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Spotlight: The Best Teen Comedies

Dee Doyle Dee Doyle
September 16th, 2010 10:00am EDT

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High School can be the best time of your life or the worst horror you've ever experienced, according to Hollywood. Over the years movie after movie celebrates or criticizes (or both!) this transitional period for teenagers. Since the genre has really been done to death by now, it's rare that a film comes along that manages to do teen comedy well enough to stand out. With Easy A coming out on September 17th, there's some buzz going around it might be one of those films, but the jury is still out. For now let's look at some of the best teen comedy flicks over the years; the ones who started the craze, and those who lived up to the genre.

The Breakfast Club

It's impossible to talk about teen comedies or teen movies without bringing up The Breakfast Club. Let's face it, this movie is probably on the top of every list in the genre, and that's for a very simple reason: every generation gets something out of it. Over twenty years later and it still speaks to today's teenagers as easily as it did then. Five teens are forced for different reasons to sacrifice their Saturday to school detention. There's a criminal (Judd Nelson), a princess (Molly Ringwald), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), and an athlete (Emilio Estevez). During the course of one day they learn that these terms don't fully define any of them, and they have more in common then they realized. John Hughes is the king of the genre, and this was his masterpiece. It dealt with sex, drugs, abuse, the cruelty kids do to one another, and still managed to make its audience laugh and cry in equal measure.

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Mean Girls

Tina Fey is now a legend in the comedy world, and this movie was one of her first major masterpieces. The film has biting wit, slapstick, great performances on the part of its stars, and some of the best one liners in the genre. It also talks seriously at times about the way people treat one another, specifically girls. Lindsay Lohan plays the new girl to a school and she gets adopted into the exclusive cool girl club the Plastics, run by Rachel McAdams in a hilariously cruel role. Lohan plans to destroy them from the inside, but she gets sucked in instead. It's one of the most successful satires to date and never takes itself too seriously, while still dealing with real topics. Just remember, stop trying to make fetch happen.

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Clueless

Whoever thought that taking Jane Austen's Emma and updating it to a mid-90's teen comedy would work is a genius. An eccentric genius. It was a sleeper hit the year it came out and now considered one of the best in the genre. It stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher, a queen bee with a heart of gold who meddles in the life of others for superficial reasons. She means well, but she usually has selfish goals behind the things she does, like fixing up two teachers so she'll get better grades. Things go awry when she 'makes over' her new uncool friend Tai (Brittany Murphy) and her matchmaking scheme backfires horribly. It's funny and sweet and although Austen may be rolling in her grave, it's meant to be a sincere tribute to the talented female writer. Plus for years afterward teens still said "As if!" and "so totally" and "what-ever!" like they were from the Valley. We love you, Cher, you're a total Betty.

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Heathers

This is definitely the only movie on the list that includes several murders, but black comedy works just as well. It still includes most of the major subjects teen movies cover, like cliques and vicious popular crowds. In this case, the 'unpopular' people just fight back. With force. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is the hanger-on for the popular clique of girls called the Heathers because they all share the same last name. She misses her old life with the nerds and geeks, but doesn't have the courage to leave her semi-popular status. Until a dark minded new boy named JD (Christian Slater) comes to town and helps Veronica think of mean pranks. Except the pranks become murderous. The movie was a box office failure, but it became a cult classic and shot off in rental and sales. Heathers was vicious, a little scary, and very funny. Just don't trust a guy who jokes about feeding someone a cup of drain cleaner.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This was Cameron Crowe's debut screenplay, based off his own book, and Crowe himself went undercover at a high school to get inspiration for it. The movie features an ensemble cast during a year of school, including a popular senior (Judge Reinhold) who is considering how to dump his long-term girlfriend, a young freshmen girl (Jennifer Jason Leigh) whose insecurity leads her to making big mistakes, a surfer/stoner (Sean Penn) who faces off against a teacher, and a handful of other colorful characters. It's a little difficult to follow at times due to the various characters and situations, but it is jarringly realistic in some ways. Much like The Breakfast Club, it's technically a comedy but since it has so much serious material, it's not always laugh out loud funny. While it was panned by critics in the time it was released, it's become more appreciated with time and perspective. Probably due to Crowe also going up in Hollywood's estimation with his other hits.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Donate to the Save Ferris fund! Bueller? Anyone? Bueller? Sorry, but this movie is almost impossible to talk about without spouting out a few quotes or laughing about its best parts. This is another of John Hughes' best, and probably featuring his most likable character: Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). He's one of those people that everyone likes and he knows it. He's smart and popular and charismatic and daring. He fakes an illness and steals his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) from school so they can goof all day. They have an adventure after stealing the convertible that Cameron's dad owns. And is it a little bit unbelievable that Ferris can jump on a float and sing "Danke Schoen" and "Twist and Shout" and everyone dances with him? Absolutely, but it's incredibly fun all the same. The serious moments all involve Cameron coming to terms with his depression and his relationship with his father, which really makes him sort of the central character arc of the film, even if Ferris is technically the star. Like it's title character, Ferris Bueller's Day Off is likable, so likeable that over twenty years later it's still beloved by audiences of all ages.

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Photo Credits: Various movies!