Guilty Pleasure: Not Another Teen Movie
Parody films have been around since the dawn of cinema, starting with the short silent film The Little Train Robbery, which saw director Edwin S. Porter spoof his own movie The Great Train Robbery by recreating it with an all child cast Bugsy Malone style. They really began to hit their stride in the 70’s with the Carry On franchise and then took on a life of their own in the 80’s and 90’s with classics such as Spaceballs, Airplane!, and This is Spinal Tap.
Then came the 00’s and the 10’s, and the parody film seemed to change, becoming more skit like with numerous famous scenes from a particular genre of film being spoofed and woven together to create its own Frankenstein parody movie instead of an original narrative. We saw films like Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth, The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It and Disaster Movie (which ironically didn’t seem to parody any disaster films…).
However, there were still definitely a few gems in this category that stood out, particularly the first Scary Movie and my pick for this month’s guilty pleasure film, Not Another Teen Movie. Is this pick shrouded in childhood nostalgia? Of course! Is it actually a good movie? Debatable. Do I find myself constantly drawn back to it? Hell yeah! So throw on your best going out poncho and the lowest rise jeans you can find, grab your mini-disc players and crank up Marilyn Manson’s cover of Tainted Love and journey back with me back to 2001.
Welcome to John Hughes high school, a place where stereotypes run rampant and nobody actually ever learns anything. This is where our ragtag group of ‘teens’ reside. There’s the ‘Popular Jock’ Jake (Chris Evans), the ‘Pretty Ugly Girl’ Janey (Chyler Leigh), the ‘Nasty Cheerleader’ Priscilla (Jaime Presley) the ‘Token Black Guy’ Malik (Deon Richmond) and the ‘Obsessed Best Friend’ Ricky (Eric Jungmann), every stock character you could need to fulfil the typical narrative of a teen movie. But this isn’t a typical teen movie, this is a lampooning of them so of course every character is self-referential and overtly aware of their role in this charade.
After being dumped by his popular cheerleader girlfriend Jake takes on a bet, from his blonde preppy nemesis Austin, to transform the weird artsy girl into prom queen. This story line plays upon one of my most hated teen genre tropes, the ‘ugly duckling’ story that sees a beautiful woman dressed down and ‘burdened’ with things like bad hair (frizzy or in a ponytail), glasses and an uncool sense of fashion to make her seem unattractive. She is then taken under the wing of one of the popular kids and transformed into the exact same beautiful person she was just with blown out hair and a more feminine or revealing costume. One of the worst perpetrators of this makeover story is definitely The Breakfast Club which had no reason to turn beautiful weirdo Allison into a pastel pink preppy girl in its final act. I won’t ramble on this too much, but the fact that this film takes a giant stab at this outdated trope makes me very happy and proves that this film was aware of the pitfalls that needed calling out.
With a parody there’s a fine line to walk. It has to be saying something about what came before it, commenting on the absurdity of the message in teen movies overall, whilst still mocking and being satirical and funny. There has to be balance, so for every bite at pop culture there’s a fart joke to balance it out. I mean this whole thing starts off with an awkward interrupted masturbation scene with a giant vibrator and a visit from a priest. It doesn’t have to be mature and clever in its humour throughout, it can be over the top, gross, ridiculous and immature, all in equal measure.
“Not Another Teen Movie is pure 00’s madness, something that, no matter how hard some studios try, cannot be replicated in a new context.”
This may not be the most serious film for these actors to take on, but each of them gives it their all, committing to the insanity. Evans holds it together with the charisma and comedic timing that serves him so well in his incredible acting career now. Presley is committed and perfectly scathing as the mean pretty girl. The characters may be giant stereotypes but the performers behind them are giving it their all and not just phoning it in, something that plagues many of the parody films that follows this one. I mean, nothing shows commitment like wearing a whipped cream bikini with a banana perched in your butt crack.
Then there’s the cameos. Bringing back the legend that is Paul Gleason from The Breakfast Club to recreate his role as Principal Vernon from The Breakfast Club, was a great nod. And he’s not alone as we also get a cameo from Molly Ringwald, the icon of many an 80’s teen movie. Her role in this as flight attendant who points out every cliche before her is perfect, she even gets to reference her own film Pretty in Pink. Plus she gets the best exit line “Fucking teenagers.”
Of course, to enjoy this film it helps to be a fan of teen movies in general, it’s a lot less fun if you’re not getting the barrage of references. Growing up on late 90’s and early 00’s teen movies like Bring it On, Never Been Kissed and 10 Things I Hate About You set me in good standing, but I was also a lover of the 80’s classics, especially John Hughes films. The parodies are plentiful and allow lovers of the genre to continually shout at the screen “I get that reference!”.
The director Joel Gallen clearly understood the teen demographic and the comedy circuit of the time, producing and directing numerous pieces for MTV and Comedy Central. That energy is clear throughout the film which moves at breakneck speed from skit to skit whilst managing to keep a narrative thread that wraps nicely up the nonsense (said with love). Two of the writers, Phil Beauman and Buddy Johnson, were also previously involved in writing Scary Movie, which released a year prior to great box office success. Clearly the combined talents and specialities of the writers and director helped to create a parody that’s quick moving, loaded to the rafters with gags and really knows its genre fare.
Not Another Teen Movie is pure 00’s madness, something that, no matter how hard some studios try, cannot be replicated in a new context. It was entirely quotable, from repeating Malik’s ‘catchphrases’, “Damn,” “Shit,” and “That is whack.” to attempting your own versions of Priscillia’s “You put the —-, in —-” formula. The film is definitely a product of its time, but for those going through the dreaded puberty stage at that time, it was a film that spoke to every cliche we’d already encountered. There are so many tiny details sprinkled throughout that it deserves numerous rewatches just to pick out the pop culture references in the background of every scene. It’s got a great soundtrack too filled with pop punk covers of 80’s New Wave songs that meld the decades brilliantly. It’s not high art, it’s just High School. So, if you too have a soft spot for this often cringe inducing yet insanely re-watchable parody then please join me in a well timed slow clap.
If any of you are a big fan of this film I have an Etsy store with upcycled VHS tape lights, including a Not Another Teen Movie addition. Check it out here.