There are films from our youth that we hold in high regard as formulative and staples in our popular culture.
We revert to teens when we watch them and annoy the crap out of our better halves by quoting each and every line just seconds before it’s uttered. If you go and watch them again, you may spot a few moments that could cause you to pull at your collar and look away for a minute or two.
These movies are a product of their times and by putting a modern-day lens on them I’m not saying that they unwatchable, unenjoyable or that we need to go into Hyper-Offended and demand they be stricken from history. They are generally hilariously stupid and spoke right their audiences, which is still 100% me.
In no discernable order, let’s look at films that wouldn’t get a run today.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
For the most part this is a great coming of age film with Ms. Eighties, Molly Ringwald. The pressures of being a teen girl seem to be timeless, body issues, harassment by over sexed teen boys, social cliques, to name a few. But as this film heads toward its denouement, the ‘hot guy’ Ringwald pines for finally notices her and in a heartbeat jettisons his current girlfriend (again, not uncommon in the teenage world). It’s when he literally hands that drunken girlfriend off to another guy so he can do with her as he pleases with the comment ‘She’s so wasted, she won’t know the difference’, it’s hard not to look at Date-Rape-Facilitator-Jake in a whole new light.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
A personal favorite of mine and a tremendous story of the bullies getting their come-uppance. The fact it was with a kick-ass synth music act at a talent show just adds to the core memory status of this film. There are, however, some dark parts of this one that lean into Felony territory. Everyone remembers the rape-via-deception moment that changes her mind about nerds… but earlier in the film to ‘get back at the stuck up bitches’ (not a quote) they break into a sorority house to install cameras in the private rooms of these girls and sit at home to watch them in the most intimate moments… with a literal child sitting in to view this crime, but it’s funny – cause they’re nerds. Right?
Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
Forgetting the mind-searing double negative of a title, you’d think I’d be raising the cultural appropriation of Seth Green and his crew, but, for me, that’s actually done to highlight the absurdity of the subject rather than gloss over it. I’m more focused on the point where it’s catching the tail end of the Gay Panic era and only in the sub-plot, do we have a moment (or two) that would probably be caught in a first draft, if it was written today.
The ‘nerds’ (there they are again) hatch a plan to ruin the jock bully’s future by knocking him out with chloroform and posing him to look gay. That, in itself, could easily be filed as premeditated assault. The film doubles down in its final scenes letting us know those fake photos were discovered and he was fired as a result. Actually, the film Triples Down during the jerk’s public downfall when his final indignance is the anonymous ‘fag’ taunt in a room full of people that cracks him. It’s tame, but it’s there.
Police Academy (1984)
Universally loved story of misfits doing well against the grain of the norm. A tale that you don’t always have to conform and sometimes your outlandish ways are appreciated. Precious few storylines can find enough ways to showcase the vocal stylings of Michael Winslow. It even has strong, badass female characters before it was cool to do it, granted a lot of the screen time was taken up by the ogling Sgt. Callahan’s breasts, but we can’t expect perfection from the 80s.
There’s a real half cringe that rolls throughout this series in the ongoing terror that seems to descend on our characters as the inadvertently bullock through that black, back alley door only to have a pan up to The Blue Oyster Bar. A club of homosexual men seems to be the ultimate horror that any man can endure. I’m more concerned at how constantly full it is during the middle of the day.
How can anything Tom Hanks not be considered 100% wholesome? Well, this one isn’t really about him and more about the grown woman who removes her shirt in front of a thirteen-year-old boy. Not that she knew it, because he was in the body of a man in his mid-30s. But we knew. We all knew and we saw this teenage boy was clearly uncomfortable to be in this adult situation. To be fair, this isn’t really her fault either; it was Zoltan. Fucking Zoltan. This mystical piece of evil shite caused a young boy to be run from his loving home and into the horrible streets of New York.
Was it worth it? Yes. He landed the absolutely perfect job that most adult men still pine for.
What About Bob (1991)
Underrated Bill Murray Tour De Force – playing with extreme absurdity someone with unspecified neuroses and extreme hypochondria. Through his melodrama, Murray plays Bob as a man who just needs to find a place to fit in, somewhere he can find friends and a family. He reaches out to his psychiatrist who appears to apply the psych-by-the-numbers approach. When the moment comes to go that little bit above and beyond for a person who needs him, he bails. He extends that avoidance of a vulnerable human in need when Bob finds him on vacation. Dr Marvin, doing all he can to back-heel him out of the way, he drops him off at a mental institution like he was laundry. I mean the man has to fake suicide to get the attention of his doctor!
The insistence of the doctor’s wife that a strange man with extreme family issues stay in the same room as her 12-year-old son, needs a bit of rethink too.
Soul Man (1996)
The premise of this one is a big WTF. A rich white kid is suddenly forced to pay his own way through law school. Discovering a loop hole in Harvard’s acceptance where an African American receives tuition, our protagonist goes full Black Face. I think this was a genuine attempt to show the marginlaisation of black people in America by putting a white man (literally) in their skin, but for such a volatile subject there’s a lot of ‘hands on hips and roll eyes with a smile’ reactions when it turns out he was exploiting and somewhat lampooning an entire peoples.
I’m still unsure if the Black Panther moment is niche genius or just really mean. The little flicker of recognition at the end regarding society’s view on minorities didn’t really warrant the hour and half prior and it barely hit the comedic notes… even for its time. Actually, this would be interesting if Jordan Peele got his hands on it.
White Chicks (2004)
The youngest of the bunch and the only just beating the Cultural Appropriation wild fire. It ticks the Big 2 criteria to avoid; ‘race face’ & mocking women, but The Wayans boys threw caution to the wind and took square aim at celebrity, wealth, women and white culture. On paper this sounds like it should be burned and any witnesses to it be taken out by professionals, but what came out was so stupid (and dumb enough to be funny) that anyone forgot to be offended.
The extremeness of it saves anyone from taking it too seriously and if you’re willing to suspend a universe of disbelief for the freakishly monstrous faces of the eponymous ‘white chicks’ then you may find yourself having an enjoyable time in spite of yourself.
Not really one from our childhood (more that of our grandparents) but it’s still one that would have the virtue police on high alert today. It was kinda-sorta done with The Greatest Showman, but Freaks didn’t have the insanely uplifting This Is Me, or the charisma of Jackman, instead it had a cast of Depression era sideshow performers playing themselves. At its core, there is a story of chosen family and morality, essentially ‘You fuck with one of us – You fuck with all of us’. So, when a beautiful trapeze artist cons and eventually kills a loved midget performer, the entire circus family brings down Carnival Justice on her in one of the most terrifying scenes that stills holds up today.
This was banned for 30 years, but not due to the perceived exploitation of the physically abnormal (I still not sure the phrasing I need to use here) but the 1930s sensibly to ‘grotesqueness’. Let’s stick with an inspiring singing Bearded Lady, it’s less to confronting to think about what was done to humans by people like the real PT Barnum.
The Party (1968)
Another racially loaded entry, but still loved for the comedy genius of Peter Sellers. It’s essentially an improv session put to celluloid and will make you laugh despite your social sensibilities. Not many men could run with a joke about dropping a shoe for that long and still keep it funny. The Indian Elephant in the room is why this hilarious and buffoonish character, who brought the world ‘birdie num-nums’, had to be from the sub-continent. The fish-out-of-water gag would still play just as well without it.
The 60s weren’t renowned for progressive views on inclusion, but it’s still an odd direction to run with. I can only assume that Sellers discovered he could do an Indian accent one day and an entire film was built from that.