Scene at the Cinema

by Kirstyn Smith

American Teen

They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that school days are the best days of your life. It’s been a long seven years since I last set foot in a school, so I’ve forgotten what it was really like, everything having faded into a rose-tinted haze. However, if the experience was in any way similar to some of the school days of these American teenagers, I’m glad I’ve supressed the memories. It’s all awkwardness and angst, with the occasional private naked photo being sent to everyone in the school, much to the chagrin of one poor girl.

courtesy of slashfilm
courtesy of slashfilm

It’s this episode that sticks with me, highlighting as it does the ‘reality’ (read: lack thereof) in this supposed documentary. No filmmaker would sit back and allow their subject to actively ruin a young girl’s reputation. Would they?

This naked-photo-spreading was the doing of Megan – the popular princess of the school. We also follow Colin – a jock attempting to obtain a basketball scholarship with the support of his alarmingly pushy father and Jake – helplessly geeky and determined to find a girlfriend (to cut a long story short – he doesn’t.) My personal star of the show was Hannah, described as ‘alternative’ and obviously there to appeal to the Juno generation. But it was hard not to feel for her multiple heartbreaks and to be sucked into her honest effervescence while faced with a fairly difficult life.

It’s hard to put a finger on why I enjoyed the film as much as I did. While very contrived and exceedingly stereotypically American, it provided a sense of nostalgia. For my generation, who grew up on a diet of Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Bug Juice and the Breakfast Club, it taps into that lingering sense that everything is cooler and more exciting in America.

Yet, this does prove not to be the case, as the film culminates with an uneventful prom, followed by an uneventful graduation and a postscript which informs us that the teenagers have gone on to lead uneventful lives. At least they stayed away from the presumed moral message that everyone can get on, even geeks and jocks (everyone knows that this is not true.)

So, is it a real insight into American teen life? No. Will it stir the hidden part of you that secretly wishes your school years were a blur of homecoming kings and queens, Abercrombie and Fitch with a Starbucks on every corner? Yes. Will it re-enhance your belief that school days truly were the best days of your life? Well, as you witness one teen moaning ‘My life sucks now, but what if it sucks more after highschool,’ and you fight the urge to reach into the screen and shake some sense into them, most definitely.

Marley and Me

Look up the definition of “family movie” and you’ll find Marley and Me.  By the end, the film has it all – a wholesome Mum and Dad, three well-behaved children, and a dog.

But I’m ahead of myself.

To begin with, Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) and John (Owen Wilson) are following her Plan:  marriage, check.  Baby substitute (the dog), check.  This is where it gets complicated.  Their all-too-boisterous Labrador chews on everything, runs too fast, humps without prejudice and generally fails to obey in one heart-warming scene.  Then another.  And another.  You get the picture – the dog is a bit of a pain, something of which we are reminded ad nauseaum.

However, the couple’s journey as they adjust to him, grow to love him and fail to train him forms the backbone of their journey through life.  We are treated to typical troubles, predictable problems and simple solutions.  Despite these attempts at conflict and resolution, it doesn’t ring true.  I won’t say it was boring, but it was a bit flat.

Perhaps this is because the film is based on a book, which is -in turn- based on a series of newspaper columns written by John Grogan.  I can see how using your dog’s life to track your own could be interesting in weekly installments of 1000 words, but after dragging the idea through so many different media, it seems too tired to translate to the big screen.  In order to cover this, the director throws in too many ‘annoying dog’ scenes, before resorting to tugging hard on the old heart-strings towards the end.

MArley and Me courtesy of LA Times
Marley and Me courtesy of LA Times

Of course, one has to remember that this film is primarily based at children and it does tick all the requisite boxes:  an amusing pet with plenty of ‘awww’ moments to conjure that warm, fuzzy glow.   However, if you’re neither a pet person nor a child person, this will soon wear thin and I was left with the resounding conclusion that pets, rather like children, are definitely cuter when they are your own.