High school is always a great setting for a film. It’s arguably the most painful four years in your entire life and as teenagers, you’re going through so many changes at neck-breaking speed. I always considered high school to be something like life in the fast lane. In those four years you’ll experience plenty of ups and downs: the excitement of meeting new people and the agony of heart-breaks, the ecstasy of firsts and the grim reality of lasts, being an impressionable mind and being a rebellious individual. No matter what kind of person you are and what cliques you stuck around with, high school changes you. Whether it’s for the better or for the worse, well you can pick that up when you simply ask someone what they thought about high school.
That being said, the year of 2012 had a handful of memorable films about high school, but not all of them display the same kind of experience. I’m going to break-down how the high school films of 2012 portray high school.
21 Jump Street
Premise: Two undercover cops, Jenko and Schmidt, go back to high school to bust a drug ring.
Time Period: Modern Day
Old school vs. New School: Jenko was the cool kid in high school and Schmidt was the geek. Jenko advises Schmidt on how to be cool and fit in before they attend their first day undercover.
“One, don’t try hard at anything. Okay? Two, make fun of people who do try. Three, be handsome. Four, if anyone steps you on the first day of school, you punch them directly in the face. Five, drive a kick-ass car.”
Cool Kids: To Channing Tatum’s surprise, jocks and tough guys aren’t running the school like he did when he was in high school. Instead, smart and independent kids are the cool kids. Jenko (Tatum) blames Glee.
Parties: While Jenko and Schmidt are undercover, they live at Schmidt’s parent’s house. But with them away for the night, Jenko and Schmidt throw a huge party with dance music, kegs of beer, and a pound of marijuana. Also a fight breaks out.
Things to Learn: Hipsters didn’t exist in the 90’s. Also, if you punch a person in the face and he turns out to be gay, it can be considered a hate crime.
The Bottom Line: Since I was in high school in the late ’90s I can relate to Jenko when he said that the jocks and toughs guys were the popular kids in school. I have no personal experience to determine if the “cool kids” have changed like 21 Jump Street is suggesting, but a few of my friends have said it has, to a degree.
Premise: Three high-schoolers gain superpowers after making a discovery underground. Soon, their lives spin out of control and their bond is tested as they embrace their darker sides.
Time Period: Modern Day
Cool Kids: Jocks and anyone who gives an awesome talent show performance.
Parties: Kids over-crowd a huge house full of alcohol. Beer pong and empty bedrooms available.
Super-Teens: This is a nontraditional high school film since the main characters have superpowers that they describe as a muscle that can be strengthened from time and practice. But being the teens they are, they use their powers for pranks such as: moving a woman’s car in the parking lot and scaring a little girl by making a stuffed bear float.
Things to Learn: If you have super powers, don’t use it for bad. Also, even teenagers with super powers can’t fight back alcohol poisoning.
The Bottom Line: Chronicle does a great job at portraying the level of uneasiness teenagers have while trying to fit in with a crowd. The three main characters show three different cliques effectively: the popular jock who practically runs his class, the handsome boy who is in-between cool and geek, and the off-centered, loner whose difficulties at home result in his overall unhappiness.
Premise: Three high school seniors throw a birthday party to try and make a name for themselves.
Time Period: Modern Day
Cool Kids: Jocks and tough guys, as well as slutty girls.
Parties: The whole film shows the most epic party of all time. A parent-free house with a huge backyard including a swimming pool. There is alcohol, drinking games, and drugs present as well as a DJ playing dance tunes all night long.
Let’s Get this Party Started: The birthday boy, Thomas, is influenced by his ridiculous friend Costa to throw an out-of-control rager at his parent’s house when they’re away. But what starts out as a small flame turns into an all-out wildfire when hundreds of kids show up at the party. The rate of bad decisions being made snowball once the alcohol gets flowing.
Things to Learn: Do not throw a party at your parent’s house and do not allow your friend (who is obviously using you) to tell a radio station your address to add more people to the party. But still, even though the house is destroyed and you have a criminal record, apparently all that matters is your reputation. Oh, and you’ll get the girl in the end.
The Bottom Line: The kids in this film are just as out of control as the film itself. But if there’s anything positive to take from Project X, it’s that there are kids like Thomas and Costa who aren’t specifically cool, but would do anything to gain that reputation. And everyone has had that dream of throwing a monstrous party and becoming popular. Of course, Project X takes it all to a ridiculous level, but if you search deep enough there is a strand of dignity here of being a high school film.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Premise: A freshman with a traumatic past enters high school as fearful and shy, but discovers himself with the help from two seniors.
Time Period: ’90s
Cool Kids: Jocks, though these teenagers are all in one hybrid clique of kids who don’t really belong in any specific group.
Parties: Holiday gatherings with secret Santa exchanges, truth or dare, and a mild-mannered party with alcohol and drugs.
Things to Learn: A loner, a gay teenager, and a former slut can be best friends. Doesn’t that make life worthwhile? Also, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the biggest cult following ever.
Remember When: Believe it or not current generation, but there was a time when smart phones didn’t exist and people made mix tapes and mix CDs instead of file sharing playlists on Spotify or iTunes. I like to imagine how Charlie would be in this generation. Already lost and alone, would he be even more separated from everyone at school, or would he find comfort at not having to talk with people face-to-face through technology?
The Bottom Line: The Perks of Being a Wallflower takes your damaged goods of high school students and piles on more trauma than you can possibly imagine. But this group of misfits is an example of high school as being life in a nutshell. There is love, loss, firsts, conflicts, the real world, family, etc. In the end, the impact from high school is something everyone holds onto. For Charlie, it helped him become someone, which is something he never thought was possible. I’m sure everyone felt like that at one point of their high school life.
From the portrayal of high school in 2012 films, not much has really changed. While 21 Jump Street proposes the cool kids have shifted away from the jocks and tough guys, the other films suggest otherwise. But one thing’s for sure, high school teenagers have it tough and it’s not getting any easier for them. There will always be the pressure of fitting in and being “cool” during high school and everyone handles that issue differently. You can throw a party and hope that it’s a big hit, turning your high school reputation around. You can impress your classmates at a talent show and display a side of you that no one has ever seen before. Or you can just find other kids similar to you and join a group of misfits.
While everyone wants to be cool, that’s not what makes you a success later on. Maybe that’s why high school movies don’t usually focus on the popular kids. Instead, they concentrate on the typical teenager struggling with his identity and the fast-paced world of high school. It’s certainly a far more appealing story and that’s why this is a genre that will continue to thrive as every new generation begins and ends.