Tag Archives: teen

Beauty in the Movies: Mean Girls

This week for Beauty in the Movies I ask you to head back to what was either the best or worst time in your life—high school, in the hysterically funny and alarmingly accurate film Mean Girls.

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) grew up in Africa where she was home-schooled by her research zoologist parents, but at 16 after her mom lands a tenure teaching position she finds herself thrown into a new kind of  jungle; the American high school. Cady quickly learns that the poisonous snakes and carnivorous cats of her former home have nothing on the teenage girls who roam the halls of North Shore High. She is adopted by creative misfits Janice (Lizzy Caplan) and Damien (Daniel Franzese) who give her the low-down on the school’s social hierarchy starting at the top of the food chain with Regina George (Rachel McAdams) and her dim cronies Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), who they’ve aptly nicknamed “The Plastics”. When the Plastics unsurprisingly take an interest in the hot new girl, Janice convinces Cady to infiltrate the group and expose Regina for the evil bitch she really is. She agrees, but being new to the dangerous world of girls she is easy prey for the cruel trickery of The Plastics, especially Regina. Before Cady knows it she is turning into cold, hard, shiny, plastic herself.

There are “plastics” in every school, they are equally worshiped and hated. Some are evil, but most are just lost or trying to fit in and win enough favor to avoid being tortured. I myself can relate so closely to the character of Janice that I find it eerie. It’s comforting to know that girls like me are just as prevalent as girls like Regina George in high schools across the country, most likely Tina Fey was one of them too. Janice is a direct reaction to Regina, she is the antithesis of everything the Plastics represent. While her plan to bring down Regina is fueled by revenge, fighting fire with fire is never a good idea, and although she has the best intentions, it’s hard not to see her, and Damien, as mean girls too.

This film has a great ensemble cast, Tina Fey and other SNL talents deliver laughs as expected (particularly Amy Poehler as Regina’s “cool” mom), McAdams, Chabert and Seyfried eat up the scenery and steal the show with their pitch-perfect teen girl hysterics and bitchery. Watching this film I can’t help but be sad about what has become of Lyndsay Lohan, she is so cute and brimming with potential in this role. Many of us thought this was just the first of many charming performances, but sadly both her career and her personal life seem to have gone downhill since Mean Girls hit theaters. I still remain hopeful that it’s just a phase and the bubbly, bright, redheaded girl onscreen in this movie will leave the tabloid madness behind and make a comeback sometime in the future—stay strong Lyndsay!

Tina Fey wrote her screenplay based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Wiseman’s book was written as a guide to help mothers understand the confusing and often brutal world their daughters navigate everyday. Tina Fey is a comic genius and this film proves that. She took instances from the book that many women could relate to and found not only humor in the ridiculous way girls treat each other, but also an opportunity to send a message without seeming preachy. Teenage girls can be ruthless and Mean Girls holds up the mirror, the actions of the girls may seem absurd, but if you’ve spent time with teens—and unfortunately some grown women as well, you know this film is filled with truth.

One of Mean Girls greatest moments comes when Fey’s character attempts to breakthrough to her female students “you’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores, it just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores” she begs. Before women can be respected by men, we have to respect one another and see other women as our equals instead of our opponents. It’s a deeply valuable lesson for women of all ages and it simply cannot be repeated often enough. Gossip and name calling are as innocent as a sucker-punch to the face, if we don’t take those abuses seriously then we deserve the sort of leaders that are born of that behavior. The sad part is that, like Cady, most girls and women have a natural instinct to be a friend, but all it takes is one mean girl to put everyone else on the defensive. The best way to deal with a queen bee is not to give her any power and the only way to do that is to be yourself no matter what she thinks of you.

While there are many aspects of the film that could come off as cliché, it wouldn’t be high school without them. Archetypes are more prevalent in high school than anywhere else—the jock, the homecoming queen, the lap-dog, and so on. For some it’s a survival method; stick with the pack, go unnoticed, avoid abuse. For others, it’s the opposite, if you can’t fit in then be as different as possible and embody it to the fullest—the goth, the stoner, the nerd. Most of us fit into some category when we were in high school. Whether we chose our character to blend in, or had it thrust upon us as a way of sticking out, as adults we have learned we can be many things at once. Yes, you can be prom queen and a mathlete at the same time, and it actually makes you more interesting in the end.

At one point Cady comes to the realization that “calling someone else fat doesn’t make you any skinnier” and the same goes for any mean thing you can say about someone, it doesn’t do anything to change why you feel bad about yourself. Which is really the only reason we talk about each other aside from plain old boredom. In the end there is a lesson for all women in this film; stop being so mean to each other. It’s a hard habit to break after so many years of practice and reinforcement, but if we work together instead of tearing one another down there is no doubt we could rule the world.

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Re-Post: I Heart Lisa Frank

I pulled out my back and am having some trouble sitting at the computer right now, I spent yesterday lying on ice packs on the floor and watching Glee. That might have been fun if I didn’t have so much darn wedding stuff to do. My great-grandmother always said “man plans, god laughs” of course she said it in Yiddish, but it’s the idea of it that matters.

So today I can only sit in front of the computer for a limited amount of time, something I hadn’t planned on—but can not change. I had planned on writing a new post, but instead I’m re-posting an old one so I can go back to lying on the floor for a while. Below is a post I wrote when my blog was at a different URL, so if you’ve seen it already I apologize, I promise something new later in the week (hopefully tomorrow). For now, here is my ode to the wonderful Lisa Frank:

Recently, while eating dinner with parents one night and discussing what the hell I’m going to do with my life. I casually joked “My goal is to be the next Lisa Frank”, chuckling to myself, I soon realized they were staring at me blankly. Well, apparently the magical wonder of Lisa Frank somehow flew over the heads of my parents generation. Maybe they chose to block out the rainbow horses and angel kitties, or write them off as teeny-bopper stuff, which is easy to do. I however still get a rush of excitement when I see Lisa Frank products, I mean come on, look at this, that’s just fun.

I still get just as happy seeing this now as I did at my 3rd grade book fair when I bought a Lisa Frank folder and a poster of a dolphin jumping through intergalactic oceans (sorry mom, I guess I should have used that money to buy books).

I don’t think any of my professors in art school would have appreciated me citing her as an inspiration though. But then again, they didn’t particularly appreciate anything that was overtly feminine, or so I felt, but more on that another time.

I have a preference for the animals over her new line of “girls” which look a lot like Bratz dolls, am I right? I don’t find them nearly as interesting or appealing as her older characters.

There was (is) something so sweet and fun about rainbow animals with wings, flying around being cute, but also cool, at least for the 9-year-old me it was. My point is that this is illustration, and it was nice to see this woman who obviously built an empire based on work she loved doing. Now we have licensed characters from shows and movies, and sanrio and Disney Princesses will always be around, but I miss Lisa Frank. I haven’t really seen anyone else like her around, not in as big a way as she was.

Whether you like her stuff or think it is saccharine and seizure inducing, you have to admit that she created her own world, did what she liked, and was really successful at it. Wikipedia calls her a “pop artist”, which seems an appropriate title, they also say you can see her headquarters from a plane because it’s decorated with rainbows, stars, and hearts, how amazing is that?

I had to do a piece about “teens” a while back, of course, it’s really based on my own experience as a teenager in the 90s. Even though Lisa Frank skews younger, I found myself thinking about her when I started working on the piece. In some ways she sort of bridges the gap between childhood and adolescence. When I was 15 even though I tried to deny it, I still loved rainbows and unicorns, and you know what? I still do! Here is how that piece turned out:

I’m happy with it, I think it really encapsulates my own teen years. From Manic Panic to baby hair clips.

Here’s one more Lisa, for the road:

P.S.

Lisa Frank hot air Balloon! What?

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Beauty in the Movies: Heathers

This week I present to you one of the best teen comedies ever, and by far one of the darkest. Heathers is one of those movies that just keeps getting better as the years go by, and you discover something new each time you watch it.

There are four girls who rule Westerberg High, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), Heather Duke (Shannen Doherty), Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk) and Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder). They spend their days torturing geeks like Martha Dunnstock (Carrie Lynn), who they call Martha Dump-truck, doling out witty dialogue, and playing croquet. When new guy JD (Christian Slater) arrives at school, he shakes up Veronica’s world and forces her to confront how awful the Heathers really are.

When we first meet JD, he’s the epitome of the cool, mysterious new kid, he comes on the scene to save Veronica from a world of Heathers and expose the popular crowd as the self-centered assholes they are. It’s set up like other teen movies; two characters meet and seem to be a perfect match, but things go off in a very different direction from there. It’s Veronica’s story, but instead of spending the film mooning over a crush, she spends it frantically scribbling in her diary while wearing her monocle and cursing the idiocy of her peers.

The American high school is a nasty place, and Heathers was the first movie that exposed it as such. In high school everyone is labeled, every dark secret is fair game, and even death is a way to up your social standing.

Heathers came out in 1989, at the end of an era dominated by John Hughes movies where teenagers are fun, sweet, and adorable—the most bad-ass things they do involve dancing at parades and skipping out on their detention homework. The Heathers teens range from vapid to down right evil, a sharp contrast to the charming geeks and lovable jocks of the Hughes Cannon. In Heathers, house parties are replaced by funerals, and instead of the cute male lead turning out to be surprisingly sensitive, he turns out to be a murderous psychopath. Sadly, in some ways it’s a much more realistic portrayal of what high school is really like.

Heathers established its own vernacular, it gave us phrases you still hear in modern high schools, even if those kids have no idea where they came from—like “what’s your damage?”, “I gotta motor”, or “How very”. Virtually every other line is a memorable quote, who could forget “F*ck me gently with a chainsaw” or “I love my dead gay son!”?

Teen suicide has been making headlines again recently, which means it’s time to start re-running Heathers on cable, because this film actually makes a great case against suicide. It demonstrates how killing yourself just makes your hateful classmates pretend they liked you, and that they will use your death as a means to garner attention for themselves. High school is a war zone, and sometimes it spills over into college, but life does get better. There are still jerks in the world after high school, but you get to choose if you want to be around them or not. Sure, offices can sometimes recall a bit too much of that old high school cruelty, but for the most part people mature and realize life is too short to be so worried what everyone else thinks.

Heathers held up the mirror and forced us to look at the way we treat tragedy, the sensationalized accounts of death and suicide have only grown with the internet age. Teen suicides provoked (at least in part) by bullying are in the news every other week these days. The cavalier attitude and lack of responsibility from peers is always a major focus of disgust—more than twenty years later and Heathers is truer than ever, yet we still act surprised by the actions of empathy-free teens and their victims, showing that we would rather run a “shocking” news story than try to solve the problem. All I can say is, in the words of Big Fun, “Teenage suicide—don’t do it”.

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Beauty on Television: Veronica Mars

This week I’m changing things up. Instead of a movie, I’m featuring one of my favorite TV shows—the sadly canceled Veronica Mars. I’ve often been teased for watching it, but I stand by Veronica Mars as being one of the best things on television—ever. A lot of people don’t know what Veronica Mars is, perhaps you’re like me and had the idea it’s about a teen psychic (maybe I got it mixed up with That’s So Raven?) or maybe you think it’s a UPN teen soap-opera in the same vein as The OC, or maybe you’ve just never heard of it at all. Whatever you thought, it’s worth giving a chance, because you might just end up as obsessed with it as I am.

Veronica Mars is a television series about a teenage girl (Kristen Bell) living in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Southern California, the fictional town of Neptune—but Veronica lives on the wrong side of the tracks. She used to live on the right side, she used to be one of the popular kids, and she used to be the daughter of the local sheriff, but things change. We meet Veronica a year after she has lost everything, and we watch as she tries to sort out what happened to her life. A year earlier Veronica was happily attending the homecoming dance and pep squad meetings with her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried), she was also dating Lilly’s younger brother Duncan (Teddy Dunne), and living in a big house with her mom and dad. But when Lilly is found dead on her parent’s estate, (they’re the wealthiest family in Neptune) her murder sets off a series of events that will change all the character’s lives forever.

Veronica’s father Keith Mars, (Enrico Colantoni) the sheriff of Neptune, investigates Lilly’s death and believes the wrong man has been arrested for the crime. When Keith accuses the Kane family of foul play in the murder of their own daughter, the town (and the nation) turn against him. Keith is removed from office, leaving the Mars family with no money and no status. After her mom leaves town, Veronica and her dad set up “Mars Investigations” and move into a small apartment on the other side of Neptune.

Veronica Mars recalls another dark television mystery—Twin Peaks, the question on everyone’s mind (especially Veronica’s) being “who killed Lilly Kane?”.

The first season (there are two more) of this series is the best mystery I’ve ever seen played out on TV—and maybe ever. After the first episode you’re hooked, and from then on it’s a ripping yarn to the finale. Each episode follows its own storyline in which Veronica solves a mystery, but the season-wide arch involving Lilly Kane’s murder, keeps you eagerly watching as things unfold.

This show features some heavy issues not often seen on television, let alone a teen show; classism, racism, rape, and violence are all dealt with often throughout the series. Despite the high school setting and the focus on hefty subjects, there is nothing sappy or “after-school special” about this series. The writing is incredible, the characters are diverse and well-developed, and the result is an extraordinarily mature show that was unfortunately sold to a teen audience on UPN. The marketing plan was just all wrong. I used to cringe at the commercials for Veronica Mars, even while I loved it, because it was edited to look like an overly dramatic, cheesy, high school series. I just don’t think they knew how to market it, or who to market it to.

This is one of those rare shows, like My So-Called Life, where the parents and teens are equal characters, fleshed-out and sympathetic, they interact with one another in a believable way. I’d watch a whole show just about Keith Mars, but the bond between Veronica and Keith is what turns this show to gold. Maybe it’s just that Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni have incredible chemistry, or maybe they’re both simply great actors, but the father-daughter relationship is what gives the series heart. Their love for each-other is so tangible it has brought me to tears many times (not that it’s hard to make me cry).

The show is packed with great actors, some known and some unknown, but they’re all well cast and each one adds something to the story. There are appearances by well-known actors such as Alyson Hannigan (from Buffy and How I Met Your Mother), Harry Hamlin and wife Lisa Rinna, Ken Marino (from The State), Tina Majorino (Napoleon Dynamite) and lots more. Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith have also made guest appearances because they were both huge fans of the show. The unknown actors are just as skilled as the veterans, rounding out the cast is Percy Daggs III as Veronica’s best friend Wallace, Jason Dohring as the school’s “psychotic jackass” Logan Echolls, and Francis Capra (although to anyone who has seen Kazaam he is hardly unknown) as the leader of high school motorcycle gang the PCHers.

I don’t want to give anything else away—it is a detective series after all. So, I am commanding you to watch this show. Seriously, you should, if you like mysteries, if you like good stories, cliff hangers, and twisting plot lines, you’ll love it. Kristen Bell is excellent, sometimes I still get sad when I realize she is just an actress and not Veronica. I can’t emphasize how refreshing the character of Veronica Mars feels, and it’s a shame we don’t see more female characters like her on television. She is smart as a whip, tough as nails, and full of surprises. Veronica is a role model for all women because of her strength and determination, and she doesn’t let anyone push her around—she will tase you if she has to. She doesn’t have super powers like Buffy, but she does have tons of awesome gadgets and a dog named “backup”. Veronica always does whatever is necessary to find the information she needs, and usually gets herself into heaps of trouble, but more often than not she beats the bad guy, saves the victim, and she always, always, solves the mystery.

So come on, aren’t you just dying to know who killed Lilly Kane?

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