was more conducive to people finding “their” film. In making Beyond Clueless, he abandoned the notion of the teen films being good or bad. Instead, it was about what hit people at the right moment.

the craft gif

Frivolous fun?

Lyne says there is a “baseline assumption of frivolousness” with teen movies, that they are innately meaningless.

“It is a blessing and a curse. It’s them being written off in that way does give them licence to be subversive and weird, but means they are eternally thought of something a bit lesser and not worthy of analysis.”

With his own movie analysis, Lyne set out to pay tribute to the genre while also questioning it. “I think that’s also in keeping with the theme of teen movies anyway - at the same time as being very self-contained and insular they are very self cannibalising.”

And though Lyne agrees that people’s favourite teen movies are personal to them, he does cast a weary eye over those who choose the movie equivalent of Dostoevsky when asked to select their favourite.

“I never quite trust person who says their favourite teen movie is incredibly worthy and brilliant,” he laughs.

Beyond Clueless is now on release, and will be shown at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin on Sunday at 4pm. A Q&A with Charlie Lyne will take place afterwards.

Read: If you want to understand teens today, you need to know about these 12 things>

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