Category Archives: High School Graduation

All high schoolers think they are living in the only “now,” and that their teen experiences are absolutely the most vital and epochal in the history of mankind. Since every movie that nails that life moment down is inevitably about “back then,” these films run the risk of being overlooked by the demographic that could benefit from them the most—the jacked-in, earPod-stuffed, nose-ringed teen of today. Consider what an eye-opener these blasts from the past could be for the right adolescent.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

The ultimate geekhood high school comedy, made in Idaho for chump change and so infectiously hilarious that it’s earned a massive cultural ardor from an entire generation of American kids who don’t even get the jokes or understand the horrors of adolescence. Jon Heder’s titular hero is an outrageous creation, even if he seems to be a cruel mockery of an already outcast type of American kid.

Napoleon Dynamite: The Game
Napoleon Dynamite: The Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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American Pie (1999)

Four friends make a pact to get laid by prom night—as if teenage boys need more motivation than they’ve already got. American Pie is raunchy, sophomoric, and a smash hit with teenagers—for real and undeniable reasons. And if you really love these guys, there are three more movies just like it and several spin-offs in which the boys’ bodies age but their minds just never do, which is apparently their charm. Jason Biggs, Eugene Levy, Chris Klein, Seann William Scott, Shannon Elizabeth.

Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

An overlooked gem among a hundred cretinous teen-party comedies, in which another dozen or so easily recognizable high school types flounder their way through a single night of epiphany, melodrama, humiliation, socialization, and beer. The film’s pulsing, forgiving heart and sharp ear (courtesy of writer/director team Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont) are responsible for the movie’s distinction; the joyous chaos of teenage parties is not easy to depict, but this movie gets it—and celebrates it, with a title from an old Replacements song, no less. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry are the mismatched hottie and nerd, but funnier and more believable are Lauren Ambrose’s quasi-Goth cynic, Peter Facinelli’s monster jock, and Charlie Korsmo’s ultrageek.

Clueless (1995)

Clueless (film)
Clueless (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane Austen’s Emma recast as a 1990s Beverly Hills teenager who rules the high school roost, Clueless negotiates grades with teachers, and creates a social pecking order based on good looks and fashion savvy. Surprisingly witty, it’s definitely one of the best in the “updated great lit for teens” subgenre. Paul Rudd, Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy.

Dazed and Confused (1993)

This is what the beginning of summer, with school already a fading memory just a day after it’s ended, felt like for director Richard Linklater, whose milieu here was Texas in the late 1970s. Trailing after a dozen or more recently freed high schoolers as they search for a party, contemplate their dubious roles in the social order, and inflict or escape from the hazing rituals that may be particular to suburban Austin schools, the film is dense with detail, one-liners, deft performances, and astutely observed reality—though it may take two viewings to mesh with the movie’s unique rhythms. It’s also something of The Outsiders of its generation, more or less introducing the world to future stars including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Rory Cochrane, Joey Lauren Adams, and Parker Posey.

Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say Anything . . . (1989)

Remember when you spent all your years of high school yearning after that one person, despairing of ever having him or her realize you exist? That’s just what happens to Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack). Fortunately, after graduation, she does notice him, and they spend the summer dancing around the possibility of falling deeply in love.  Cameron Crowe‘s Say Anything goes a long way just on charm, from Cusack’s diffident-yet-deeply-ethical everyman quality to Lili Taylor’s awful guitar-strummed songs about lost love, to the pack of nowhere boys (including Jeremy Piven) hanging out at the local Gas ’n Sip and philosophizing about women they know nothing about. Ignore the secondary plot, about Diane’s possibly shady father, and savor the whiff of teenage desires anxiously fulfilled.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Amy Heckerling’s overrated and rosily remembered high school farce, based on the book Cameron Crowe wrote after he went undercover in an American high school for Rolling Stone, Fast Times at Ridgemont High does etch out various familiar social species (geeks, freaks, hotties, jocks, and the semiforgotten loser among them), and the performances (particularly those of Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Phoebe Cates) are genuinely felt.

American Graffiti (1973)

American Graffiti
American Graffiti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first coming-of-age ensemble comedy in American movies? George Lucas’s sublime evocation of a midwestern 1962 of cars, rock ’n’ roll radio, and lost subadults, American Graffiti certainly established the timeless stereotypes of that post-graduation summer night that everyone experiences, from the high school sweethearts (Ron Howard and Cindy Williams) confronting college and separation, to the itchy smart kid (Richard Dreyfuss) who doesn’t know if college is what he wants, to the hopeless dweeb (Charles Martin Smith) looking only to score, to the cool dropout hood (Paul LeMat) who cannot adjust to the real world. Roaringly funny and bittersweet.