Tag Archives: teenage romance

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2

What more really needs to be said? Zed and his friends effected a zombie revolution in the last film, achieving equality for their people. It seemed like things in the sister communities of Seabrook and Zombietown were on the up and up – but what is a sequel without a new and terrible conflict?

Werewolves!

Turns out, Seabrook legend has “always” told of werewolves in the forest, but they’ve only chosen now to reveal themselves. Of course, Seabrook immediately forgets all the important lessons it learned last time and re-enacts the “monster laws,” the worst of which, in Zed’s (Milo Manheim) biased opinion, his inability to take cheerleader Addison (Meg Donnelly) to prom (to “prawn” actually, Seabrook students are the “Shrimps”). The situation, or Zed’s situation anyway, is only exacerbated when werewolf Wyatt (Pearce Joza) pays a little too much attention to his girl, trying to steal Addison away to their pack.

It’s very convenient to the plot how quickly humans abandon lessons of the past and yet it is also extremely and depressingly true to life. People are always afraid of what’s different, and they let fear blind them to the things that unite them. Even the zombies, themselves oppressed in the very recent past, are not sympathetic to their plight but eager to to leverage a new underclass to bolster their own status. It is a perfect allegory for the American class system, but surprising to find it in a Disney produced movie for tweens about prom and cheerleading.

Like the first one, production design on Z-O-M-B-I-E-S 2 is A-M-A-Z-E-B-A-L-L-S. The sets and the costumes have incredible theming that really emphasize the story. I particularly enjoyed the glitter fog, or as they called it, colloidal silver – you know, for subduing werewolves. These are the touches that force me to like a movie that is pure bubblegum and lollipops.

The whole cast is back, including Trevor Tordjman, Kylee Russell, Carla Jeffery, and James Godfrey from the first film, and newcomers Chandler Kinney and Ariel Martin. They’re talented, they’re all talented, even Tordjman, who remains my one beef. He’s just a little too “on.” Everyone else is making a movie, and he’s playing to the back of the house of a children’s theatre, hammy and exaggerated.

I still say these are surprisingly tolerable movies, definitely a fun time for kids to watch with parents. The monsters make it Halloweeny but the singing and dancing and gelato carts make it harmless with a side of sweet messaging.

We’ve been depending on generation Z to save us, but if not them, generation Z(ed) seems up to the task. Armed with pompoms and dance battles, they’re a lot more prepared for change than we’ve been. Zombies 2024.

Z-O-M-B-I-E-S

Seabrook is a perfectly planned community, where everyone is uniformly beautiful and bright. Fifty years ago, there was an accident involving lime soda at the local power plant, unleashing a green haze that turned people into zombies. Seabrook survivors erected a barrier to keep themselves save, and it has lived securely beside Zombietown ever since.

The ensuing 50 years have harkened 50 years of zombie improvements; they now wear a device on their wrists that emits a soothing electromagnetic pulse that keeps them from eating brains (it probably counts their steps as well). Zombies are are now like anyone else, though they are easily identified thanks to green hair and a pale pallor. Unfortunately, zombie phobia is rampant in the Stepford-like community of Seabrook, and the division is still pretty strict. Zombies wear uniforms, work the worst jobs, aren’t allowed to keep pets, etc, etc. Today, however, Zed (Milo Manheim), a teenage zombie, is super pumped because it’s the first day of school and for the first time, zombies are allowed to attend human school. He shouldn’t be surprised that the school is still very much segregated, with the zombies all relegated to the dank basement and not allowed to mix with human kids or join extra-curriculars. Luckily Zed’s got a zombie edge when it comes to football, and the Seabrook Shrimps are utterly awful without him. Can one zombie jock heal the hearts and prejudices of a xenophobic town? With a little help from his zombie friends and one brave, blonde cheerleader named Addison (Meg Donnelly), yes. Yes they can.

This little ditty is available on Disney+ and will make for some fun, family friendly viewing this Halloween.

Meanwhile, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I really liked this film myself. It’s corny and earnest as heck, but it’s also extremely well put together. I never saw High School Musical, but I imagine this is not unlike it, only half the kids are zombies.

Someone production-designed the heck out of this thing. That person is Mark Hofeling, and he deserves an awful lot of credit. The Seabrook side looks like a Taylor Swift music video and the Zombietown half looks like a Katy Perry video, and for the first time in my life, I mean that as a compliment. Costumes by Rita McGhee follow the aesthetic brilliantly (Sean even commented on the pastel football uniforms), so when they all break out into dance, the effect is rather pleasing. Oh did I mention it was also a musical? And the songs aren’t bad – not worse than a lot of what plays on the radio, anyway. The choreography’s decent too, more current and involved than I would have predicted from a Disney movie. The young cast (Manheim, Donnelly, Trevor Tordjman, Kylee Russell) are talented and charming and quite polished. And the script isn’t terrible either. Or, it’s terrible in a self-aware way, leaning extra hard on archetypes but making use of them and landing a few clever quips along the way.

Do I have a school girl crush on this movie or what? It’s really not meant for adults and I would never inflict this on anyone other than Sean. It’s a living, breathing cupcake of a movie and I guess I was in the mood for dessert.

Chemical Hearts

Grace is the mysterious new girl in school who limps along with a cane and nearly stole the school newspaper editing job right from the stranglehold position Henry’s been leveraging throughout his entire high school career. Of course he can’t resist her. She’s broken. He wants to fix her, in that grand tradition of teenage boys the world over. Haha, only kidding. Only books and movies think teenage boys lust after loner girls. In real life I’m pretty sure it’s the outgoing cheerleader types, the girls who do most of the work for them.

But then again, Henry (Austin Abrams) is not your typical leading man. Millennials redefined masculinity, and our leading men have reflected the change – think Adam Driver, Paul Dano, Domhnall Gleeson, Dev Patel, Robert Pattinson, Ezra Miller – men who have pushed back against the beer swilling, no feelings having, sexism propagating pigs Hollywood has excused for years. Millennial men ask for consent. They manscape. They try. They like your friends and meet your mother and declare their intentions on IG. Think of 21 Jump Street when Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum first meet Dave Franco’s character. Hill and Tatum are likely borderline millennials themselves, but in this movie, Franco engendered the new man: he cared. He held hands. He waited until you were ready. And now we have Henry, a Generation Z leading man – in fact, a Gen Z leading person, because Gen Z is progressive and inclusive and they know that gender’s a social construct and not tied to a binary system their grandparents were content to force themselves into. Gen Z is diverse and aware; they’re digital natives used to personalized content but not fond of labels. They’re also overwhelmed and lonely. They’re moving away from traditional notions of beauty (well, at least for men) – yesterday’s hunks were broad, buff, and weren’t content with just a 6 pack but had upgraded to an 8 pack. Gen Z’s leading men, like Tom Holland, Finn Wolfhard, and indeed Austin Abrams have leaner, rangier physiques. Even comparatively fit Noah Centineo was body-shamed on Insta for not having abs – though people were quick to come to his defense. Abrams has a mopey, droopy-haired, anemic look about him, handsome in a hurt kind of way, like Kurt Cobain if you’ll allow the reference to – ew – Generation X.

So maybe kids these days really are turned on by chicks with mobility issues and a preternatural affinity for disaffected solitude. At any rate, Henry cannot resist. He’s smitten. But Grace (Lili Reinhart) truly is the walking wounded, and she’s got more ghosts than a teenage boy, even a very sensitive, very vulnerable one, is equipped to deal with.

Even given that I am bad with titles, it still took me a minute to figure out that I’ve read this book, and fairly recently too. It’s a fairly forgettable work of YA and is equally forgettable as a film. Tragic teenage love stories are a well-worn genre and even if Gen Z’s cardigans are slim-cut and their haircuts gender neutral, their love stories still follow the tried and true emotional roller-coaster we’ve all been through. Young love is still young love. Abrams and Reinhart have as much chemistry as their hearts promised in the title. Director Richard Tanne takes the trauma of teenage heartbreak very seriously, as does everyone who’s ever had one. Maybe a little too seriously – the film is coated in apathy and despair, leaving little room for growth or agency or change. I don’t feel we get to know the characters very well, and I was disappointed Henry’s friends get such short shrift in the film compared to the novel. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film, it just relies too heavily on all the old cliches and fails to stir up much beyond sympathy, which gets tiring after a while. Check out Chemical Hearts if you’re a fan of these actors, or are in need of a genre fix, but otherwise, this movie is missable.

Work It

Netflix has been delivering a steady stream of movies for young adults, and for the most part they can be sorted into two broad categories: dance, and the insanely high standards of college admissions. Every generation has a teenage dance movie. My mom had Footloose and Dirty Dancing; I grew up with Save The Last Dance and Bring It On, and Netflix has recently served the likes of Feel The Beat, which failed to get my toes tapping. Am I simply getting too old? I’m definitely feeling sorry for young people who have spawned the second teenage trope: the pressure to be perfect. And as Quinn discovers in Work It, sometimes being perfect isn’t enough. In fact, her dream school seems on the verge of rejecting her for being too good. First we exchange childhood for resume-building, time-sucking extra-curriculars, and now we fault them for it?

Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) really wants to go to Duke. Or her mom really wants her to go to Duke. Or her dead dad really wants her to go to Duke. She’s assembled the perfect college admissions application, and now it’s both not enough but also too much and in any case, she doesn’t get early acceptance. The admissions officer isn’t impressed with all the perfectly checked boxes. She wants to see fire and passion and a willingness to disrupt. Rule following, Quinn is clearly not inclined to any of those things but she is surprisingly good at thinking on her feet and comes up with this juicy little lie: she claims to be on her high school’s nationally ranked dance squad, the Thunderbirds (as seen on Ellen!) (clearly this script was written before Ellen’s big fall from grace). Now all she has to do is make her lie the truth. Fool proof, right?

In fact, Quinn’s best friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy) is on that very dance team, aiming to be a professional dancer. She quite selflessly devotes hours to turning rhythmless Quinn into someone worthy of a Thunderbirds audition. There’s only one open spot on the dance team, and no matter how much dance-cramming Quinn does in the next 2 weeks, she’s never going to earn it even if captain Julliard (Keiynan Lonsdale) didn’t harbour a huge grudge against her, which he totally does. So wannabe disrupter Quinn forms her own dance team, claiming Jasmine as its captain and a bunch of other single-skilled classmates as filler on an already extremely lean team. Jasmine is obviously the world’s bestest friend ever and also incredibly stupid. She has single-mindedly pursued dance, has no fall-back whatsoever, and has now left the team that will guarantee the right scouts see her. Luckily Quinn is resourceful. She tracks down an old champ with something left to prove – Jake (Jordan Fisher) will make an excellent choreographer if only she can coax him out of hiding.

I feel like this movie should have annoyed the shit out of me like so many of its recent predecessors, but the truth is, it’s got some very likable leads in roles that feel grounded and more fully-realized than many similar movies have bothered with. I am not its target demographic but I suspect Work It is about to enjoy a wider audience because it gets the basics right and has personality even though it’s fairly predictable. Dance isn’t going to magically save anyone’s patootie but Work It does make a case for making a little time in all that parent-driven future-planning to just enjoy something for enjoyment’s sake. This generation are perhaps the least rebellious teenagers the world has ever seen. Their youth is micro-managed and filled to the point of bursting with activities and carefully curated recreation but no real leisure. If we’ve learned one thing from this pandemic, it’s that maybe slowing down a bit is not such a bad thing. It’s not going to be dance for everyone – maybe it’s even watching a dance movie on Netflix – but taking time out and time off are so important for well-being, and the pursuit of true passions is what replenishes us when the grind has been too much.

Banana Split

When something is billed simply as a “Dylan Sprouse comedy,” you adjust your expectations accordingly. Many people will know Dylan and his twin brother Cole as the stars of Disney channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. I am not those people. Since I’m old as fuck, I know them as the kids who played opposite Adam Sandler in Big Daddy. They’re grown up now, arguably too grown up (28) to be playing a high school student, but in the great tradition of Hollywood, it is what it is.

A happy surprise though: this is not a Dylan Sprouse comedy. He’s in it, but he’s not exactly the focus.

An even happier surprise: though this is the second movie about high school sweethearts headed for college on opposite coasts released by Netflix this weekend, Banana Split is a lot more palatable than The Kissing Booth 2.

April (Hannah Marks) and Nick (Sprouse) have spent their last two high school years as a couple, half of it desperately in love and in sync, and the latter half bickering and growing apart. Still, it’s a blow when they’re accepted to schools so far apart. They break up, and it seems their last summer at home will be spent in separate corners, licking wounds, mending hearts, and sharing custody of mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts).

But Ben throws an unexpected wild card into the mix: Clara (Liana Liberato). Clara and April hit it off immediately. They’re kindred spirits, destined for instant best friendship. Clara is the sunny antidote to April’s funk. There’s just one little wrinkle: April’s not the only one to fall for Clara. So does Nick. Nick and Clara are dating, so to preserve the friendship between the two women, they agree on some rules, mostly consisting of not talking about Nick, and not telling Nick about their relationship.

It works for a while. But more importantly, the story works. It works because the script is good. While The Kissing Booth 2’s characters are the exact same age, their antics are fairly juvenile, the film aimed a much younger target audience. Banana Split, however, is much saucier, and comes with an R rating. I always have a soft spot for teenage girls who talk like salty sailors because I was one, and I get them. I get bonding over rap lyrics and driving tests and the mysteries of corned beef (I have LITERALLY ranted about corned beef my whole life. Corned beef? Exactly how is something corned and why on earth would you want it to be? Diiiiiiisgusting).

Anyhow, this movie caught me off guard. Marks wrote it along with Joey Power and gives it an authentic flavour. This may be a Gen Z comedy, but April and Clara’s friendship is timeless and I love a script bold enough to write toward it and not treat it like it’s the side piece. Bravo.

The Kissing Booth 2

In the first fillm, Elle (Joey King) confronted her crush Noah (Jacob Elordi) at a kissing booth, which was awkward because Noah just happened to be the older brother of her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney), and according to the strict rules of their friendship pact, siblings were off limits. But the heart wants what it wants, sparks flew, and Elle and Noah spent a glorious, loved up summer together, before he headed off to college.

Now Elle’s starting her senior year of high school while juggling a long distance relationship which everyone else basically assumes means break up. Even Noah is feeling a bit neglected because of Elle’s misguided attempt to give him “space.” In fact, Noah wants just the opposite, encouraging Elle to apply to schools near him despite the fact that the Elle and Lee Friendship Pact also states that best friends should go to the same school, and that’s on a whole other coast.

Don’t worry, there are going to plenty of harmless, G-rated shenanigans: a series of games that until now I’d assumed only got played at church picnics, vying to be top score at an arcade even though it’s 2020, accidentally describing walking thirst trap Marco in excruciating detail over the school PA system – just your typical modern day high school antics.

I didn’t really care for the first movie and I didn’t expect much from this one either. Nor did I get it, to be honest. It is what it is: a sweet teeny bopper romance for the tween market. But it’s also a reminder of how much we ask of kids – kids who are still dressing up for Halloween! They have to predict what they’ll be happy doing for the rest of their lives, what the future job market will look like, whether their love can withstand the strain of distance and temptation, where to relocate geographically, and how much debt to cripple themselves with long-term, assuming they won’t be totally priced out of home ownership, and the institution of marriage still exists, and the gig economy hasn’t imploded any hope of insurance, and there’s still a planet healthy enough to withstand a generation after theirs. No pressure though, right? We definitely feel comfortable saddling 17 year-olds with these decisions? The exact same 17 year olds who thought they could solve the bulk of their problems with a Dance Dance Revolution tournament? Cool cool.

No hate for The Kissing Booth 2. It obviously has an audience, and its audience will find it without my intervention. Every generation needs its cheesy romances, and I’ve almost made my peace with that. Am I thrilled with this movie? Not even close. But it wasn’t made for me. Perhaps it was made for you. Or perhaps it’s not a perfect fit exactly but you’re looking for something undemanding and inoffensive. This’ll do. And maybe while we’re at it, this review will convince you I’ve matured, I’m mending my asshole ways, I’m more open and forgiving. It’s total horseshit of course. I suspect the truth is that COVID-19 has deadened me. It has decimated the movie industry and with so few options, it’s hard to completely discount any of them. We’re so desperate for content we’ll watch a sequel to a movie we couldn’t stand the first time – in fact my review said I’d rather eat my own toenails. Yikes. And now here I am two years later, eating COVID pie. It’s not good, but it’s literally all we have.

 

 

The F**k-It List

Brett Blackmore (Eli Brown) is a high school senior whose academic resume is spotless. Much like the ladies in the much better film Booksmart, Brett has spent his high school career studying and achieving but never really socializing or experimenting. He hasn’t had the time to stop and consider this lack of balance until the senior class prank goes wrong. Very, very wrong. And Brett, who was there but barely involved, falls on his sword and ends up taking the blame. His parents, who threw themselves a party to celebrate his acceptance to 7 out of 8 Ivies (Harvard merely wait-listed him), watch his brilliant future get yanked away as one by one, every one of those 7 Ivies back out of their offers. Brett is despondent, but this bleak turn of events does have him reflecting on whether this was the path he’d want for himself anyway.

Spending time with childhood crush Kayla (Madison Iseman), Brett feels empowered to send his friends a ranting video where he proposes a F**k-It List, a list of all the things he wishes he’d done but never had the courage. Item #1 is of course to kiss Kayla, and having done that, his blood is coursing with teenage hormones and adrenaline, he’s both free-falling and emboldened, and ready for whatever comes next. Except for what actually comes next, which is that his video goes viral, and instead of heading off for Yale, he’s instead become the most Gen Z of all things: an Influencer.

This movie believes that it’s putting the educational-industrial complex on trial. It also believes that it’s about an obedient teenager gone wild. Really, the movie is about Brett’s parents, Jeffrey (Jerry O’Connell) and Kristen (Natalie Zea), or it should have been anyway. They’re the ones who have bought into this machine, they’re the dictator parents who have structured their kid’s whole childhood around building the ultimate college application and then taking all the credit when their son actually succeeds despite this enormous pressure. A better script might have seen that, but then again, a better script may not have constantly confused the F**k-It List, which it both invented and defined, with the Bucket List, which is in fact a whole other thing. And better writers (not to mention better human beings) might have seen that Brett is neither a victim nor a hero – he’s a perfect and rather blatant example of privilege, and the only person who accidentally calls him on it is love interest Kayla who intends to pay for college by modelling her way through Europe (which turns out to be a euphemism for sex trafficking).

This kid’s “problem” is that his parents’ money and his cushy lifestyle have netted him literally every advantage in the world and now he wants to reject it, with no apparent irony or self-awareness, while continuing to spend their money unapologetically, and whining about it every step of the way – which only makes him more rich and more popular. It’s actually a super sad commentary on how toxic youth culture has become, and an even sadder example of how out-of-touch the rich white man (I’m guessing) directing this film is to not even realize it.

Every character in this movie is a bland personification of plain, fat-free yogurt; not one of them the least bit interesting or distinctive, so they’re absolutely painful to watch. Luckily, actual young people have never been half as dumb as Boomers make them out to be, and I bet most will be sharp enough to stay clear of this.

Valley Girl (2020)

First: a word about Logan Paul. Logan Paul is a Youtube star. “Star.” I know his name but not his content; he’s the brand of entitled-obnoxious that my life doesn’t need so I’ve never seen a single thing he’s done. I do know he’s been controversial, though. The first I heard of him, he’d gone to the suicide forest in Japan in late 2017 and posted a video of the corpse of a recently deceased (hanged) man. Cue uproar, cue “apology.” Youtube gave him a slap on the wrist (with 25M subscribers, their partnership is extremely lucrative to both) but he was back at it just a few weeks later. He’s sexist, he’s homophobic, he’s racist. Basically, he’s a giant douche. Valley Girl director Rachel Lee Goldenberg had the misfortune of casting him in her movie to play…well, a giant douche as it happens. This was in the spring of 2017, before the big controversies started to add up. The film was scheduled for a 2018 release by they scrapped it due to his involvement. This poor movie has languished on some shelf in Hollywood, serving a sentence for crimes committed by a single cast member. So yes, I acknowledge that Logan Paul is a problematic douche nozzle and we all wish he wasn’t in this movie even though he’s actually perfectly cast. With that said, onto the movie.

Yes, this is a remake of the 1983 film of the same name, starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman. Foreman played Julie, a perfect, preppie valley girl who falls for a punk (Cage) from the wrong side of the hills. In the 2020 version, Julie is a proper grown up. She (Alicia Silverstone) is a mom now, and she recounts this teenage romance to her daughter.

Cue: the 1980s. Cue the leg warmers, the big hair, the jazzercize, the popped collars. A young Julie (Jessica Rothe) frolics on the beach with her gal pals and then hits up the mall. She’s dating arrogant jock Mickey (Logan Paul) but an edgier guy has grabbed her eye. Randy (Josh Whitehouse) is not a punk, because punk is dead, but if she’s a little bit country, he’s a little bit rock n roll. Her friends think she’s having a nervous breakdown but as far as rebellious streaks go it’s actually pretty tame – just dreaming of leaving the suburbs and maybe prioritizing a career instead of marriage and motherhood.

2020’s Valley Girl is somehow even more 80s than the original: it’s an homage, a love letter, a glossy, hair sprayed tribute, and in doing so, it’s rounded out the edges and presents a sanitized pop version for your nostalgia cravings. This Valley Girl is a jukebox musical which means every song sung will be one you know; the retro soundtrack includes We Got the Beat, Bad Reputation, Hey Mickey, Call Me, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Kids in America, Just Can’t Get Enough, Material Girl, Safety Dance, Take On Me, Under Pressure, I Melt With You…well, you get the picture. The 80s vibes are strong in this one.

Is this a life-changing movie? No. Is this a great piece of cinema? Still no. But if you’re willing to embrace the cheese, it’s actually quite a bit of fun. And the great thing about the 80s is that you don’t actually have to have lived through them to be nostalgic for them. It feels like the nostalgia was baked right into the decade (and quite possibly Tang flavoured). Play I-Spy during the carefully curated costume party: can you spot Boy George – George Michael – Michael Jackson?

This movie is Grease meets Trolls World Tour meets Romeo and Juliet, but feels like it’s a 90 minute version of those Tiffany videos she used to shoot at the mall. Valley Girl knows what it is and isn’t afraid to lean right in. This is the 80s, turned up to 11.

The Half Of It

The Half Of It is not the kind of teenage romance we’re used to. Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) is a small town high school outcast but for the fact that she writes term papers for hire and nearly all of the student body has bought an essay or two from her. She is the most well-rounded teenager you’ll ever meet; she works hard, studies hard, writes eloquently, plays several instruments and composes music, she knows old movies and French philosophers and somehow manages to keep her household running. In service of this last item, she breaks her own rule and accepts a different kind of paid writing assignment – a love letter from shy jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) to the school’s prettiest girl, a pastor’s daughter, Aster (Alexxis Lemire), who is already dating the school’s most popular jerk-off. Normally Ellie would refuse on moral grounds, but the electric company’s put the squeeze on so she accepts, unable to anticipate the complicated web she’s just started spinning.

Basically: Ellie’s letters are a little too convincing. A few are exchanged back and forth, and both parties, Aster and Ellie-as-Paul, are literary junkies and deep thinkers, and there are plenty of sparks on the page. But when Aster agrees to meet Paul in person, he comes off as a bit of a dud. He’s a nice guy, but he’s got nothing but blank stares rather than banter. The chemistry from their letters seems to dissipate in person. But Ellie keeps saving things with witty texts and thoughtful letters, so Aster’s falling for the Paul on the page, who is actually Ellie, while Paul is starting to feel like maybe he likes Ellie rather than Aster, and Ellie is starting to wonder if maybe she likes Aster. Like, like likes Aster.

Which is why I say this isn’t the kind of teen romance we grew up on. It isn’t light hearted fun, or sexy cat and mouse. It’s a rather mature meeting of minds, a slow-burn wooing. And Ellie is a new kind of 21st century protagonist who never needs to take off her glasses and let down her hair to be appreciated. She can be our hero just as she is, in overalls and chapped lips. She doesn’t have to play dumb or be oversexualized.

Sean felt the movie was slow to get going and a bit of a drag but I really felt refreshed by this story line, by the credit writer-director Alice Wu gives to her characters. And by turning the film into a tribute to all kinds of love, including platonic, she brings an emotional complexity to the concept of soulmates is are rarely if ever witnessed in a teen rom-com. The future isn’t just female: it’s queer, it’s intellectual, it’s responsible, it’s proud to be different. And isn’t that inspiring?

Stargirl

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the new Michael Cera, Graham Verchere.

I know, I know, where has the time gone if we’re already putting Michael Cera out to pasture. Well, technically he’s going to be the new Jon Cryer and Jon Cryer’s going to be the new Steve Buscemi and so on.

Anyway, that was a bit of a digression and I apologize. We first saw Graham Verchere at a film festival in Montreal where he was starring in a horror movie (a good one) called Summer of 84. And now here he is all grown up on Disney+, working for the very talented director Julia Hart, who we first saw at a film festival in Austin, alongside Giancarlo Esposito, whom we also met at SXSW, albeit the year before, directing a movie that was called This Is Your Death at the time and later got renamed rather lamely, The Show. Anyway, this was another digression because we’re already seeing film festivals (including SXSW) cancelled due to corona virus and we may lose our whole festival season, which is sad because it’s where we’ve discovered so many gems over the years.

Anyway, if Graham Verchere is the new Michael Cera then I suppose that makes his costar Grace VanderWaal the new Emma Stone (move over, you old cow). Which isn’t a bad comparison, really, because VanderWaal is both luminous and a talented singer. But Stargirl is no Superbad, and that’s not a (super) bad thing. While my generation settled for movies where boys were obsessed with popularity and sex and girls where afterthoughts at best (and often just a means to an end), Stargirl is a movie that embraces awkwardness and gives it a starring role.

Leo (Verchere) moved to a new town with his mom after his dad died. His sartorial tribute to his dearly departed father made Leo a target for bullies, so he learned to keep his head down and fit in. This all changes around his 16th birthday when a new girl, Stargirl (VanderWaal), starts attending class and soon disrupts the whole school. Stargirl is the kind of girl who can completely dismantle a marching band. Well, technically one lonely boy who falls out of step can dismantle a marching band, but Stargirl is the cause and the crush either way. She’s weird from the barrettes in her hair to the pompoms on her shoes, and startlingly, she’s unashamed. She owns her oddness in a way that is immediately fascinating to all, and her penchant for ukulele serenades is not just tolerated but celebrated, propelling her toward not just popularity but a spot on the cheer-leading squad. Sure it’s for the losingest football team in the history of sports, but still. Even her uniform outshines the rest. And it’s okay! Have these same kids who once bullied Leo for his porcupine tie are somehow woke enough to embrace Stargirl without a trace a jealousy.

At least for a while. Don’t worry: kids today can still be dicks. Interestingly, Stargirl is more than just a manic pixie dream girl – sure she casts a magical spell on everyone, but she has her own inner workings, her own growth, her own arc.

Stargirl is a John Hughes movie for the modern age – without all the racism.