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Davis Journal

The Movie Guru: Going back to high school, Hollywood style

Aug 31, 2021 11:57AM ● By Jenniffer Wardell

High school is starting for teens all across the country, but in Hollywood it’s always either the first day in a new school or a few days before graduation. For those of us who don’t have to worry about going back into the classroom this September, celebrate the arrival of fall with a tour through some of the best and most entertaining high school movies. No matter what kind of high school experience you had – or the kind you wanted to have – there’s a movie out there that will make the grade. 

Social comedies

Some of the most well-known teen comedies plunge their characters back into the high school jungle. “Bring It On” (available on Starz) may look like a raunchy teen comedy, but at its heart it’s a sports movie that takes on cultural appropriation in the highly competitive world of cheerleading. “Clueless” (available on HBO Max) seamlessly updates Jane Austen’s “Emma” to a 1990s high school while keeping every bit of the social navigating. For a slightly more recent spin, Tina Fey’s “Mean Girls” jumps ahead to the 2000s with a complicated, funny fantasy about taking down the high school bullies (available for rent on various platforms). 

Thoughtful dramedies

Being a teenager is hard, and some of the best high school movies out there are devoted to capturing that experience. Two of the best are “The Edge of Seventeen” and “Lady Bird,” both of which are currently on Netflix. Helmed by a pair of standout performances – Hailee Steinfeld in “Edge” and Saoirse Ronan in “Lady Bird” – the two movies give real weight to issues that may seem small now but felt world-ending when we were teenagers. From the seeming betrayals of friends to the endlessly complicated relationships with our parents, the movies will both make you deeply sympathetic for the teenager you were. 

Darker movies

For some people, high school was a nightmare. At least a few of those might have grown up to become Hollywood screenwriters, who then turned those feelings into deeply dark, surprisingly entertaining spins on high school life. “Heathers,” currently on Hulu, is like “Mean Girls” with a lot more bitterness and murder. It’s a lot darker than the pictures make it look, but it also has some genuinely iconic lines you’ll find yourself quoting years later. “Jennifer’s Body,” also currently on Hulu, takes things a step further with a teenager who actually eats boys in order to survive. It wasn’t popular when it was first released, but it’s come back as a well-deserved cult classic. If you like your darkness with more of a tragic feel, the 1976 version of Stephen King’s “Carrie” is still one of the best King adaptations out there to date. 

Also try: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amazon Prime), Superbad (Netflix), Grease (Paramount+), Booksmart (Hulu), Dazed and Confused (Available for rent on various platforms), Election (Netflix), Breakfast Club (fuboTV)

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Utah Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at [email protected]