Tag Archives: teenage romance

A Week Away

Greetings from my toilet! I don’t normally write movie reviews from my bathroom but I’ve recently developed a severe intolerance to dairy and it seems imprudent to risk sitting anywhere else.

Yes, this movie is THAT cheesy.

Will (Kevin Quinn) is a teenage orphan and a bad apple. Stealing a cop car is the last straw that gets him kicked out of the group home so as a last resort he gets sent to summer camp. Which is actually church camp. And at church camp, in apparently just the space of a single week, a certain young lady helps him develop a crush on Jesus and saves him from himself. Avery (Bailee Madison) is the pastor’s daughter and has a dead mom herself, so they really bond over seeing their dead loved ones again in heaven one day. Hypothetically, of course, which is what atheists call faith.

Faith is great but prayers are not going to get you through this movie, and that’s because this isn’t just a teenage romance that puts marriage on the table but not kissing, it’s also a musical! An eerily perky, God-centric musical with the absolute cheesiest, boppiest choreography I’ve ever seen in my whole life. Generally I like a good musical, and I don’t mind a sappy teenage romance, but this movie made me hate them both, made me hate movies generally, made me hate even cheese, and cheese is practically my religion.

This movie is unabashedly Christian, though I do think paintball and confetti cannons are rather obvious ways to trick kids into thinking Jesus is cool, and I think tricking anyone into religion is technically a cult. But a cult with an arts and crafts cabin and tater tots on Tuesdays. Care to join? It’s currently recruiting on Netflix.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Mark (Kyle Allen) is either the most intuitive human being I’ve ever seen, or he’s done this before. In fact, he’s done this many times before. He’s trapped in a day that won’t stop repeating.

I know, I know. Enough with the Groundhog Day remakes. Almost none of them are good. I do have to give this one a chance, though, because last year Palm Springs made me put in the ‘almost’ before ‘none of them are good.’ Palm Springs was good. It was great. Now that we know it can be done, we have to at least go through the motions of pretending it can be done again.

No one’s more surprised than me that it has indeed been done again. It’s not as good as Groundhog Day of course, or even Palm Springs, but it does justify its existence, which is more than I was expecting.

You see, at some point as Mark is living and reliving his day, showing up with precision timing to making tiny, necessary improvements so that person A doesn’t get pooped on by a bird and person B doesn’t get smacked in the face by a beach ball, he meets a girl, Margaret (Kathryn Newton). And Margaret is the kind of girl who inspires him to use the pick up line ‘Are you by any chance experiencing a temporal anomaly?’ Which is to say that Margaret is also reliving this same exact day over and over, and now they’ve found each other. That’s not what makes this movie worthwhile, though Newton and Allen do have interesting chemistry together. No, what makes this movie worth your time is that they’ve put a new and interesting kink into the genre. Mark has of course been going through the day, obsessively trying to find the key that allows him to escape from this time loop. His current project involves a map of the eponymous tiny, perfect things – those small moments of utter perfection. But Margaret isn’t so keen on helping him. Margaret is actually invested in maintaining the time loop.

Cinematic history has taught me there are two kinds of people stuck in a temporal anomaly: those desperately trying to find a way out, and those who are hopelessly resigned to never escaping. Never have I encountered, nor indeed imagined, what kind of person would actually prefer to remain inside. This unique point of view brings a vitality to the genre that is most welcome. And The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is of course also operating under the ‘young adult romance’ subgenre, using a time loop to really emphasize that adolescent angst. The movie works because it uses these familiar trappings as a backdrop against some charming leads and a sweet story. It’s not essential viewing but if you’re looking for a small delight, Amazon Prime is serving this one up right now.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever

Prepare your tender hearts for possible breakage: this is the third (and final) installment in the To All The Boys series and in it we’ll bid adieu to our favourite young couple, Lara Jean and Peter. They’ve come a long way from merely posing as a couple in the first film to being threatened by charming rival suitors in the second. Seniors in high school, they’re about to graduate and go to Stanford together – or are they?

Back from a spring break in Seoul, Lara Jean learns she hasn’t been accepted to Stanford and suddenly the entire future she and Peter have envisioned together is in flux. With a class trip to New York City, prom, and graduation on the horizon, these milestones might have to be borne solo. If Lara Jean and Peter aren’t going to college together, they may as well just go through with the inevitable break up now and get it over with.

After three movies worth of emotional investment, it’s hard to say goodbye to Lara Jean and Peter, but first loves aren’t necessarily forever, and it’s sort of sweet to see Lara Jean finding happiness on her own terms, with or without Peter. In the first two movies she wondered who she loved but now she’s wondering what else she values and who else she is. Now this is growing up.

Director Michael Fimognari called this movie “an unintentional love letter” and he’s got a point; filmed back to back with the second one, this movie didn’t predict that the class of 2021 would be disrupted by a global pandemic, so this movie’s graduating class is perhaps the only one that will get to slow dance at prom and don caps and gowns without social distancing. Most of their real-life contemporaries have given up so much so in a sense we’re all living vicariously through Lara Jean and Peter.

It’s heartbreaking to say goodbye to these two high school sweethearts but all good things must come to an end and all things considered, this is a pretty fitting farewell for our two star-crossed lovers.

To The Stars

Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) is a social pariah at her high school. The 1960s were perhaps not an easy time for any woman, as evidenced by her mom, an abusive drunk who feels trapped by domesticity, and the townswomen, whose sole occupation seems to be malicious gossip, and the woman who haunts the local swimming pond after having committed suicide there, but Iris has it even worse, an outcast because her weak bladder has earned her the nickname Stinky Pants and is a daily embarrassment.

Luckily, a new girl in town, Maggie (Liana Liberato), seems reluctant to write Iris off just because all the mean girls instruct her to. And because Maggie’s big city mystique is so strong, other people start reconsidering her as well. But Maggie’s hiding some pretty major secrets of her own, and only Iris knows that she’s been lying…for now, anyway. These might still be young girls, but they’re dealing with some pretty hefty life problems, and life isn’t exactly going out of its way to be fair to them.

Martha Stephens’ beautiful movie is a tribute to female friendship and how just one friend can mean the difference between wretched loneliness and validation. Between her mother the kids at school, Iris is cowed by the cruelty, she lives shrunkenly, hunched over, avoiding all and any attention. Maggie is a necessary reminder that there is more than small town Oklahoma. A friend, for Iris, is hope. Hope that life won’t always be like this. If just one other person understands us, life doesn’t feel so alone. Hayward and Liberato serve up terrific performances, not despite their young age but because of it – only when we are teenagers do we believe that now will translate to always. It’s a bleak film that hides a positive message, one that needn’t be heard solely by teenage girls in the 60s, but by anyone who despairs that life will always feel empty. It won’t. Look up to the stars and have faith.

Life In A Year

Daryn (Jaden Smith) isn’t even a senior in high school yet but he’s got his whole life laid out in front of him, a series of goals and how to achieve them. Or rather his dad does. His dad Xavier (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is a full-time dick so intent on -seeing his son accepted into Harvard that he doesn’t mind completely destroying their relationship to get it. To Xavier, Daryn’s new girlfriend Isabelle (Cara Delevingne) is nothing more than a distraction, and he’s super rude and dismissive of her accordingly.

What Daryn’s parents don’t know is that Isabelle is a rapidly dying teenage girl, and in the great cinematic tradition of dead and dying teenagers, Daryn has resolved to give her a whole life’s worth of milestones in the single year she has left. Basically, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all; the dying teenage trope isn’t exactly original and Life In A Year isn’t exactly up to redefining the genre. Just look at that title: it’s 2/10 awful, it sounds wrong, it’s thematically meaningless, and it fails to distinguish itself from close relatives (a simple Google search confuses it with All My Life, A Year In My Life, The Worst Years of My Life, Life Itself, and more).

I never imagined I’d say this, but Jaden Smith isn’t the problem with this movie, and he’s the least problematic man among the cast. He’s mostly known for being the entitled son of Will Smith who can’t stop mistaking ignorant bullshit for poetry and philosophy. In this, he does a pretty good imitation of a decent human being, and in his best moments he briefly channels his more famous and talented father. Cara Delevingne isn’t the problem either. I’m never bowled over by her, but there’s probably not an actor in the world who could salvage this terrible material. Confusingly, director Mitja Okorn almost seems hell-bent on tanking this thing, or at least that’s what’s communicated when a film offers you two cancelled perverts for the price of one. Cuba Gooding, Jr. is of course currently on trial for forcible touching and of sex abuse to the third degree; at last count 30 women had accused him of groping. Disgraced comedian Chris D’Elia stands accused of ¬†grooming young girls and attempting to solicit nude photographs from minors. He’s also been accused of sexual misconduct by grown women, alleging that he exposes himself randomly and masturbates in front of them without consent. Mitja Okorn is the guy who said: yes, please, I’d like to work with both. Grade A stuff.

But this movie doesn’t need perverts to dissuade you, it’d be bad either way. It’s formulaic and poorly written and the characters are bizarrely one-dimensional (Daryn has a friend whose single personality trait is that he used to be fat. He isn’t even fat anymore!) or just don’t make any sense at all (D’Elia plays a “drag queen” named Phil who, though we never see him perform, is always in drag – has the script confused profession with identity?). No matter how you slice or dice it, Life In A Year (ugh, terrible title, still not over it) is a failure and there’s not a soul in the world who needs to see it.

Spontaneous

Spontaneous combustion is a cool concept unless you’re the one suffering from it. Unfortunately, the reality is pretty disappointing – it’s probably mostly obese, alcoholic women who fall asleep while smoking. Not exactly “spontaneous” but between the fat and the alcohol in their blood, they go up like wicks.

Spontaneous is not about spontaneous combustion, it’s about spontaneous explosion, which is even more dramatic. Mara (Katherine Langford), a senior in high school, is just minding her own business in class one day when the student sitting in front of her goes boom. She just…pops, like a water balloon full of blood. So that’s weird. And it gets weirder; the next time it happens, and it does happen again, and again, it attracts the attention of the media and the government, and Mara’s whole graduating class gets quarantined while the CDC tries to work out a cure.

Of course, teenagers + mortality + hormones = hella humping. Living each day like it could be their last (because it really could), Dylan (Charlie Plummer) gets the courage up to tell Mara how he feels – how he’s been feeling for the last two years. Crush reciprocated, Mara and Dylan are instantly an item, but their hot and heavy romance is constantly interrupted by another teenage eruption. Er, I regret that turn of phrase. But the kids just keep detonating like flesh bombs, painting the walls (and the bystanders) red.

The movie is cheekier than I’d expected, funny in a dark way, with a clever script adapted by director Brian Duffield from Aaron Starmer’s novel. It’s a horror movie – teenage romance – satirical comedy hybrid that just kind of works in a weird and refreshingly unique way with a pretty sick twist.

Langford is magnetically pretty of course, but away from 13 Reasons Why, she proves herself talented, delivering a surprisingly and appropriately low-key performance, the anchor in a pretty tumultuous storm. Duffield is a first time director but a serious talent. Spontaneous isn’t a perfect movie but it takes risks that pay off. It’s absurd, it’s electric, and if you feel something wet at your eye, it’s just as likely to be blood spatter as tears. Not all of these kids are going to make it to the end. Some will get to grow up, others will simply blow up, but either way, you’ll be sickly and slickly entertained.

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.