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Teen Romance Flicks Through The Ages

Aug 15, 2013
Originally published on August 15, 2013 2:58 pm

The new film “The Spectacular Now” has gotten Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr thinking about teen romance films through the years.

He shares some of his favorites with us, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Say Anything…,” “Pretty in Pink” and “West Side Story.”

Ty’s Picks for Teen Romance Films


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New research from a Harvard researcher finds boys are increasingly meeting girls by sending incredibly sexual explicit social media messages, and it's harmful to the boys as well as the girls. We're going to have more tomorrow.

But meanwhile, may we suggest that teens take some lessons from the movies? Play her her favorite song or just talk. In the new film, "The Spectacular Now," Miles Teller stars as Sutter, a popular high school senior with an alcohol problem. He's dumped by his girlfriend, gets drunk and is found sleeping on the lawn by Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley.


SHAILENE WOODLEY: (as Aimee Finecky) Do you live around here, Sutter?

MILES TELLER: (as Sutter Keely) How do you know my name?

WOODLEY: (as Aimee Finecky) We go to the same school. You wouldn't know who I am.

TELLER: (as Sutter Keely) Hi, Aimee.

WOODLEY: (as Aimee Finecky) I'm Aimee.

YOUNG: They keep talking. And through his new relationship, Sutter starts to pull his life back together. "The Spectacular Now" got Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr thinking about the teen romance film now and 50 years ago, and he joins us in the studio with his picks for the better ones. Ty, welcome back.

TY BURR: Thanks for having me back.

YOUNG: And "The Spectacular Now," I mean, what is it about it that appealed to you or made you think about this?

BURR: Well, you know, it seemed like the newest version of a kind of movie that goes back quite a ways, and every generation has its version. And it's the sort of innocent teen romance film, and it's about how these sardonic teens learn to sort of get through their defenses and find this innocence, this - the innocence of love that, you know, we took for granted 50 years ago, a hundred years ago.

Today's teenagers - and this really goes back to the '80s - they have their defenses up. They're ironic. How do you get past that to actually, you know, access emotions and share them with people?

YOUNG: Well, there's maybe more irony or cynicism. So where would you place "Spectacular Now"? We're going to take a look at some other films. Kind of where would you place it?

BURR: It falls into the teen romance genre as we've understood it from John Hughes movies in the '80s. But there's a weird emotional honesty to it that reminded me of the "Before Sunset," "Before Sunrise," "Before Midnight" movies.

YOUNG: Ethan Hawke movie.

BURR: Yeah.

YOUNG: Let's take a look at some of the films on your list. There was last year's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." It stars Logan Lerman as Charlie, an introverted freshman who's befriended by two seniors, every freshman's dream. There's Patrick, played by Ezra Miller, his stepsister Sam, played by Emma Watson. Charlie, of course, develops a crush on the Emma Watson character. And in this scene, Sam, Emma Watson's character, gives Charlie his very first kiss.


EMMA WATSON: (as Sam) I know that you know I like Craig, but I want to forget about that for a minute, OK?

LOGAN LERMAN: (as Charlie) OK.

WATSON: I just want to make sure that the first person who kisses you loves you.



YOUNG: Charming, and based on a much-loved book.

BURR: Yeah. "Spectacular Now" is also based on a young adult novel. And both of them - one of the reasons, I think, both of the films work - and I love "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." I think it's a really good movie, kind of fell under the radar last year, but everybody I know who's seen it just loves that movie because it has, again, an emotional honesty and a tenderness, the kind of tenderness that rises between friends, first lovers, the tenderness that's hard to come by when you're a teenager, especially in modern America, and that you want to just protect as much as possible. And these films are both, in an oddly moving way, quite protective of the emotional terrain that rises up between the two characters.

YOUNG: Well, I can hear listeners saying, wait a second, they're talking about teen heartthrob movies. You have to mention "Say Anything," and you do. This is Cameron Crowe's 1989 film. John Cusack stars as the high school senior whose interests are kickboxing and the class valedictorian. And, of course, there's the iconic scene, you know, after they break up. But he stands with a boom box under her window, plays her favorite song.


PETER GABRIEL: (Singing) In your eyes. The light, the heat. In your eyes. I am complete. In your eyes. I see the doorway. In your eyes. To the thousand churches. In your eyes. The resolution. In your eyes. Of all the fruitless searches. In your eyes. Oh, I see the light and the heat. In your eyes. The light, the heat. Oh, I want to be that complete. In your eyes. The light, the heat. I want to touch the light, the heat I see in your eyes.

YOUNG: Is that just the best scene in film ever?

BURR: Can we just, like, roll that song and just listen to it because it's such a good song? It's the best. I mean, people who haven't seen the movie know that shot, this iconic shot. One of the reasons it's so moving, it refers to a scene. They've just made love in a car. The song comes on, and really the boom box moment is him referring to that earlier moment of just complete emotional nakedness and tenderness.

YOUNG: And it is the Dustin Hoffman banging on the church as Elaine gets married.

BURR: Yes, of the '80s. Yeah.

YOUNG: It's the equivalent. Right. Well, and you can't mention the '80s and teen romance films without talking about John Hughes, "Some Kind of Wonderful," "The Breakfast Club," 1986's "Pretty in Pink," Molly Ringwald, the poor girl who falls in love with a rich young man, Andrew McCarthy. Let's listen to a scene. He brings her to a party at one of his friend's homes. It doesn't go well.


ANDREW MCCARTHY: (as Blane McDonnagh) I can't believe I actually associate with these people.

MOLLY RINGWALD: (as Andie Walsh) I can't believe that I'm actually here.

MCCARTHY: (as Blane McDonnagh) Pretty bad, yeah?

RINGWALD: (as Andie Walsh) Yeah, it's pretty bad.

MCCARTHY: (as Blane McDonnagh) I'm sorry. Hey, let's go upstairs, huh? Come on.

RINGWALD: (as Andie Walsh) Look, I didn't come here to get you off, OK? That was not my idea.

MCCARTHY: (as Blane McDonnagh) Come on, that is not what I meant. I haven't even tried to kiss you, have I? Look, it's quieter up there, OK? Come on. These hands will remain in these pockets, I swear to God.

YOUNG: Ty Burr, John Hughes, discuss.


BURR: Well, he - I mean, those movies are beloved by anybody who came of age during that era. He was the first filmmaker, commercial, popular filmmaker to address class issues in teenage movies. Here it's about the poor girl falling in love with a rich boy, which Hollywood had done many, many times before but not really in the adolescent sense. And here, you have, you know, the rich kid played by Andrew McCarthy and his snobby friends, one of whom is played by James Spader, who is sort of the go-to snob of '80s movies.

You know, that whole social hierarchy, it was really the first time it had been dealt with on film. And a movie like "Spectacular Now" or "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," that's in their DNA. In a weird way, they take that for granted.

YOUNG: Hmm. We mentioned Molly Ringwald sort of the teen heroine for the 1980s. If you go back to the '50s and '60s, it had to be Natalie Wood: "Rebel Without a Cause," "Splendor in the Grass," "West Side Story." What was so compelling about Natalie Wood?

BURR: Oh, man, she had this emotional presence that really is, I think, still one of the most compelling adolescent female characters ever put on screen. If you see "Splendor in the Grass," I mean, to my mind that's like a female "Rebel With a Cause" and as such slightly more dangerous.

"West Side Story," of course, is the classic translation of "Rome and Juliet," again, keeping that privileged tenderness, that space. You know, that scene at the dance where they see each other and the rest of the world just goes away, that's like an archetypal moment for all of these movies where the two see each other, and the rest of the world goes away.


RICHARD BEYMER: (as Tony Wyzek) You're not thinking I'm someone else?

NATALIE WOOD: (as Maria Nunez) I know you are not.

BEYMER: (as Tony Wyzek) Or that we've met before?

WOOD: (as Maria Nunez) I know we have not.

BEYMER: (as Tony Wyzek) I felt I knew something never before was going to happen, had to happen. But this is so much more.

WOOD: (as Maria Nunez) My hands are cold. Yours too.

BURR: And then they have to figure out what they're going to do within that world they've created.

YOUNG: And you remind us that these have always been with us, these storylines, and they are never going to go away.

BURR: I hope not.

YOUNG: Yeah. That's Boston Globe film critic Ty Burr on teen romance films. We'll have his entire list at Noticeably absent from your lists, the "Twilight" film.


BURR: Yeah. Well, I actually do like the first one because I think it gets something of what I'm talking about here, that emotional hyperreality of being in love, of being a teenager in love. Why must they be a teenager in love?


BURR: The rest of the movie is hardly realistic at all. And the other movies just get sillier and sillier and more into werewolves and vampires and rippled abs, and they just get dumb. But I still think that the first film actually does belong in the category.

YOUNG: Maybe. Yeah. Ty, thanks as always.

BURR: Thank you.

YOUNG: OK. Jeremy, as he - you and I are both actually in tears over "West Side Story." But if there's anything people thought we left out, go to Let us know your favorite teen heartthrob movie.


I'm going to stretch the genre just a little bit, Robin...


HOBSON: ...and say "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" from 1990.


YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.