By ANDY DRAKE
1. “Dazed and Confused”
It took a long time before my friends were able to convince me to watch “Dazed and Confused.” The burnouts hidden behind a veil of pot smoke makes the DVD cover look like the worst kind of stoner comedy cliché. What I found was one of the funniest and most painfully accurate portrayals of high school society I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t go to school in the 70s and I’ve never been to Texas, so it’s a real testament to Richard Linklater’s film making that I feel like I have. Every character is almost painful to watch. When Matthew McConaughey’s character says he loves high school girls because no matter how old he gets, they always stay the same age, its only funny until you think of him twenty years down the road. Most people would agree that the majority of their happiest and most painful memories come from high school. “Dazed and Confused” captures this perfectly.
My first reaction to “Heathers” was that it seemed suspiciously similar to “Mean Girls” only not as good. That was before Winona Ryder and Christian Slater tricked the most popular girl in school into drinking Draino. The great thing about “Heathers” is how ridiculously politically incorrect it is. Not only does it involve high school kids murdering their popular tormentors, but the male lead carries a trench coat and a pistol around everywhere he goes.
The humor in “Heathers” is about as black as it comes and works because of, not in spite of, its setting. If none of this sounds particularly funny to you, “Heathers” is still worth seeing for no other reason than Christian Slater’s hilariously bad Jack Nicholson impression.
3. “Sixteen Candles”
Most people might put “The Breakfast Club” on this list, but I’m a rebel. “The Breakfast Club” may be more “relevant” but the last half hour is like sensitivity training. “Sixteen Candles” on the other hand, is just an awesome teen comedy. Molly Ringwald’s family has forgotten her sixteenth birthday in the confusion surrounding her older sister’s impending wedding. The results however, are pure comedy gold. In the hands of anyone but director John Hughes, characters like foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong and the sex obsessed geek Farmer Ted would fall flat, but luckily, everything comes together to create one of the most vividly awful school days ever caught on film.
4. “Freaks and Geeks”
The opening shot from the first episode of “Freaks and Geeks” is of a high school sports field. Football players run drills, track runners wave to friends as they pass by and a boy in a letter jacket professes his undying love to one of the school’s cheerleaders. As these average high school students go about their daily routine, the camera moves underneath the bleachers where another group of kids make out with their girlfriends, smoke cigarettes and talk about Led Zeppelin (it’s 1980 after all).
The show follows the trials and tribulations of Lindsay Weir, a former mathlete who finds herself hanging out with “the wrong crowd” after suffering an existential crisis. Although the show was cancelled shortly before the end of its first season, it’s still a nice reminder that no matter how much of a loser you are, things could always be worse.
5. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
Although Buffy’s adventures continued into her adulthood, most would agree that her high school years are the most entertaining. The show takes the saying “high school is hell” quite literally: a gateway to hell rests right beneath the school’s library. This “hellmouth” causes all manner of supernatural phenomena to wander right on Buffy’s front doorstep.
The whole idea sounds like the setup for an awful, low-budget horror movie, but it works great when played for laughs. Unlike most teen comedies where the popular kids just act like monsters, in Buffy’s case many of them are. Buffy may not work as a high school survival guide, but taken as a metaphor for how crappy it feels to be there, it does just fine.