In our Blue Filter series, we are inviting our writers to reflect on the films that they have connected with through challenging or upsetting times, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. In the latest entry of the series, Jen Rose discusses how teen flicks help her to value the relationships she has in her life.
I could have used lockdown as an opportunity to try a number of things. I could have tried get a proper workout routine together (turns out walking with intent towards the fridge doesn’t count!), or learn a language, or basically do anything worthwhile. In reality, I spent a lot of lockdown indulging in one of my not-so guilty pleasures: teen rom-coms.
As cringeworthy as Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, Clueless and Wild Child are, they are actually quite useful in telling us things about friends, family, and generally how to value the important things in life. Although these three movies are completely different, they are united in presenting three teenage protagonists that in the beginning are focused purely on their appearance. You only have to look at what Poppy brings to boarding school in Wild Child or the extremely cool wardrobe at Cher’s disposal in Clueless to know they care about their appearance. Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging is a little bit different as the initial appearance rating system is what changes the course of the film. Georgia worries about whether she’s attractive enough for the fittest boy at school and constantly scrutinises her appearance. Even so, all three films underline a particular teenage obsession with looks, almost above all else.
When I initially watched these films (and even now) I related to the constant appraisal of my appearance, worrying that I wasn’t the prettiest. After being born prematurely and with Hydrocephalus, I allowed the fact that my head looked different to everyone else’s to determine how pretty I thought I was. This difference drove me to adapt my appearance in whatever way I saw fit, leading to some outcomes that in hindsight I can only laugh at. I remember one time when a mishap with a razor meant I walked around with half an eyebrow with the remainder hurriedly scribbled in using eyebrow pencil! When I think about it now, this concern about being attractive—especially to impress somebody—is not worth the time. There is so much more to us than our appearances and I think these films truly excel when peeling back the heavy makeup and the designer clothes, showing the more natural, inherently flawed characters underneath.
The three films show friendships in all forms; Poppy’s pretty awful friends from home in Wild Child to the brilliant bond between Cher and Dionne in Clueless (and how this is tested by the introduction of new girl, Tai) and the very tight—if slightly cringey—friendship group in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Lockdown has tested bonds between even the tightest of friendships, restricting many of the closest mates to somewhat detached Zoom quiz nights. But in a strange way, it has also strengthened them. Even though one of my friends subjected us to a quiz round specifically about naming flags around the world (which is more puzzling than you think if you only managed to get a D in GCSE Geography), this time together helped me realise how much I value their company. Not seeing my friends constantly, if at all, in the early stages of lockdown not only made me miss them terribly. It also helped me to realise how valuable they are.
In pretty much any teen film, from Booksmart to Mean Girls, it’s safe to say the family figures are pretty embarrassing. Though they are in these films to provide some discipline, give some advice (they are parents after all), the main thing you take from these films is that being in a family means putting up with some serious cringe. I can’t help but pity the protagonists having to deal with their parents (and am reminded of times in my teens when my own parents made me roll my eyes), completely understanding where they were coming from. I often find myself wanting the floor to swallow me up as my parents recount messy drunken nights I’ve had to friends or family members we just so happen to bump into during a shopping trip. They are a frequent source of embarrassment, but I couldn’t imagine being without them.
Another thing I’ve taken from these films is how important relationships are. I have felt isolated during this pandemic even though I know that I’m not alone. Whilst there have been periods of loneliness, this unexpected extra time in my family’s company—and, since lockdown has eased, the newfound time with friends—has made me realise how much I love and appreciate them. Like the characters in these films, they can be cringey and annoying, but mean so much to me no matter their quirks or flaws. Friends and family are messy, they are flawed, and they bring out the best and worst in all of us. Time spent without them, and escaping into the often ridiculous realm of teen flicks, had made this clearer to me than ever before.
We can take so much more from teen rom-coms than figuring out the ways we definitely shouldn’t do our makeup or the multitude of decidedly un-fetch catchphrases. The superficial worries in these films are, in the grand scheme of things, not worth worrying about. These characters spend so much time worrying about how they look that it is only when they are stripped of this part of themselves that we see the best in them. This is equally true for all of us.
Words by Jen Rose.
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