Following hard on the heels of the Wayans brothers’ Scary Moviess, Joel Gallen’s directorial debut, Not Another Teen Movie parodies another teen-oriented genre: high school films. These are as obvious a choice for parody as horror films, as both have well defined narrative parameters and a closet full of generic conventions. For every (if you’ll excuse the gratuitous quoting of Scream‘s Sidney Prescott), “stupid girl running up the stairs when she should be running out the door,” there is her teen flick counterpart, the awkward, shy girl who will blossom into a prom queen.
Of course, the similarities between the two genres don’t end with an ill-defined gender politics. Both horror and high school films make their most direct marketing appeals to young audiences. Both address teen sexual anxiety and desire; both consider the effects of adolescent physical changes and peer competitions. And where Scary Movie obviously recognizes the sexuality troubles in horror films, Not Another Teen Movie one-ups the Wayans in “unnecessary” nudity, where the unnecessary-ness is precisely the point. In Scary Movie, we see Carmen Electra, riffing on Drew Barrymore in the first Scream, running across a darkened lawn, chased by the killer, while jetting sprinklers drench what little clothing she has on. In Not Another Teen Movie, “The Foreign Exchange Student” named Areola (Cerina Vincent), goes naked throughout the movie, even rhetorically asking the principal of John Hughes High School, “My breasts are perky, yes?” If this sounds merely vulgar, a cheap excuse for some T&A shots, it is. But it is also one of the funnier running gags in the film. Near the end, at the obligatory end-of-teen-flick party scene, we pan past another naked girl, who is outraged that Areola has worn the same outfit to the party that she has, as her friend consoles her, “It looks better on you.”
Not all the jokes are this successful. One particularly stupid gag ends in a toilet crashing into a classroom from the floor above, spraying the class and sanctimonious teacher (skewering similar teachers from Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge and Gus Van Sant’s Finding Forrester) is shit. Ha, Ha. Regardless of the varying success of the comedy, screenwriters Michael Bender, Adam Jay Epstein, Andrew Jacobson, and Scary Movie (1 and 2) vets Phil Beauman and Buddy Johnson, clearly know their teen movies. From the aforementioned “John Hughes High School,” to the fact that the football team plays in “Harry Dean Stadium” (Harry Dean Stanton, of course, played Molly Ringwald’s father in Pretty in Pink), Not Another Teen Movie is jam-packed with references to a vast array of ’80s and ’90s youth films.
Perhaps most successful is Not Another Teen Movie‘s commentary on the incessant whiteness of the genre. Deon Richmond plays Malik, the “Token Black Guy,” who realizes his place in JH High School and teen flick hierarchies. Malik tells his friends that he exists to “add color,” and occasionally let loose with quips like “That’s so wack.” And indeed, he has little to do but stand around in the background and occasionally let loose with a “That’s so wack!” During the party scene Malik confronts the only other black character in sight (an uncredited cameo by Sean Patrick Thomas), gently explaining that HE is supposed to be the black guy at this party. The intruder apologizes and leaves, after which Malik breathes a sigh of relief; everything is right in his world again.
Elsewhere, the JH High cheerleading squad is confronted by the North Compton Clovers, who accuse the white girls of stealing their cheers. (Need I remind that this is the narrative drive of Bring It On?) To prove their cheers are their own, the JH High girls work the crowd with a cheer declaring they are the North Compton Clovers, and chanting over and over how they aren’t white, to the exact music used by the “real” North Compton girls in the “real” Bring It On. What these two gags suggest is how, even when and whether specific teen films like Bring It On and Save the Last Dance try to address, if not rectify, the racial politics of the genre, it remains a largely white affair.
On other conventions, NATM doesn’t quite go far enough, as in its rather lame attempt to address the films’ inherent and aggressive heterosexuality. It does recognize how the films put masculine beauty and male bodies on display, particularly when the film re-shoots the whipped cream bikini scene from Varsity Blues, only with Jake (Chris Evans), “The Popular Jock,” wearing the bikini. At another point, “The Cocky Blond Guy” Austin (Eric Christian Olsen, of TV’s Smallville), doesn’t quite get a “fag” joke. For the most part, though, NATM doesn’t extend its parody to the structures of homoeroticism and homophobia that underlie most films in the high school genre.
The most obvious thing Not Another Teen Movie doesn’t address is the popularity of the genre and the role teen flicks play in “real” young people’s lives. By way of example, several years ago, in a class on youth movies and youth cultures, students wondered why we weren’t going to be screening Empire Records. I admitted I hadn’t seen it, but from what I knew about it, the film seemed little different from other films we would watch, most especially The Breakfast Club. They assured me it was TOTALLY different. After viewing the film, I realized we were both right: ER was really an update of BC. This anecdote attests to how, for all their conventions and stereotypes, and whether or not they offer “accurate” representations of young people, their lives, concerns, and conflicts, teen flicks do represent a range of types with which young viewers can variously identify, however tangentially.
Regardless of the fact that I never found my own representational correlate in The Breakfast Club, when I was a teen, the film somehow spoke to me, just as Empire Records spoke to many of my students. It’s all about representin’, after all, about finding validation of oneself through popular cultural forms. And isn’t representational parity in media been one thing that minorities of all sorts — whether racial, sexual, ethnic, or even generational — have been demanding for years?