Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, April 16, 2018

NO ENCORES: Not Another Teen Movie (2001)

1. Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
Director: Joel Gallen

When you've been a movie nerd as long as I've been, a certain degree of cynicism is hard to avoid. It's easy to say something like “the parody movie is dead,” even when new classics of the genre like “Black Dynamite” and “They Came Together” creep out every few years. So the parody film might not be dead but it's definitely seen better days. Nearly a decade of steaming garbage like “Meet the Spartans” and “Date Movie,” which didn't make fun of genres so much as just randomly reference trailers and copy scenes, has left the spoof's reputation in shambles.

The “___ Movie” series wouldn't have happened without “Scary Movie” and “Not Another Teen Movie” re-popularizing the parody in the early 2000s. Some, however, have been willing to stand up for the quality of these two movies, despite the awful trend they would spawn. “Not Another Teen Movie, “ in particular, gets singled out for being smarter and better than it seemed. As the sole feature credit of television director Joel Gallen, who probably got this job due to directing several long form parody skits at the MTV Movie Awards, perhaps it does deserve another look.

Shit is going down at John Hughes High School. Football jock Jake has just been dumped by his cheerleader girlfriend Priscilla, who is now dating an artsy-fartsy would-be filmmaker. As revenge, Jake takes up a friend's bet: That he can turn the school's rebellious artist girl, Janney, into prom queen. Jake takes the bet but soon finds himself genuinely attracted to Janney, once she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down. Mixed in there is Janney's younger brother's quest to loose his virginity, the desperate attempts of Janney's best friend to get her romantic attention, and Jake's sister's incestuous desires for her brother, among other things.

Gallen's film targets primarily the teen movies that flourished in the late nineties. The film's A-plot is mostly drawn from “She's All That.” Just in case you didn't get the joke, the film is explicitly referenced several times. The film also throws in direct parodies of “10 Things I Hate About You,” “American Pie,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Never Been Kissed,” “Bring It On,” “Varsity Blues,” and “Road Trip.” (Also “American Beauty,” which I guess is kind of a teen movie.) Occasionally, the homages veer slightly older, with “The Breakfast Club,” “Porky's,” “Ruby,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller's Day Off,” and “Pretty in Pink” also being ridiculed.

I haven't seen all these movies which means some of the humor is lost on me, which is one of the perils of directly parodying then-recent films. Some of these call-backs are mildly amusing, like the increasingly ridiculous antics of the cheerleaders. Or the elderly journalist sent undercover into the school, which isn't much sillier than a thirty year old Drew Barrymore passing as a teen. Others are somewhat gratuitous, like the incest jokes taken from “Cruel Intentions.” Some even come off as mean-spirited, like the oddly placed jabs at “American Beauty.”

I'll give credits where its due. Unlike later parodies, “Not Another Teen Movie” isn't content to just reference these films. It at least builds jokes around them, as crude or uninspired as they may be. When people talk about “Not Another Teen Movie” being better or smarter than expected, I suspect they're talking about the way the movie riffs on the ideas behind teen movies.  Janney being considered unattractive just because she wears glasses, a ponytail and overalls – the lunacy of which is drawn into sharp contrast by comparing her to literally deformed students – is mocking “She's All That.” It's also mocking the ridiculous standards of beauty in our society.

A token black kid commenting on his own tokenness is goofing on teen flicks but also on how marginalized other races can be. (This is best emphasized during one of the quieter and better gags, when he runs into another token black guy at a party.) The overweight football player suffering repeated concussions is a joke based on “Varsity Blues” but its also commenting on how the real dangers of high school football are often ignored. Let's not give the movie too much credit. The satire is less biting than it is tangential. A smarter, sharper film easily could've been made from this stuff but “Not Another Teen Movie” is not that film.

Ultimately, the gags that made me laugh the most in “Not Another Teen Movie” tend to be more free-wheeling examples of absurdity. In a possible homage to “Pleasentville,” the cheer squad recruits a cheery and wholesome blonde... Who happens to have Tourette's, frequently spending strings of vulgar nonsense. Mr. T has a hilarious cameo as the Wise Janitor, whose advice is actually not that helpful. As does Melissa Joan Hart, who appears to instruct an overeager guy attempting to start a slow clap. These are but two of the high-profile cameos in the film, the best of which is saved for the final act. The transitional end of the second act explodes into a musical number, which is pretty unexpected.

Some of the funniest gags are also the smallest. Like Jake admiring a photo of himself at the school, before walking over to another photo of himself admiring the previous photo. Or Mitch and his friends saying they're setting out on an epic road trip to a party, which lasts about one minute as they drive up the street. Janney's passionately works on her art, with the results being much more whimsical than expected. The movie needed more bits of Zuckerian goofiness like that. Instead of scenes of people being hit by cars or falling down, a style of gaggery the movie leans on too much.

Another thing “Not Another Teen Movie” leans on too much is its considerable crude streak. This is, after all, a film that begins with its female lead's elaborate masturbation ritual going incredibly wrong. Not a minute passes without a reference to some crude sex act or bodily function. Sometimes it gets a laugh, like Cerina Vincent's foreign exchange student spending the entire movie nude, but usually its just gratuitous, the writers going for the easiest jokes. This is most apparent in a scene that begins with a girl peeing on the commode and concludes with a huge fountain of excrement spraying into a class room. Yes, this is extending the sex and shit jokes already existing in teen movies to their most extreme conclusions. But it's also apparent that Gallen and his team just thought poop and other naughty stuff was funny.

Maybe “Not Another Teen Movie's” recent reevaluate is strictly due to its cast. Chris Evans is now one of the star players of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The future Captain America shows himself to be totally game. He plays his ridiculous part to the fullest, embodying the role of a clueless jock idiot without ever winking too much. Not even during the scene where's only wearing whip cream and a suggestively placed banana. Chlyer Leigh, who also has her own superhero cred as the sister on the CW's “Supergirl,” is similarly shameless as Janney, acting her heart out during one ridiculous scene after another. (Leigh was, apparently, in the throes of a serious drug addiction at the time.) Everyone is fairly well cast, from Jaime Pressly as the bitchy cheerleader, Randy Quaid as the shell-shocked war vet dad, to a frequently hilarious Eric Christian Olsen as the cocky blonde guy. The material is mediocre but the cast fucking goes for it.

I don't have much affection for “Not Another Teen Movie.” For every funny bit or memorable gag, there's ten that fail to make me laugh. Mostly, the movie strikes me as overly crass and fairly desperate. The movie was a moderate box office success but the contemporary critical reaction was largely negative. Maybe that's why Joel Gallen has stuck to his music videos, award shows, and TV specials since its release. His direction, fairly flat and uninteresting, definitely reflects his television roots. While I don't besmirch the movie's cult following, “Not Another Teen Movie” gets in its own way a little too often and relies on easy, gross-out far too much. [5/10]

1 comment:

Monty Park said...

What bothers me most about this movie is that it consistently hits its mark...then insecurely keeps going until it hits a much cheaper gag. Almost every scene is like that.