“Teen movie” has become dreaded Hollywood shorthand—like “SNL spinoff” or “Kevin Costner vehicle”—since usually you can bet Joshua Jackson’s bottom dollar that the term denotes either a witless gross-out stunt like American Pie or one of many interchangeable romances starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and/or Julia Stiles, boasting all the flavor and texture of toast dipped in milk. Yet last summer’s richest live-action comedy, the Watergate lark Dick, was an affectionate parody of its 15-year-old protagonists that also caught the drift of free-floating anxiety the girls tweaked in a bunch of G-men. Spring 1999’s caustic Election struck a similar balance in its mordant, multifaceted student-council allegory. Both failed at the box office, and the shining Swedish import Show Me Love made nary a ripple in stateside waters; meanwhile, during American Beauty‘s season in the sun, neither fans nor detractors took much notice of its startling, painful evocations of teen girlhood, though both critics and those promo posters could concur that Mena Suvari is hot.
The low-key first quarter of this year has provided something like safe haven for uncommercial teen gems like The Virgin Suicides and the Quebecois Set Me Free, but summer blockbuster season is fast upon us to throw a humpable pie in the face of intelligent nuance, right? We’ve got the Artist Known as Prinze’s latest vanilla-wafer serving (Boys and Girls), Stiles in the hood (Save the Last Dance), another Pie slice (Road Trip), an apparent Drop Dead Gorgeous redux with a racial-adversarial twist (Jump). Never fear: Entries with potential beckon too, though the films that pledge a triple-digit IQ seem geared toward folks with double-X chromosomes. (More disturbing right now than the perennial dearth of roles for older actresses is the plight of cinematic teen boyhood, in which all the young dudes are aggro jocks, undie models, or pastry-fucking collies.) There’s the buzz-blessed Girlfight, the drolly observed New Waterford Girl, and Natasha Lyonne at lesbian-rehab camp in But I’m a Cheerleader. Best of all, after raising the teen-movie bar for ensemble body horror in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and for deceptively giddy-girly comedy in Clueless, standard-bearer Amy Heckerling—broad-comic humanist, wise big sister to the Farrellys—returns with the college gambol Loser. With that pedigree, with that moniker, couldn’t anyone who’s ever been a teenager relate?