Tag Archives: teenage romance

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.

All The Bright Places

Violet and Finch meet atop a bridge. He is running across it, she is teetering on its ledge. He offers her a hand, and she takes it.

It’s a powerful and awful way to start a relationship, saving someone’s life. Violet (Elle Fanning) goes to Finch’s school. She is struggling with her sister’s death, a car accident Violet was in the passenger seat for. Finch (Justice Smith) sort of takes her under his wing, coaxing her out of her comfort zone under the guise of a school assignment. They travel to the wondrous places of Indiana, which will kill any thoughts of tourism you may have been harbouring because the wonders are underwhelming at best but Finch presents them with whimsy and charm, and how can Violet resist? But for all his saviour posturing with Violet, Finch has some pretty deep emotional scars of his own.

Despite its title, All The Bright Places can go to some very dark places. The leads are meant to be 17 but the story gives their characters some pretty heavy burdens and some serious sophistication. Fanning and Smith have great chemistry and give grounded performances, saving the film for what might have been maudlin or overwrought. Still, with Violet and Finch confronting grief, abandonment, and struggles with mental health, All The Bright Places is quite weighty for a teenage romance. I’m not sure the film quite handles itself correctly all the time; at times it feels a little superficial and easy. But on the whole I found it quite enjoyable. It’s based on a YA novel by Jennifer Niven and it feels like it. Which is not a criticism, actually, and it does deviate quite a bit from the book, it’s just that it wants to impart some wisdom, it wants to make some profound discoveries, and it doesn’t mind being rather obvious about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor might. Like, if you wanted to extrapolate that you should become your own bright place, the film will nod at you encouragingly while quietly nudging a box of tissues in your direction. Take the box.

Tall Girl

Sean is a Tall Boy. He is 6’6. Yes he played basketball. And rugby. And volleyball. And he swam, actually. All the things a lean tall boy should do, including nearly eating his poor mother out of house and home – his poor, moderately sized mother had 3 Tall Sons actually, and it seems a testament to her budgeting that she never had to take out a second mortgage to feed them. He expected to date a tall woman. Preferred to date a tall woman. I am not tall. Well, horizontally tall, maybe. Vertically: certainly not. I tap out at 5’3 when at my most erect. My little younger youngest sister likes to poke fun at my littleness by calling me “funsize” like the bullshit tiny Halloween chocolate bars. She is half an inch taller but it burns me and she knows it.

Anyway. Sean is tall. Jay is not. That’s a 15 inch difference between us. Yikes. But I made my peace with my height a long time ago. I’ve had plenty of time; I stopped growing in the fifth grade. I can’t reach the tall shelf and in most chairs my feet dangle without touching the floor but I clear a lot of tree branches without ducking and fit into all the sports cars that Sean has only seen the outside of (I did cram him into a Mazda Miata once but couldn’t bear to pull the trigger and sentence him to 5-7 years of Sean-origami. Sean deals with the back pain that leaning down to kiss me induces and I deal with the fact that my eyes are inconveniently located exactly at elbow height for him (“the danger zone” I call it). He lies diagonally on the bed and I fit in the triangle space on either side quite neatly. My shopping expertise means for the first time he has the right inseams and size 14 shoes that don’t suck.

Being a Tall Boy is actually a very nice thing, I take it. Like in the movie, people often ask him “How’s the weather up there?” (mostly old men) to which Sean gamely replies “Terrific!” But being a Tall Girl is a lot harder, especially a Tall Teenage Girl. Jodi is only 6’1 but fears her height defines her. She feels all too visible. Even boys her own height are intimated, but those who are shorter, who make up the majority, have zero interest. So whether or not the weather “up there” is nice, it’s awfully lonely. Which makes me feel a tiny bit guilty for taking a Tall Boy off the market when technically speaking a dude who is 5’7 is Tall Boy to me.

Of course Jodi (Ava Michelle) is also a bit oblivious because her best friend Jack (Griffin Gluck) has always been interested, if only she had cast her gaze slightly downward. Instead she looks only up, and eventually meets the eyes of the handsome (and tall, needless to say) exchange student Stig (Luke Eisner), who is sort of already taken. But with expert advice from her beauty queen sister Harper (Sabrina Carpenter), Jodi hopes to achieve Tall Couple status. Anyway, it’s easy to find sympathy for Jodi, who is indeed Going Through Something (and it’s not a growth spurt) (and so what if it was?) even when she’s not being her best self. It’s less easy to find forgiveness in your heart for some pretty lazy mean girl tropes and some random and unnecessary shaming.

For some reason boy-girl couples are supposed to have a height differential that only works in one direction. It’s arbitrary and nonsensical and yet deeply culturally ingrained. But you guys: it’s bullshit! It’s as stupid and useless as those teeny tiny chocolate bars. We don’t need to abide by rules that don’t make sense: reject that shit. Kiss people because they’re nice and smart and do good things in the world. My grandmother was (is) taller than my grandfather, and yeah they’re miserable but they’ve been married for 67 years and there’s every chance that at least the first 5 were crazysexycool (he had a motorcycle!).

Tall Girl makes tall girls feel seen, even if that’s the last thing they want. It’s not a great movie, but since it streams on Netflix there’s little investment and little to lose, in inches or dignity or any other measure.

Five Feet Apart

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Poe (Moises Arias) are friends, roommates and teenagers who’ve known each other since they were kids. They’ve been through a lot together and their bond is undeniable. When a third wheel, Will (Cole Sprouse), moves into the building, things begin to change.

Also worth noting: Stella, Poe, and Will are all CF patients, and the building in which they live is of course a hospital. They’re all living in the same ward but because of their disease, they aren’t allowed to come any closer to each other than 6 feet. Which puts a real damper on the budding romance between Stella and Will. Of course , the looming specter of their mortality is also boner-softening, I’d imagine.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease for which there is no cure. It affects mostly the digestive system and the lungs. It’s the progressive lung damage from chronic infection that usually gets them in the end. Average life expectancy is almost but not quite middle age.

So here is another entry in the dead or dying teenager trope, which is weirdly having a moment. Or maybe it’s always having a moment. Teenagers like to really heighten the stakes. These teenagers know their limits and why they exist, not that it makes it any easier to follow them. They’re not trying to endanger their lives, but they are trying to live them. A warrior nurse named Barb (Kimberly H├ębert Gregory) will do everything she can to keep them going, and sometimes that pits her against them. I thought constantly about how hard that must be for her. She’s the one caring for them day in and day out, likely for years, and definitely for weeks and months at a time. She has more contact with them than any friends or family. But it’s not her job to match-make, or to chaperone dates. It’s to keep them alive another day.

CF patients may find it hard to fall in love. Their time outside hospitals is limited. Their time on earth is limited. But love between CF patients can’t happen at all because they must never, ever touch. Teenagers may find forbidden love irresistible, but this is a whole other level.

The Last Summer

It’s the summer before college and all bets are off. Kids are making plans, making memories, and making out.

But because they’re all going their separate ways in just a few weeks, there’s a transient MV5BMTg3NTQ5Mjc1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg0MjU4NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_nature to their hooking up. Does any of it even mean anything? And more importantly: do you, the viewer, care? There are perhaps a few too many characters to really keep straight, and some of them are rather odious. But let’s say the main ones are Griffin (K.J. Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell). She’s too busy to date this summer, working tirelessly on a film that might help pay for NYU. And yet she and Griffin spend an awful lot of time together, eating barbecue and having sex, and they’re on their way to the same city for college, so things look…possible?

The Last Summer is Netflix’s most recent attempt to lure in the YA rom-com crowd, and as painful as many of them have been, this one’s just boring and about as subtle as a love interesting literally landing in your lap. It’s like someone played magnetic poetry with shitty teen romance tropes, and then did nothing whatsoever to punch them up or make them new. The tired old stuff was good enough for The Last Summer – Netflix’s cinematic recycling bin.

The Perfect Date

Like 90% of teen movies, the general conceit is that the protagonist is reflecting upon his short life via the old college application essay.

Brooks Rattigan (the dreamy Noah Centineo) hopes to be Harvard bound, but his guidance counselor counsels him that he’s really quite bland and uninteresting, so he’s got to “find himself” in order to inject zing and zeal into his application.

A chance opportunity to be paid to escort the lovely if anti-social Celia (Laura Marano) to her high school formal births two very important plot points: Brooks falls for the MV5BZTJkZDZjYTMtNTNiYy00MGFlLWIzZmUtZjEzM2ZlMDY4NTI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_terminally popular and super-rich Shelby (Camila Mendes), and he gets an idea for a business opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of money to pay for Harvard (and to woo Celia), so why not rent himself as a date for hire? It worked well enough the first time, with Shelby, so why not with other girls? He recruits best friend Murph (Odiseas Georgiadis) to set up a dating app, one where girls can choose what date he’ll take them on, what outfit he’ll wear, what topics he’ll discuss, even what personality he’ll embody.

Nothing could go wrong, right?

Every single thing that happens is boldly predictable and unimaginative. But you didn’t come innovative story-telling or artistic film making. You came to lose yourself in the deep chocolate pools of Noah Centineo’s soulful eyes. Which is a good thing because Noah Centineo has not one but two eyes, and the movie has otherwize a grand total of 0 reasons to watch. The characters are extremely rough drafts of real people and they have no motivation, no arc, nothing.

You know those cardboard cutouts of movie stars that used to dot your local Blockbuster? Well you could use those life-sized cardboard cutouts to reenact this movie and it would be fairly indistinguishable. I don’t think the quality would suffer at all. But then you’d miss out on Noah Centineo’s wavy hair, and the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles. Of course, if you are not a 12 year old girl, you may find yourself impervious to his Millennial charms, and therefore you should stay the heck away from this movie because it just isn’t any good.

Midnight Sun

Another day, another dying teen. Hollywood loves to kill off teenagers. Movies are the #1 leading cause of 30 year olds playing 15 year olds dying prematurely.

In Midnight Sun, Katie has xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP, a rare genetic condition that means the sun is literally poisonous to her and could kill her in seconds. As you can imagine, she’s led a sheltered 17 years, sleeping by day, hanging out with her protective dad by night. But give a girl an ounce of outside contact, and she comes home with a boy, from whom she keeps her illness a secret.

This movie takes its cues from last year’s dying teen girl movie, Everything MV5BNTNkOTQ4ZjUtMjhiMC00MWNkLWJlMjQtYmY4ZmQ4ZDhkOTVkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Everything, in which the girl is also confined to her house, but she wasn’t allergic to the sun, she was allergic to everything. Possibly including the sun. And she didn’t have a dead mother, she had a dead father. And she didn’t fall in love with the boy next door. Oh wait, she did. So yeah, beautiful teen girls with terminal diseases just waiting to die up in their castles until a boy comes along who’s handsome enough to make her risk it all. So she can die on her front lawn instead.

Why do teen girls want so badly to watch themselves die? I wonder if movies made to be watched while you’re on your period is a genre: movies that invite tears and ice cream binge-ing while making young women feel seen. But high school romance doesn’t need to have life or death stakes, and your first boyfriend shouldn’t be your last. I’m about 15 minutes past 17, which is way too old to sympathize with what’s going on here. Featuring Bella Thorne, star of all the straight-to-Netflix runners up, and Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold and Maria Shriver, with all the genetic talent you’d assume.

It’s astonishing, really, that a movie can work this hard at being this bad. Midnight Sun puts the jerk in tearjerker.