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Top 10 films that captured the teen psyche

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Shirrel Rhoades

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Some movies deliver an accurate portrait of the teen psyche. Each decade has a film (or two) that deals with the turbulence of growing up.

Teen audiences can relate. We older folks can sit there and reminisce, a trip down memory lane, recalling the emotions we felt during our own coming-of-age.

We’ve put together a Top 10 list of such films — by decade. You might call it 100 years of teen angst.

1. “The Hate U Give” (2018) — A look at teen angst for today. Not an easy subject, this film deals with raw emotions and racial issues. Here, 16-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend by a police officer. Now, she must gather her courage and do the right thing.

2. “Eighth Grade” (2014) — Typifies the 2015s. Comedian Bo Burnham chose to make his first movie about a middle-schooler wracked with anxiety. Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) posts motivational videos on YouTube, but they bely her efforts to fit in with her eighth-grade class. Former teen star Molly Ringwald (“Sixteen Candles”) gushes, “I just saw ‘Eighth Grade’ and thought it was the best film about adolescence I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe ever.”

3. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (2012) — Although set in 1992, this modern classic provides an apt portrayal of the teenage psyche of the 2000s. Based on the wildly popular novel by Stephen Chbosky, we meet Charlie Kelmeckis (Logan Lerman), an introverted high school freshman who faces “the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up.”

4. “Say Anything” (1989) — Set in the ’90s, this is one of the definitive Generation X movies. Cameron Crowe introduces us to underachiever Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) who falls for high school valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Syke) and will do anything to win her love. Like that TV jewelry ad says, “Dare to be Devoted.”

5. “The Breakfast Club (1985) — Set in the 1980s, this John Hughes classic brings together five diverse high schoolers (Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Ali Sheedy, and Anthony Michael Hall) who spend a Saturday together in detention and ultimately come to better understand one another, recognizing not just their differences, but their similarities as well.

6. “Dazed and Confused” (1993) — Set in 1976, Richard Linklater’s camera follows teens around Austin, Texas, on the last day of school. The soon-to-be-seniors (Ben Affleck, Jason London, Parker Posey, Mila Jovovich, etc.) and a hanger-on (Matthew McConaughey) loiter around the Emporium and listen to rock ‘n roll while the incoming high school freshmen prepare to take their places in the intimidating world of high school.

7. “American Graffiti’ (1973) — Set in 1962, George Lucas reminds some of us of the teen years spent cruising the local drive-in. Pals Curt Henderson and Steve Bolander (Richard Dreyfus and Ron Howard) meet street racer John Milner (Paul La Mat) at Mel’s Drive-In, while other local kids (Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Bo Hopkins, Harrison Ford, et al.) cruise the main drag of Modesto, California.

8. “Rebel Without a Cause (1955) — Set in the ’50s, teenager Jim Stark (James Dean) has trouble fitting in at his new school … and a problem dealing with his dad. But the death of a friend (Sal Minio) and a new girlfriend (Natalie) put him on the right path.

9. “The Courtship of Andy Hardy” (1942) — Set in the ’40s. Perennial teenager Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) discovers that “women are habit forming,” thanks to the attention of Melodie Nesbit (Donna Reed) and Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford).

10. “Reefer Madness” (1936) — Set in the ‘30s, this propaganda film gives us a distorted view of what the film’s alternative title called “Doped Youth.” This unintentional satire has become a cult classic. Apparently back then, adults, if not teens, were worried about a substance known as Maryjane.

There you have it, a stroll through the last century of teen movies. From worries about drugs to the comedy of dating to the anxiety of simply fitting in, these films give us an interesting portrait of American youth.

Shirrel Rhoades is a former executive with Marvel Entertainment, a writer, publisher, professor and filmmaker. He is from North Carolina and lives in Florida. Contact him at srhoades@aol.com.

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