Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Review: License to Drive (1988)

by ScottDS

Corey Haim and Corey Feldman – a.k.a. The Coreys – were, for better or worse, an 80s pop culture juggernaut. They appeared in several films together, most famously 1987’s The Lost Boys, but it’s 1988’s License to Drive from which I will remember them most fondly. The story of a teenager who tries to get his license in order to attain independence and impress a hot girl is a childhood favorite of mine. It’s fun, it’s rebellious, it’s even a little scary at times. . . and I continue to enjoy every second of it.

Les Anderson (Haim) is 16 years old. He has a twin sister (Nina Siemaszko), a younger brother, and two loving parents (Richard Masur and Carol Kane). He has a crush on Mercedes (a young Heather Graham) and can’t wait to get his license so he’ll be able to take her out for a night on the town. Unfortunately, he fails both his exam and his driver’s test but do you think he lets that stop him? Nope. He steals his grandfather’s Cadillac (which is being kept at the house) and with Mercedes, and later his friends Dean (Feldman) and Charles (Michael Manasseri), takes part in a wild comedy of errors, as only a teenager could do in 1980s America.

I’ve loved this movie ever since I first saw it on television as a kid. There are so many little touches that can be appreciated. For starters, Les and his younger brother actually get along – usually younger siblings in movies like this are annoying brats but not here. Masur is, in my opinion, one of the all-time great movie dads. He’s supportive of his son but strict when the situation calls for it. He doesn’t try to act “cool” nor does he needlessly embarrass his son. He’s also not oblivious, which is one of my pet peeves when it comes to movie/TV parents. Kane is probably remembered for playing Les’ mom thanks to a dinner scene where she scoops a comically-oversized portion of mashed potatoes onto her plate and douses it with ketchup (she’s pregnant, hence the weird diet). Siemaszko plays Les’ twin sister Natalie: an intellectual who’s dating a Communist (Karl, naturally, played by Grant Heslov). This is played for laughs and we see the inevitable results of their relationship when she finds herself participating in a protest which quickly escalates into a riot.

When I mention the film is a little scary at times, I don’t mean in a traditional sense. I would watch it as a 10-year old and think to myself, “Oh, man. I’m gonna have to take a driver’s test one day!” The test sequence is a highlight of the film. Stage actress Helen Hanft plays the instructor – the aptly-named Ms. Hellberg – with an evil grin and garish make-up (the wide angle lens helps, too). We see Les at his computer terminal where he gets nearly every question wrong. Thankfully, he’s off the hook due to a sudden power surge that erases his grade. He’s allowed to take the driving test where his instructor is played with maniacal glee by James Avery (best known as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince). Avery’s unnamed character doesn’t use a clipboard or a checklist – he uses a cup of coffee, filled to the brim. If any coffee spills on him, Les fails. Thankfully, Les manages to make it back to the parking lot without scalding his instructor. Unfortunately, in the time he’s been gone, his grades have been retrieved and his license is torn up.

So what’s Les to do? He has a date with Mercedes, who only decided to go out with him in order to make her (much older) Eurotrash boyfriend jealous. He gives her a call and she asks him to pick her up later that night. From this point on, the film becomes a classic comedy of errors and we’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Les manages to sneak the Cadillac out of the garage, where it plows through some bushes. He picks up Mercedes, who spots her boyfriend at a club with another woman. The Cadillac is towed away and Les gives the tow-truck driver all his money in order to release the car. Broke and embarrassed, he takes a sympathetic Mercedes to a hill overlooking the city, where she gets drunk, and insists they dance on the hood of the car. Les had brought along a mix tape (remember those?!) but the tape player eats it up so he uses one of his grandfather’s Sinatra tapes to great effect. (This film may have been my first exposure to The Chairman of the Board.) Mercedes prematurely ends their make-out session when she passes out, a condition in which she’ll remain for most of the film.

Les takes the car back to Dean’s house where he fixes up the hood (by bashing the underside of it with a hammer). Charles takes a photo of Les and his new “license” (his school ID) and Dean wants Les to take them to a drive-in burger joint called Archie’s. They have an unfortunate run-in with some tough guys (straight out of every other 80s teen flick) and make a break for it. They put Mercedes in the trunk and end up driving though the aforementioned riot where Les’ sister recognizes him. Eventually, they’re pulled over at a DUI checkpoint where Les is forced to admit he doesn’t have a license. In a wonderful use of deux ex machina, the cops are called away to the riot and all seems well, until a stumbling drunk who had been pulled over takes the Cadillac, mistaking it for his own car. The three guys (with Mercedes), in turn, steal the drunk’s car. They eventually catch up with him and Les crawls out one window and through the other and manages to hit the breaks just before the road ends.

I doubt the scenes with the drunk would make it into a film today. Political correctness has robbed audiences of that familiar character archetype: “the lovable drunk.” The man drinks while driving, even cutting up lime wedges on the dashboard, all while the Sinatra tape plays “That’s Life.” What redeems this whole sequence is Dean, who throws the man’s keys away because, after all, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” Eventually, the sun comes up and Les drops off Charles and Dean. He carries Mercedes to her door. She thanks him for a nice night and apologizes for being drunk. She can barely remember anything that happened; only that it was like a bizarre dream. Les promises to tell her how it ends, if he survives.

Throughout the night, the film cuts to Les’ parents. Les’ mom is approaching her due date and without the Cadillac, they have no way to get to the hospital. (A friend of mine ruined this for me when he asked, “Why couldn’t they just call 911?”) At one point, Les’ dad goes to the garage but Les had taken out the light bulb and Dad is called away before he can finally see that the car is missing. Les returns the car in the morning and, in one of my favorite movie monologues, Dad just whales on him: “We had a college fund set aside for you! That’s gone now! You had free room and board, two trusting parents, and a social life. All gone! You had a TV, a stereo, a baseball, a tennis racket, a skateboard, a bicycle – all gone! You even had sunlight and a window in your room!”

Mom goes into labor and wants Dad to ride in the back with her. Begrudgingly, Dad tells Les to drive them to the hospital. The gear shift gets stuck in reverse so Les is forced to drive backwards. He even has a run-in with his driving instructor who can’t believe what he sees and spills his coffee. They make it to the hospital and Dad tells Les he’s proud of him and that they can get the car fixed, until a nearby construction crane malfunctions and drops an I-beam on it! Fade to black and pick up a couple weeks later: Les’ mom has given birth to twins and Grandpa shows up. He sees the remains of the Cadillac and laughs. A tow truck shows up with the remains of Dad’s BMW: “I had a little trouble with your car, too!” Dad gives Les his keys: “You always said you wanted a BMW.” Les, of course, prefers a Mercedes, who drives up at that moment. Les gets behind the wheel and they drive off into the sunset.

While the film is not meant to be taken too seriously, we still sympathize with the characters. Yes, some of the events are over the top but everyone is relatable and we can all remember our first driving experience and our first high school crush. While recounting all of the ways Les’ big night is screwed up, I kept saying “Naturally,” to myself. The script isn’t exactly high art but it’s a good example of setting up a basic plot and exploiting the hell out of it. Also, unlike many 80s films, it isn’t too dated. Sure, some of the clothes and hairstyles may elicit a reaction but I believe any teenager could watch the film today and feel right at home. This is also one 80s film where computers and cell phones aren’t missed – at no point are the characters desperate to call someone or look up information!

As an aside, the Commie boyfriend Karl hates cars, believing them to be tools of Capitalist oppression. Dean, on the other hand, gives Les a speech about the importance of a license and the freedom it represents (underscored with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”). I must admit, even though I’m a bit of a public transit geek – I find the NYC subway system fascinating – when I was living up north, I sometimes longed for a car. “Who would’ve thought a Mercedes could fit in the trunk of a Cadillac?”

Rest in peace, Corey Haim.


tryanmax said...

Maybe it's nostalgia for my own childhood, but it seems to me that more teen movies hit the mark in the '80s than any other decade. Actually, I don't think it can be nostalgia, because I wasn't a teen until the '90s when we were subjected to atrocities like American Pie.

This movie is a great example of a lighthearted, fun movie from that lighthearted, fun era. For some reason, this one always couples in my mind with Adventures in Babysitting even though it could just as easily couple with at least a dozen other flicks.

The review is perfect. I can't add anything. Keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Thanks for the kind words!

I also became a teenager in the 90s. I actually like American Pie, though, oddly, I like the second film even more. American Wedding, not so much. Road Trip was... okay, but I actually think Eurotrip is underrated.

As far as "fun" and "light," I'm not sure. The films in the 80s seemed to have much more memorable characters and dialogue... as opposed to something like Pie where we're constantly waiting for the big set pieces and the stuff in between is just filler. One reviewer referred to these scenes as "the Noonan moments" after the character in Caddyshack.

Maybe it's because so many comedies today are improvised. I just saw Your Highness, which was heavily improvised - it was an unfunny piece of shit! Some comedies today are also a little more cynical and mean-spirited, which has its place, but too much of it can be numbing.

My next review - for another 80s favorite - also talks about this.

As for nostalgia, I think there is soooome truth to this but here are some of the 80s films I watched for the first time as an adult in the 21st century: all four Lethal Weapon films, Commando, Tango & Cash, Predator, The Goonies, The Princess Bride, Night of the Comet, Road House - not all are classics but I enjoyed every single one of them.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Sorry I haven't gotten here sooner, it's been another busy morning. Excellent review of a fun film. I'll be back with more in a few minutes.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Excellent review. And let me echo tryanmax's point. The 1980s were a great time for teen comedies because they were genuinely about teens. I did the thing you saw in each of those films -- 16 Candles, Johnny B. Good, Breakfast Club, Three O'Clock High, Pretty In Pink, Adventures In Babysitting, Better Off Dead, etc. The teen films from the 1990s were just raunchy sex comedies performed by actors pretending to be teens. There's no realism in them and nothing you can relate to as a human being.

They also took on a nasty tone in the 1990s, something which wasn't there in the 1980s. In the 1980s films, the teens were good guys who just wanted to find their place in the world. In the 1990s films, they were malicious.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Put me in the camp of people who don't like American Pie. I thought it was a disjointed set-piece comedy with a nonsense plot and ultimately was little more than a mean-spirted attack on the American family.

The 1980s teen films were very different. They saw the world from the perspective of the teens and addressed their concerns. The 1990 teen films saw the world from the perspective of middle age writers trying to create a comedy centered around teens. Huge difference.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -


I think it's worth noting that there are plenty of 80s teen comedies that were nothing but raunch fests which have since been forgotten (Hot Dog: The Movie, anybody?). And for that matter, there are no doubt many 80s teen comedies which weren't bad but simply failed to connect with audiences at the time. (The Last American Virgin is probably somewhere in the middle!)

In what way do you think American Pie attack the American family? Sure, Eugene Levy isn't exactly a model father but he's leaps and bounds ahead of most movie/TV dads.

Tennessee Jed said...

Embarrassing as this may seem, I have never heard of this film or either of these actors. Of course, the payoff was when you mentioned their being an integral part of 80's pop culture. I have, in the past, copped to missing the 80's while behaving like an obscene capitalist pig, which pretty much has everything to do with the underlying reason that is so. Nevertheless, thanks for a nice review. I cannot say I would run right out to make a viewing happen, but at at least will not be adverse to checking it out if circumstances arise.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, There were clearly misses in the 1980s catalog and a couple fairly raunchy entries. But there was also this HUGE reservoir of top notch teen comedies in the 1980s. It seemed like every year had 3-4 of these things for a while there. And I think that had to do with the perspective these films adopted as well as the good faith with which they approached the topic.

I don't think that was true in the 1990s. I think in the 1990s, "teen films" spun off into genre films, with horror teen films like Scream and lots of romantic comedy teen films like Never Been Kissed. The "teen film" basically vanished. And those that were left tried to hook audiences with raunchy comedy.

As for American Pie being anti-family, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as American Beauty which was truly asinine, but it fell into that 1990s idea that fathers were worthless pieces of crap, kids were smarter than their parents, boys are out of control sex fiends, etc. etc. There was no genuine sense of the positives that families provide or of the love that parents have for their kids. Even in the worst families in the 1980s films, there was always a sense that the parents loved their kids. That wasn't true in much of the 1990s films and I saw little evidence of that in Pie. They were basically cohabitating with their kids.

Anonymous said...

Jed -

What's that line about the 60s? If you remember it, you weren't there? :-)

This movie doesn't exactly air on TV that often, though HBO aired it a few times in the last month or so. (Their schedule seems so random sometimes.) I can't say you'll like it but it's a fun movie, for all the reasons I outlined above.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I think part of the problem is that, with many movies that are solely focused on teens, the parents are pushed aside and that pushing aside gives the impression that the filmmakers think parents are idiots when it may not be true. I don't think every teen comedy needs sympathetic parents as major characters, but it usually helps.

I could say the same thing about, say for example, positive religious characters. Just because my film doesn't have any doesn't mean I think religious people are idiots; they simply aren't relevant to the story I'm trying to tell. Exclusion doesn't = insult.

Anonymous said...

But having said that, I mention it in my review: I'd rather have a teen movie with no parents than ignorant parents.

As for the "kids being smarter" trope, I think it's a thin line to walk. Many teens do think they're smarter than their parents but I suppose the best teen films recognize that's not always the case.

I'm reminded of that quote: "It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we do know that just ain't so."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree that the exclusion of something does not make it a negative portrayal. That's ridiculous reasoning and I find it rather stupid when people try to make that argument. Not every films requires that everything be shown.

But the problem isn't exclusion. The problem with the teen films of the 1990s is that when parents are shown, they are almost always shown as fools with no genuine love for their kids. And this is the almost universal stereotype. There is a real level of anger by the writers of 1990s teen films toward parents, and I think it mirrors the whole anti-father movement of the 1990s.

(By comparison, 1980s teen films were about kids who felt like outsiders trying to figure out how to belong.)

And connected to that is the idea that teens are smarter than their parents. This can be funny when it's done right in something like Ferris Buehler, where it was clearly farce. But more often than not in the 1980s films, it was done in a way where the kids only thought they were smarter than the parents and the parents ultimately proved that wrong at the end of the film.

By the 1990s, the things the teens did was much angrier, they had developed a real attitude toward their parents, and the parents were shown as largely hapless and stupid. To me, that's a huge, noticeable difference. And it robs these films of their fun element. Why? Because it's one thing to see the kids trying to get away with breaking some rule and not get caught, it's quite another to see the kids openly disrespect their parents.

Adventures in Babysitting was the classic example of this where Chris had to do all this crazy stuff to hide what happened from the parents. That was funny and it made for a good film. By comparison, look at Pie where Levy is such a retarded fool that you never really worry about whether or not they get caught. And the lead character is seen as a dud because he's worried about not looking bad before his parents. That's an attitude you never got in 1980s films.

I think that's the real problem with the 1990s films.

Anonymous said...

I actually avoided most of the 90s teen comedies so I can't even think of an example (you know, all the Freddie Prinze stuff).

However, one film with a positive loving father comes to mind: 10 Things I Hate About You where Larry Miller played the father who didn't want his daughters to get knocked up.

Funny American Pie anecdote: I worked as an art assistant on an indie movie in LA and I got to visit the Universal Studios prop house. Right there, hanging on a shelf, was the family photo with Jason Biggs, Eugene Levy, and the actress who played the mom... as if another movie would need that particular piece of set dressing! I guess they decided to keep it in case they made another Pie movie (and they have).

DUQ said...

Scott, This is not my favorite 80s teen comedy, but I recall enjoying it at the time. I felt it was too much of a vehicle for the Coreys rather than being a stand alone film. I did like it better than How I Got Into College though.

Anonymous said...


I've actually never seen How I Got into College. I guess I'll have to check it out one day.

Reading your comment makes me wonder what my favorite movies would be today... if I grew up watching different movies. :-)

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, I enjoyed this one. I know there's a theme developing around here lately, but I'll say it again -- this was just a fun, mindless film. They don't seem to make those anymore. They did in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970 and 1980s, but then they seem to have stopped. I'm not sure why. Maybe mindless films don't test market so well? Or maybe they just don't think about them? If so, you could probably sell a movie like this today.

Doc Whoa said...

How I Got Into College is flat. You can see where they thought it would be really funny, but they never really pulled off the jokes so it's all just a little flat.

tryanmax said...

Scott, just to clarify what I meant by "fun and lighthearted," I mean that mainly in opposition to the cynicism and mean-spirit that have arisen in "teen" comedies since. I think that a teen movie is defined by dealing with themes of youthful rebellion. In most of the '80s teen classics, the rebellion is minor--if somewhat fantastic in cases like Ferris Bueller's Day Off--as are the consequences. Hence "fun and lighthearted." That doesn't prevent some serious points from being made, however, but these films keep an easy feel like a cinematic version of a junior novel.

Andrew already noted the lack of parents/authority figures in '90s "teen" movies, characters necessary for the rebellion motif. Without them, there is no need to rebel, and that is what is lacking in many '90s teen movies. Instead, conflict is between teens so they become ordinary comedies or dramas populated by young people. It's a bit like watching the local high school production of Pygmalion. (I picked that one because it gets tapped too often for adaption into teen movies.)

It's interesting that American Pie is the stamp of '90s teen movies, as it was released in '99. Still, there is some kind of hard line where teen movies end in the '80s with Say Anything in '89. Kid and Play's 1990 comedy House Party sorta fits the rebellion mold, but it inherently lacked staying power. There really wasn't anything for teen movies after that until '95. When they came back, it was Jawbreaker, Clueless, and the early installments of several horror franchises.

It wasn't all bad in the '90s, though. I'll raise up Empire Records and Can't Hardly Wait, and I'll watch Dazed and Confused if I see it on. But the brief golden age of the genre was clearly over.

Anonymous said...

Doc -

Yeah, it's a theme... and I think I started it! My next review is for another underrated 80s favorite of mine. :-)

To answer your question, I don't know. I was born in 1983 so I don't really have any first-hand knowledge of the experience. I think studios were more willing to take chances. Today, every film seems to be billed as an Event and there are so many movies, that it's literally in one ear, out the other. Of course, there were tons of movies coming out back then, too, but time has caused the good ones to rise to the top.

When it comes to comedy, a lot of comedies today involve heavy amounts of improvisation... and thanks to the foreign market, clever dialogue, word play, etc. is frowned on because it won't translate.

Besides, we're such a paranoid culture that no one wants to risk offending anyone (I'm not a fan of the word but a friend and I were talking about how you can't use "faggot" in a movie anymore).

This isn't completely relevant but many of the kids who are coming out of film school feel the need to write their screenplays about themselves. Why do a fun teen farce or a sci-fi epic when you can do a story about 20-something slackers and their various relationship troubles?

(I say that as a 20-something slacker with relationship troubles. But even if I wrote about them, I'd try to make it fun and light, not brooding and blaaah.) :-)

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

I forgot about Can't Hardly Wait. I always enjoyed that one.

Interesting points, though I'm still not convinced parental characters are necessary for a teen comedy, but that's just semantics.

I myself have dabbled with an epic teen comedy script based on my senior year of high school. There is some rebellion and various hi-jinks, but for the most part, all of the authority figures (parents, teachers) are good people who aren't absentee or oblivious.

I actually like seeing my teen characters put down by their superiors. :-)

P.S. I'm getting my taxes done in an hour so if I don't chime in again, it's because I've escaped to a neutral country without any extradition laws. :-)

CrisD said...

What tryanmax said at 5:35pm.

I liked these movie's better than American Pie (but I am a chick and have a limit on gross factor). I did like the movie where if you killed yourself you got an A in college. I guess that is not a teen movie but it was so ridiculous that I could overlook the tastelessness of that concept.

Thanks, ScottD

Anonymous said...

Cris -

Your welcome! I actually saw the movie you're referring to in the theaters: Dead Man on Campus. The only thing I remember was a goofy character named Cliff and many of the TV ads emphasized him. My dad's name is Cliff so we would usually laugh whenever the TV spots came on. "Hey, it's Cliff!"

I barely remember the film itself.

I don't have a limit on the gross-out factor, however I realized a few years ago that I simply outgrew it. I'm not offended by it but the filmmakers need to be creative with it in order to make me laugh.

Ed said...

I like the drill instructer a lot. This was an entertaining film, but it wasn't so memorable that I've felt like watching it again since the 1980s.

Anonymous said...

Ed -

We all have our memorable films. One of these days, Andrew's gonna have to ask the debate question: "What's your favorite film to watch if it comes on TBS at 2 in the morning?"

In the case of License to Drive, I hadn't seen it in years, and then the Blu-Ray was released so I thought, "Why not?"

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, As I recall it, there wasn't the marketing you had today. Lot of these films just showed up in the theaters one day with little more than a review in the newspaper.

I think what are you are calling "a paranoid culture" by the way, is a deliberate attempt by liberals to impose political correctness. This wasn't an issue until the 1990s, and it really is a problem.

Also, I don't think improv was done much in films in the 1980s -- they were heavily scripted and if something improve happened, it was done for a specific purpose.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax and Scott, I don't think the absence of parents is necessarily a problem. If the film focuses entirely on school, for example, or some adventure the kids are having away from home, then there's no need for parents.

My point, however, is that there had been a big difference in how the parents are shown when they are shown. In the 1980s stuff, they were just parents. In the 1990s, they were fools.

Anonymous said...

Re: marketing, yeah... even most filmmakers today decry the "If it isn't a hit in one weekend, it's a loser!" culture in Hollywood. And the entertainment media has made every idiot and their mother a pundit when it comes to awards, box-office, etc.

Not to mention most movies cost a lot to make (even romantic comedies!) and so much seems to ride on each film: careers are on the line every week! I assume it's only a matter of time before someone is fired over John Carter.

And yeah, for the most part, improv wasn't done in films. I've said before that there is a difference between a director brainstorming with his actors and a director telling his actors, "Okay, for this take, just say whatever." (And then they leave it all in the film!)

Re: the PC stuff, I'll give you another example. The 1998 version of Godzilla was on the other night. I haven't seen it in years and the one thing that stood out for me was when one character called another a "retard." It's a word that's still used but not without complaints.

(Sadly, as far as Roland Emmerich movies go, 2012 makes Godzilla look like Citizen Kane!)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The marketing culture in Hollywood has really gone off kilter. The thinking now is that they need to make all their money back in the first weekend, and that has come to dominate how films are produced. Forget longevity or quality, it only needs to offer enough for the marketing people to pull people in before word of mouth kills it. That's why films make -- because they've basically become scams rather than art.

Political correctness sucks. And I will keep using retard because people who don't like it are uptight retards and I will always speak the truth.

Emmerich has gone from having a couple good movies to turning out pure crap. He should have quit while he was ahead. . . before he proved how much of a hack he really is.

tryanmax said...

I didn’t mean to make it sound as though parents are specifically necessary in a teen movie. Rather, it’s the dynamic that all the main players are almost adults, but not quite. There is an inherent tension in this dynamic even when it is not explicitly explored.

The usual manifestation is that boundaries--however vaguely defined--must be pushed or broken in order to gain independence, make self-discovery, or just to have fun. You can find this all the way back in Frankie and Annette's beach romps. It also acts as a safety valve on how much consequences the main players can face, sort of like a credible deus ex machine. (Horror movies are the long-standing exception to this second dynamic.)

In other words, to my mind a teen movie should play out within the social dynamics that define being a teenager. Movies so set can be enjoyable to adults as well as teens, even if they are new, because inspire one to muse, “I remember what it was like being that age.”

But in the '90s, that dynamic was absent and teen movies were just cine-plays acted out by young performers.

tryanmax said...

On marketing, I suspect the film and music industries are the primary reason why my profession is so often besmirched. Even I, a marketer, look at Hollywood and wonder what the F their marketing guys are thinking.

Unknown said...

Sorry I'm late. My morning appointment in Bakersfield took all bloody day.

I though the Coreys were very funny, and played well off each other. Too bad they discovered access to excess so early in their lives. Two budding careers cut short.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Yeah, marketing... most filmmakers don't have the authority to make those decisions and even the ones that do (like the director of John Carter) can be wrong. It's truly an art in and of itself.

That's why, despite being disappointed with most of his films over the last few years, I can appreciate someone like Kevin Smith doing his own guerrilla marketing thing.

Not to mention, thanks to the Internet, we all dissect trailers and posters as much as we do movies. And even most trailers are completely generic, cut from the same template, and most posters are Photoshop hack jobs.

As far as the teen genre goes, good call on the "social dynamics" aspect.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Well said.

In other words, to my mind a teen movie should play out within the social dynamics that define being a teenager.

That's exactly right, and that's very true of all the 1980s (and earlier) teen films. But in the 1990s, they became exactly what you describe later in your comment -- generic, raunchy comedies using teen actors instead of adults. Indeed, Hot Tub Time Machine and Dumping Sarah Marshall are virtually identical in themes and character and humor to what you find in American Pie. So using the modern formula, they could have simply jammed teens into those films and called them "teen comedies" without changing hardly anything even though there's nothing "teen" about them.

That's not true with the 1980s teen films which were specifically written about teens and their experiences.

On the marketing, the problem is that Hollywood has adopted a bad business model which relies on suckers. They know that they can fool enough people into the theater on opening weekend to make their money. So why bother making a better product when the goal is to sell an impulse buy and then never worry about seeing your customer again? So they concentrate entirely on the marketing and not the production.

Anonymous said...

LawHawk -

No worries! I thought they were funny, too. In terms of their careers, I honestly don't know what happened. I know they were doing their own reality show at one point - it might've been Haim's last project before he died.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I have to disagree with your comment... it's not an art. Marketing is not an art. Marketing has become a science. And that's the problem, they are not treating film like art, they are treating it like a burger.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I was speaking colloquially. But I totally agree with the "burger" analogy. It's the one thing that bothers me about all this talk about downloading, streaming, the cloud, etc. Films will cease to be films - they'll just be files, out there in the ether, waiting to be viewed on whatever screen is available.

Convenient? Definitely. But there is something lost.

Not to go off-topic, but an indie filmmaker/DVD producer with whom I was briefly acquainted with in LA once speculated that movies will eventually go the way of something like opera - it'll still be a leisure activity but it won't be "popular." Kids today - and yes, I just used that phrase - don't value movies the same way my generation and previous generations did. It's just another "thing" to them.

And this doesn't bode well for future restorations, film preservation, etc. We're seeing it already - the studios not putting as much effort into their back catalogs because "the kids don't like black and white" (for example).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think that's true. I think that in the modern world, there is just too much competition for films to be anything special. You've got 100 usable cable channels. You can stream any old television show or film at any time. You can listen to any music you want. You've got video games, sports, internet pages, etc. Films have become just one more activity, and they are a huge time-sink for modern people. Who has two hours to spend staring at a television or movie screen anymore?

That will be a problem for the industry.

But even worse, they are going the wrong way with it. When you face a lot of substitutes, you need to up your game to make your product more compelling. If you make it less compelling, you just make the substitutes more attractive and you develop bad habits in your consumers.

Hollywood is essentially killing itself by making itself less competitive.

tryanmax said...

More specifically, marketing is a bad science, like global warming science. The problem marketers in almost any organization face is that, while production and R&D expenditures are regarded as investments, marketing is thought of as a money-hole. So marketers are always in the position of having to justify their existence. Excepting the most renowned firms, this generally means marketers will suppress their instincts and pipe whatever tune the money-man calls.

As was already pointed out, Hollywood measures success by opening weekend numbers. Marketers must produce an opening weekend crowd or be out of a job. I don't envy them. The easiest product to sell is a good one, but the hardest product to sell is not a bad one, it's an unknown one. The only tool in the belt for that is hype.

Hype doesn’t equal lie, but it is the oldest angle in entertainment. Ever since there have been travelling shows, entertainers have known to make a prolonged display of their setup before opening night in contrast to a hasty tear-down after the close. It’s none too different than the operation of a con artist. Really, the last centuries is the first time in recorded history where entertainers are generally regarded in significantly higher standing than hustlers and whores.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, In this case, however, they are using lies to generate hype. It's like the old carnival tricks of promising you that you'll see something amazing -- like "A man eating chicken!" which turns to be a man, eating chicken, rather than a man-eating chicken.

It's the same thing with Hollywood marketers. They suck out whatever moments they needs to fill their trailers. So long as they can find the images or words in the film, they run with it -- sometimes they even splice sentences to get what they need.

Thus, people who are only in the film 10 seconds become "the star", dull drama is presented as action, etc. And they have no shame in trying to present the same film as different types of films to different audiences. Thus, you'll see the same film advertised as a comedy on the comedy channel, a drama on the chick channels, an action film on TNT and then a horror/suspense on the horror channel -- even though it can't possibly be all of that.

They will also change the genre after a week to get a new audience the second week, and then again for the DVD sales.

It would be fraud in most industries, except they actually use things you will find in the film -- they just don't appear the way they are presented.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I've always though marketing was voodoo. I had a minor in marketing and I was amazed at how faulty the assumptions were of the professors and how bizarrely sure they were that they could make you believe anything.

tryanmax said...

I'm just saying that the Hollywood execs have their marketing guys over a barrel. After pondering it, I conclude that movie marketers are in the worst possible position to be in. So they resort to the only tool they have.

Marketing in practice is a whole lot different than marketing in theory. I had one prof in particular who was sold on all that voodoo nonsense. Of course, she was a raging feminist who could find oppression in a box of corn flakes. But most of my profs were former professionals, so I feel I got very pragmatic instruction. It was mostly the same stuff that we nerd-out on in this forum.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's true. The marketing guys probably are in a very bad spot in Hollywood. I would expect they have little power or ability to suggest anything creative and yet will get blamed if the product tanks.

My professors were all ex-professionals from the big firms and they had drunk the KoolAid. They honestly believed advertising has fantasy-brainwashing powers which could let them make anyone want to buy a product, if you just found the right bit of fairy dust. I was a noted dissenter.

tryanmax said...

P.S. Carnivals, snake-oil salesmen, even roving faith healers are all under the heading of traveling shows, so I meant no attempt to elevate the practice. P.T. Barnum, the world's greatest showman, was credited with saying, "There's a sucker born every minute." Though none can prove he actually said it, he let the rumor stand, claiming it was good for business.

AndrewPrice said...

And there is much truth to what Barnum said (or didn't). You really can fool most of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. You wouldn't believe the things I've run across in my practice, where people have fallen for things which you would think an infant wouldn't fall for.

Outlaw13 said...

You really can't blame the 90's for gross out teen comedy films when the grand daddy of them all "Animal House" rolled out in '78 followed by "Porky's" and a slew of other like type films.

Recent teen type comedies I enjoyed include "Role Models" and the aforementioned "Euro Trip" ...but then again I like South Park and Archer and hated Ferris Bueller so what do I know.

I am a little old to have appreciated "the Coreys" when they were in their prime, so I have never seen the reviewed film.

Anonymous said...

Outlaw -

I showed Animal House to a friend recently who had never seen it and he thought it was pretty tame and slow-moving. He did, however, sit in amazement as he pondered all the movies that have been made in its image.

These things come and go. Animal House spawned a bunch of imitators, as did American Pie, though the latter films are a bit more graphic in some ways, but less graphic in others.

Not to sound like a pig but I enjoyed these movies when the lead actresses got naked. Today if there's nudity, it's either an extra, or one of the male actors. Ugh!

Outlaw13 said...

Oink! Back in the day you knew if a film was rated R you were going to see an actress take off her shirt. There was something to be said for that.

Anonymous said...

On second thought, my comment doesn't read as well as it did in my head. But I'm definitely ready for this male nudity fad to stop!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, LOL!

Outlaw, Yeah, at one point, R meant something very clear. Not today, today the rating system is pretty messed up.

Anonymous said...

Just got the link from Big Hollywood, I really liked this movie and do agree with the idea that 80's teen movies were way better then later years. I became a teen in 1987 so I was at the right age to enjoy them. It was good harmless fun.

John Hughes wrote the book about teen movies and it looks as if no one read it. Not enough teen movies or comedies have heart and as mentioned too many are mean spirited which I can take in small doses but no all the time.

I do agree with Tryanmax that Empire Records, Can't Hardly Wait and Dazed and Confused were great post 80's teen movies. Plus I also didn’t mind American Pie too.


Anonymous said...

Anon -

Thanks! Yeah, John Hughes seemed to have this strange talent that allowed him to tap into something that most filmmakers couldn't. Sixteen Candles is my favorite of his Brat Pack movies. And the man was such a fast writer - he'd crank out a script over a weekend!

As for mean-spiritedness, it's tough... I don't mind a mean-spirited character on occasion, provided they get their just desserts in the end. I also don't mind seeing characters humiliated because, let's face it, comedies are about putting people in uncomfortable situations, but I guess there's a thin line to walk before it becomes a downer and stops being funny.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree entirely. Hughes wrote the book on teen movies and left a really brilliant and clear blueprint... and then Hollywood threw it away. I don't understand that.

ScottDS, I don't think Hughes' talent was all that strange, I think he just had the brains to write these things from the perspective of the teens. He dealt with the very issues kids dealt with growing up and he did it from their perspective. All good writers should be able to do that. Sadly, however, too often these days, Hollywood writers write everything from their own perspectives rather than the perspectives of their characters.

On mean-spirited, I think the perfect example is the Green Hornet, as I discussed in my review. The problem there was that Rogen was abusing his power to take very nasty shots at people who could not defend themselves, and yet the film told us that we were supposed to find that cute or endearing. That's a problem.

Anonymous said...

With screenwriters, you'd think that would simply be standard operating procedure: if you're a writer, you write from the POV of your characters.

With teen movies, I think people have gotten smart: they can instinctively tell when the screenwriter is trying to pander to them, instead of simply writing from the heart.

Anonymous said...

Early in the movie, he's shown getting the question about what to do when skidding on a wet road. Later on in the movie, he's shown reacting with his wrong answer. I thought that was hilarious.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I love little touches like that when something that happens early on pays off much later in the film -- especially when it pays off in a humorous way.

Anonymous said...

"Sadly, however, too often these days, Hollywood writers write everything from their own perspectives rather than the perspectives of their characters."

Very true Andrew and also very sad. Instead of just telling the story they have to put their spin on it, add their politics or their thoughts which quite often don't fit either the movie or the character thus making it seem as fake as a parent trying to act cool in front of their kids friends.

And I agree with ScottDS their is room for it but it has to be handled with care. There is room for it but it seems over done now days.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a good way to describe it -- it's as fake as a parent trying to act cool in front of their kids. That really is how so many films come across today. There is very little sense that the kids in these stories are real.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this review is still getting comments! :-)

Anon -

Re: skidding on a wet road, that's a classic example of setup and payoff. The trick is to make the setup itself entertaining so we don't think about it. As an audience, we're used to these things: if a character is learning something in Act 1, you can bet that skill is gonna come in handy in Act 3. At least in a comedy, it's wise to make the setup funny. We laugh and that's it, then we're pleasantly surprised later when it comes back.

As for perspective, as I mentioned above, you'd think a basic element of screenwriting would be writing from the character's POV. Some writers forget this.

Another problem I have is when critics second-guess this stuff. When Superbad came out, at least one reviewer nitpicked Michael Cera's reference to Orson Welles, implying it was something added by the writers to appear "smart." But I knew about Mr. Welles in high school... so it wasn't totally implausible.

tryanmax said...

I just finished watching Can't Hardly Wait on my trusty ol' VHS. I know the mark of a good movie is that you can relate it to yourself, but is it bad that I most closely identify with Melissa Joan Hart's character? I was the male version of the "yearbook girl" back in my day.

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