By J1 Reporter Nora Fitzsimmons
“There’s three characteristics of a girl [in high school movies]. You’re either the popular girl, her friends or the loser,” chuckles Anna Hoffman. Although she is currently a junior at Marian High School, Anna has never been able to relate to the characters depicted in high school movies. Whether they were made in the 80s or last year, movies set in high school never seem to accurately portray the characteristics or experiences of real students. More specifically, these movies have never been able to accurately depict a female high school student.
Movies that are now considered “classics,” like “High School Musical,” and “Clueless” are fun to watch if you’re looking for some “good drama and a little love story” claims Anna. Fellow student Sara Lighthart agrees, saying, “It’s nice to have a break from the realism sometimes.” While the two girls enjoy these cheesy movies, they agree that there should be a more accurate representation of female characters.
“I wish that female characters had a stronger influence,” admits Sara. “The girl starts out strong or is always weak.” When movies focus on the love life of a teenage girl, they hinder her complexity as a human being. “If she [the female character] starts out strong, she ends up falling for the guy,” Sara said.
“High School Musical” is a perfect example of this misguided storytelling. The main female character, Gabriella, is initially established as dynamic by being both book smart and a talented singer. Instead of specifically focusing on Gabriella’s life of juggling school and her passion for music, the movie’s focus is on her high school romance with the basketball jock, Troy Bolton. Sara points out that “having a strong female lead that isn’t dependent on a love interest would be really cool to see.”
Anna has observed that “High school movie girl characters are always very one dimensional.” Even though Anna participates in an array of activities like Mime Troupe, Sustainability Club, and is a member of the Family Fare staff, a high school movie would characterize her based on one aspect of her life. She would be portrayed as the weird theater kid or the school hippie. “I’d be portrayed as a huge dweeb,” jokes Anna.
Marian Alumni and filmmaker Kristen Beal recalls that “there were a lot of guy-centric roles” in high school movies that came out when she was a student at Marian. However, Kristen’s hope for better high school movies lies in the ones that came out in recent years. She has observed that these movies are starting to feature female characters who “don’t always talk about dudes or their appearance.”
A recent high school movie that she can relate to on a personal level is “Ladybird,” because “It was about a girl who went to a Catholic school.” Not only was the main character, Ladybird’s experience set in a Catholic school, but Kristen feels that it accurately depicted the Catholic school experience. Ladybird and her friends “makes jokes during Mass and other stuff that I did at Marian,” laughs Kristen. Although movies like “Ladybird” show progress, Kristen said, “there’s so many different emotions and experiences that these characters can have that I don’t really think we’ve seen on the screen.”
A time and a place for cheesy “classic” high school movies exists, but both Sara and Anna can agree that a realistic point of view would be refreshing. Kristen has found hope in newer high school movies, but she still craves to see the full spectrum of high schooler emotions.