Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Smarter Than Most Parodies, Not Another Teen Movie Makes Its Point Well

The Good: Funny, Clever, Well-constructed, Satirical, Mostly decent acting
The Bad: Some clunky acting, Some overkill, Shaky plot
The Basics: In a funny movie that wonderfully satirizes the conventions of teensploitation movies and flicks marketed toward tweens, Not Another Teen Movie delivers laughs, if not characters.

A few days ago, I sat down and did a comparative viewing of two comedies that were spoofing the teen movie genre. As "teenspolitation" and "tween" are now in the dictionary, I felt it behooved me to explore what all the fuss was about movies focusing on teenage life. I was utterly disappointed with the teen-oriented, marketed-to-teens Date Movie (reviewed here!) which was less a commentary on teen movies and romantic comedies as the same dumb jokes from the Scary Movie franchise plugged into the context of romantic comedy references. So, it was with a sense of lowered expectations that I sat down to Not Another Teen Movie, a film that has been casually on my list for the last few years.

This was the parody I had been waiting for. Genuinely funny and satirizing the elements of the teen movie genre, Not Another Teen Movie is an adult-oriented stab at the inane, repetitive and often-obvious stories of teen life that most adults have grown beyond.

Janey Briggs is a poor, artistic girl who defies social conventions and is fine with her lack of popularity until the day that Jake Wyler, the most popular boy in school, takes notice of her. Bet by his friends that he can make anyone in the school into a prom queen, Jake begins to pursue Janey. At the same time, Janey's younger brother and his friends begin a quest to lose their virginity.

This is not a complicated plot. In fact, the movie is plagued by a lack of direction that is completely assembled by the conceits it employs to parody other movies. As a result, the film - which has a main plot most reminiscent of She's All That - contains the usual plot points for a movie focusing on high school characters, including a gym scene, a locker room scene, a big football game, and the prom. Curiously absent is the obligatory foodfight in the cafeteria, though the viewer is treated to detention (a la The Breakfast Club). This is not supposed to be a plot-intensive movie because so much of the plot is simply using the conceits and repetitive plots of the films it seeks to mock.

Similarly, the movie is not big on characters. The movie poster - or the DVD cover, in this case - contains a listing of the characters and the collection there is enough to characterize the entire movie. So, for example, remembering the names of Mitch, Malik and Reggie Ray are pointless; they are not individual characters so much as they are the embodiments of those who have come before them in their roles as The Desperate Virgin, The Token Black Guy, and The Dumb, Fat Guy. The level of satire here is fairly high and the female characters are beautifully caricatured as well as the Perfect Girl, the Cruelest Girl, and the Sexy Exchange Student. None of them leap off the screen as individual characters, but rather as the embodiments of the types they are supposed to be.

In a film like this, it works. A well-constructed satire that is deconstructing a genre does not rely on individuals to make their points; it must attack the common threads that bind the genre together. So, for example, while not all teen movies have the exchange student who is lusted after, almost all of them do have the token black and the token fat sidekicks who usually serve no useful point in the larger scheme of the movie other than to make the protagonist look more attractive to mainstream America (yes, that should be read as "white and thin" there). Most teen movies DO have the "Pretty Ugly Girl," the young woman whose beauty is only inhibited in the world of cinema by her glasses and pony tail.

Not Another Teen Movie brilliantly satirizes these conceits by exploiting and exploring them. So, one of the funniest moments is when the beauty queen - Jake's sister with a thing for her jock brother - takes Janey and prepares to make her a prom queen. She accomplishes this by simply removing her glasses and letting her hair down. She declares success and it's amusing. Similarly, when Malik, who has been relegated to Ebonic catch phrases for much of the movie provides useful information and suddenly begins a lengthy dialogue on significant issues to Jake, the result is funny.

Both Date Movie and Not Another Teen Movie include the obligatory musical interlude and Not Another Teen Movie's musical moment is easily funnier and more poignant because it is more obviously exploiting the conceit, as opposed to plugging in the latest pop-rock or hip-hop song to the film. No, here the musical montage adequately recaps the film and where it is going in such a way that transitions the scene and creates humor - when the song ends, none of the characters seem to know how to leave their dramatic pose.

What sells Not Another Teen Movie is the quality of the acting. For a movie without genuine characters, Not Another Teen Movie succeeds on the strength of the acting. All of the actors become invested in the type they embody, robbing themselves of some of their strengths to work within the conceit their character is cast to mock. So, for example, Samm Levine, who was masterfully articulate and witting in Freaks and Geeks (reviewed here!) here is utterly devoid of his charm and most of his brilliance as a character who is identifying with Japanese pop-culture (Levine plays Bruce, "The Wannabe"). The writers of the movie cleverly made the wannabe character someone who was not trying to be black and the idea of having the white poseur trying to be oriental is pulled off with humor, originality and enough cleverness to keep the viewer watching.

Most of the acting is decent. In fact, the only performance that comes to mind that didn't excite me was the role played by Randy Quaid, who basically reprises his role from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (reviewed here!). The cameo appearance at the end of the movie is brilliant and completely sells the resolution.

Much of the movie hangs on the acting talents of Chris Evans (Jake) and Chyler Leigh (Janey). Evans is perfectly able to embody the conceited jock who is deluded by his sense of his own greatness. He carries himself with a poise that defines arrogance and self-love. Evans never for a moment makes the viewer think he is anything less than completely in love with himself.

It is Chyler Leigh who rocks, mocking the studious, rebellious teen female with an understated performance and comic timing that sells all the lines that she is given. Leigh is, quite simply, funny throughout the movie and she performs in such a way that occasionally telegraphs the jokes that are coming, but nevertheless sells the viewer on her commitment to the part.

On DVD, Not Another Teen Movie contains deleted scenes and a whole trivia contest involving the references in the film to the films it mocks. The deleted scenes are an interesting collection that makes the viewer wonder about director Joel Gallen's judgment. Gallen smartly cuts some scenes - like trimming the flashback explaining why Janey does not date - but also cut some of the movie's smartest statements, like Janey observing that Areola's accent continues to change. For the most part, the DVD extras are fun and add the extra value to the DVD to make it worthwhile (the movie itself is only 89 minutes long). Interestingly, the entire end of the movie is shot and presented in the bonus footage without the cameo that makes the end truly wonderful. The comparison is intriguing and the released version is definitely superior.

It is worth noting, as well, that Not Another Teen Movie is an adult movie. The film's last line - delivered by the cameo that I will not ruin by revealing - sums up the writers' and director's impression of teens and their movies wonderfully and humorously. The only preview for Not Another Teen Movie is a red label preview and overall, the film is intended for adults who loathe the conventions and stupidity of the teen films. Yes, despite the juvenile and disgusting scene involving the collapse of a bathroom with feces going everywhere, this is largely an adult-oriented movie.

This is great for those sick of movies like Just My Luck that capitalize on the teen-star-of-the-moment to present inane, obvious and teen-oriented stories that are likely to disappoint and revolt adults.

For other movies with a predominately teenage cast, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Easy A
The Princess Diaries
American Beauty


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment