College orientation is the focal point of one of the conceptually weirdest summers of your life. For the first time in four years, you can’t quite affiliate with an academic institution. You’ve probably spent a lot of time looking back at your high school years, thanks to graduation and prom. If you’re like me, at this point you just want to start college already. But I ask you to look back a bit more before college turns your nostalgia glasses a different tint. These movies are not only great, but have fascinating views on high school years and the people associated with them. Once you start college, you can’t quite view these films in the same way again.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)
My personal favorite of John Hughes’ movies, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a perfectly-cast snapshot of the liberating feeling of the last week of school. It’s also an acute portrayal of the strange beast that is high school administration, which we are told to respect and unquestioningly obey despite being comprised of unimposing people we hardly know. Furthermore, with its portrayal of dull teachers at the sidelines, it tells us that growing up should not be synonymous with becoming boring. Instead, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” conveys the sheer thrill and buoyant feeling of defying authority while grasping the gift of youth.
“Mean Girls” (2004)
The movie that launched a new phase in screenwriter and co-star Tina Fey’s career and in which Lindsay Lohan peaked, “Mean Girls” is one of the funniest movies of the last decade. More than just a spot-on satire of high school politics and scandal, the movie shows how high school traumas and arguments that may seem superficial to a spectator can be devastatingly important to participants.
Anyone who has seen both “Mean Girls” and “Heathers” knows that the former is largely an adaptation of the latter. “Heathers” is about a girl named Veronica, played by Winona Ryder, who joins a clique of popular high school girls all named Heather. Veronica doesn’t quite conform with the Heathers, commits a few party fouls and starts a relationship with a rebellious new student played by Christian Slater before he was creepy. Together, they plot to take down the Heathers, but Slater’s character goes too far. In many ways, the dark, nuanced comedy of “Heathers” is a retort to the relatively upbeat tones of John Hughes’ movies of the decade, which defined high school in broad strokes.
“Risky Business” (1983)
Starring Tom Cruise before he was jumping on couches, “Risky Business” is the movie that launched him into the stratosphere and the hearts of legions of teenage girls. Cruise’s character wrecks his parents’ car while they are away on a trip. To pay for it, he forms relationships with prostitutes and basically becomes a pimp for a week. It’s a funny, clever movie that touches on the outrageous things one can achieve with enough intelligence and willingness to take risks.
“Ghost World” (2001)
An excellent example of the movie being better than the book, “Ghost World” follows two post-high school girls played by Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson. They have big plans to take on the world and find their place in it until reality cuts their hopes down a few notches. The best friends drift apart as Johansson’s character accepts the occasionally humdrum nature of traditional adulthood, while Birch’s character experiments with identity and forms an unusual friendship with a character played by Steve Buscemi. Not to say that the movie is a downer — it’s filled with dry, dark humor and subtle, realistic emotion. Director Terry Zwigoff keenly observes the complex lives of young people and examines the pains and difficulties of moving on.