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Hollywood Smartens Up for Teens
Written by Jasmine Evaristo
Teen movies have been around for decades, but when so many permutations of teen subcultures are saturating what is already considered a marginalized genre targeted to such a narrow audience, boredom is inevitable.
With the hugely lucrative success of the Twilight, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games franchises, it’s reasonable to expect Hollywood to acquire and want to capitalize on as many young adult fantasy and sci-fi properties as they can bankroll. But in recent years, more of these YA adaptations have sunk than soared, most recently The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, whose sequel was shelved indefinitely. And there within lies a flawed formula.
You know the story well: teenage hero/heroine chancing upon the supernatural and discovering a secret identity, and ultimately having to save humankind from evil forces while navigating their angst-ridden love lives. We've seen it.
Out of the gluttony of fantastical wizardry, romantic immortality, and dystopian societies, there appears to be a swing in the direction of something more conducive to authentic, biting, and honest movies about youth – a callback to the Cameron Crowe and John Hughes '80s films that defined the genre. These days, it seems rare when the price of admission to these movies are rewarding. 

Last year, it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which viscerally articulated the complexities of teenage pain without soft-pedaling. This year’s Sundance darling, The Spectacular Now, richly captured the naiveté of first loves and teen alcoholism while skillfully avoiding the melodrama and sentiment that could’ve doomed it to a genre cliché. And with next year’s highly-anticipated adaptation of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars – a melancholic comedy with tragic realism – is expected to be another gut-punch of insight into adolescence.

These particular books and movies resonate because they take their characters seriously and don’t pass judgment over them. They let them be exactly who they are in earnest. We have known those kids; we have been them. Is there a correlation between the need for more of these kinds of movies and the books from which they’re adapted? There is a sense that people, especially teens, always need books and films alike to make them feel less alone, to have a world and tangible characters to connect with.

Young people aren’t as vapid and gullible as Hollywood has a tendency to portray us to be. Far from the growing fatigue of teen fantasy and sci-fi that has kept us from the movie theater as of late, the financial viability of authentic teen movies might lie in Hollywood having a fundamental respect for its audience.

There is nothing wrong with indulging in the escapism and vicarious thrills of those fairytales, but wouldn’t it be nice if the genre took a much-needed break from the usual formula and stopped glossing over the depths of their conflicts? With the recent releases of some profound coming-of-age flicks, and more slated to come, there is a demand that Hollywood wise-up instead of dumb-down, and realize that teens just want to see movies about them being teens!
- Jasmine Evaristo, YH Staff