Hollywood films about teenagers tend to fall into two categories: against-all-odds love stories and oh-my-god-look- behind-you screamers.
But if you dig a little deeper there’s a wave of teen films that are more realistic and still very scary – films that explore the complexities and pressures of youth in a digitally immersed, hyper-sexualized world.
With this week’s release of White Girl, one of the most controversial films at Sundance Film Festival this year, we decided explore a group of films that defy traditional teen stereotypes.
Elizabeth Wood’s debut film is based on her own real life experiences growing up in NYC. The film follows college girl, Leah (Morgan Saylor), and her roommate (India Menuez) as they move into a Queens apartment while interning in the city. Leah falls for Blue (Brian Marc), a young man dealing drugs on her corner. Within days, the two are selling dime bags to her boss (Justin Bartha) and his downtown friends and living the high life.
Summer love crashes when Blue is arrested. Leah enlists an overpriced lawyer (Chris Noth) but finds herself drowning in debt as she plunges deeper and deeper trying to save Blue.
The bleak story frames the intertwined lives of a boy and a girl from very different economic backgrounds not as a tale of star-crossed lovers, but as a story of how a drug can bring people together and destroy them in vastly different ways.
Photographer Larry Clark segued into directing with this wildly controversial film based on a script by an 18-year-old Harmony Korine. The story centers on Telly (Leo Fitzpatrick), Casper (Justin Pierce), Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) and Ruby (Rosario Dawson), four New York teenagers, who spend their time partaking in drug abuse, unprotected sex, and random violence.
Powerful and passionate, raw and compelling, the film documents 24 hours in the life of a group of “kids” who believe they are invincible. The film is shocking and deeply affecting—depicting with brutal honesty the experiences, attitudes and uncertainties of innocence lost.
The kids at the core of the story are just that: teenagers living in modern-day America. But while these kids live in the big city, their story could happen anywhere.
In Larry Clark’s words: “We wanted to make an insider’s look at gnarly adolescent culture that you’d never get to see otherwise — like The Real World pushed into something hyper and insane.”
Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey based Party Monster on their own 1998 documentary, which traces the rise and fall of Michael Alig, a kid from Middle America who aspired to take the place of Andy Warhol as king of the after-midnight scene in Manhattan. They scored the coup of casting a thoroughly grown-up McCauley Culkin, in his first film role after Richie Rich, nine years earlier.
Michael quickly rises to become the biggest party promoter in New York and King of the so-called Club Kids. But after spiraling into drug addiction, Michael brutally murders his roommate Angel Melendez.
Harmony Korine (screenwriter of Kids) directs his vision of the seasonal ritual known as spring break — the parade of bikinis, beach parties and beer bongs that attracts hordes of college students to Florida each year.
Brit (Ashley Benson), Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) are best friends eager to cut loose on their own spring break adventure but, lacking sufficient funds, they find it necessary to hold up a restaurant for quick cash and follow one felony with another by stealing a car to drive to the beach. They’re thrown in jail — but quickly bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, drug pusher and arms dealer who lures them into a criminal world some of the girls find intoxicating.
The film is a brash look at the thin line separating teenage innocence and destructive immorality.
Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring is based on a group of real-life L.A. teenagers whose obsession with fashion and celebrity led them to burglarize celebrities’ homes. It is based on the Vanity Fair article The Suspects Wore Louboutins by Nancy Jo Sales.
Using social media, they track their targets’ whereabouts online and then break in to their empty homes in order to steal designer clothes and possessions. What might have been an innocent prank in another age is amplified by today’s culture of celebrity and luxury brand obsession. Through the members of the Bling Ring we see the temptations that almost any teenager might feel spiral out of control.
What starts out as teenage fun ends as a sobering view of culture today. The film stars Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Claire Julien, and Taissa Farmiga.
Gia Coppola’s debut film was based on the book “Palo Alto: Stories” by James Franco.
April (Emma Roberts), the class virgin, is torn between an illicit flirtation with her soccer coach Mr. B (Franco) and an unrequited crush on sweet stoner Teddy (Jack Kilmer).
Emily (Zoe Levin), meanwhile, offers sexual favors to every boy that crosses her path — including both Teddy and his best friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), a live wire without filters or boundaries. As one high school party bleeds into the next — and April and Teddy struggle to admit their mutual affection — Fred’s escalating recklessness slips into chaos.
Another unflinching portrait of adolescent lust, boredom, and self-destruction, Palo Alto seems no less real, but somehow seems less sensationalistic than the other films in this group – maybe because Coppola was much closer in age to her subjects: she was only 26 when she made the film.