High school is a (nearly) universal experience we all have to suffer through, and it’s such a defining time in most of our lives that of course filmmakers would want to mine that ground for screenplay material. Our Roundtable this week looks at some of our favorite comedies set in high school.
While most of Ferris Bueler’s Day Off takes place in almost every place that’s not a high school, it stands as a definitive exemplar of what we wished every time we called in sick when really we didn’t want to deal with the daily grind…. the dream of being able to hack in and change one’s grades from a bedroom-situated IBM XT, to grab a friend’s Ferrari and take your partner and best friend for a ride. If you led a parade mid-way through singing some Beatles, that wouldn’t suck either.
I have to go with Better Off Dead. It’s far sillier than you might remember, and has food that scuttles across the table and an extended fast food dream sequence. The romance is disposable and the drama predictable, but its surrealism and quoteability make it an easy, breezy watch.
M. Enois Duarte
John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club remains the best comedy set in a high school. Few movies have ever perfectly captured the anxieties, challenges and stress of being a teenager in the modern world as Hughes did with this beloved classic. Part of what makes this film a standout is its focus on five students stuck in Saturday detention, taking them out of their comfort zone, their usual environment surrounded by other friends. Through the course of the movie, we learn not only more about each kid, but come to appreciate that being a teen is often more strenuous than fun, more taxing than effortless for each individual. Their struggles can’t be generalized, easily summarized or categorized.
Not only is 21 Jump Street a hilarious movie that really shouldn’t work due to the origin of the property (see ‘Baywatch’ for example), but the set-up for the stellar cast is especially wry. Two not high school age doofuses infiltrating a 2010-ish high school is kind of a perfect analogy for the entire genre.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I’m champing at the bit to write about 10 Things I Hate About You, which is far and away the best movie to emerge from the Great (?) Teen Movie Renaissance at the tail end of the ’90s. Because I’m kind of a masochist, though, I’ll talk about Drive Me Crazy instead.
If you’re on the Centennial Committee and meticulously planning every last facet of your high school’s big dance, you’re pretty much obligated to show up. But wait! Nicole (Melissa Joan Hart) just looked on in horror as her hunky, double-digit-IQ crush passed her over in favor of a cheerleader. In a fit of dateless desperation, Nicole reconnects with her next door neighbor and BFF-no-more, Chase (Adrian Grenier).
Chase is the bad boy of your firmly-PG-rated dreams: all leather jackets and pop-punk and the-whole-school-is-gonna-lose-their-minds-over-this-prank shenanigans. Plus, he’s just been dumped by his clove cigarette-puffing, social activist girlfriend (Ali Larter), so he’s on the market. The rare opportunity for an anti-conformist to infiltrate the In Crowd: it’ll be the scam of the century!
So, sure, Nicole gives Chase a preppy makeover, and they pretend to be a couple. Along the way, they each learn a little something about how the other half lives. But in trying to make the objects of their affections jealous, will Nicole and Chase’s fake relationship blossom into the real thing?! Spoiler: Yes. Yes, it does.
The core of Drive Me Crazy is paint-by-numbers formula, but it’s the infectiously fun stuff in the margins that won my heart. That’s the benefit of having Rob Thomas aboard as screenwriter, before he’d create the likes of Veronica Mars, Party Down, and iZombie. Thrill to Designated Dave’s online romance with DaughterJudy and the amazing payoff. Ray makes unbelievable, homebrew music videos for The Electrocutes (a.k.a. The Donnas), who chime in with a couple performances. You’ll love to hate Machiavellian schemer Susan May Pratt and love to love too-cute sweetie pie Keri Lynn Pratt (no relation). I can’t really think of any better use for a turtleneck than to protect my post-breakup self from the world at large. And there’s something that warms my heart about high school social stratas not being as walled off from one another as you’d think.
The more I write, the more I’m starting to think that I genuinely, sincerely love Drive Me Crazy, so maybe I should stop while I’m ahead.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
Although the book was vastly superior to the movie, I did enjoy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, probably because I was in high school when both the book and the film were released. Written by Cameron Crowe and based on his actual experiences re-enrolling for a year in a California High School when he was in his early 20s, the film touches upon the usual high school hijinks and teen angst in an insightful yet entertaining way. A young Sean Penn channeled the stoner Jeff Spicoli to a T, ordering pizza in class, calling one of the teachers a dick (whoa!), and stumbling out of vans in a cloud of smoke. Penn was so committed to the role that he remained in character during the filming and only let people call him by his real name after the shooting was complete. Also, apparently director David Lynch was considered early on in the project. Imagine what a different film it would have been then?
Alexander Payne’s Election manages to cram a razor-sharp and amazingly astute political satire into a high school comedy without losing the laughs. In her breakout role, Reese Witherspoon created a truly iconic character with the go-getting overachiever Tracy Flick.
Also, Adam already mentioned it briefly, but I need to toss an Honorable Mention to 10 Things I Hate About You for the sake of Mrs. Z, who will stop to watch it whenever she runs across it on television (which is not infrequently). I like it too.
Tell us your favorite high school comedies in the Comments.