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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

FILM ESSAY: THE LESSONS FOUND IN "FAST TIMES" AND "SIXTEEN CANDLES" THROUGH EACH GENDER

"Coming of Age" movies, a genre that shows no signs of dying down any times soon. The stories of a young protagonist growing from an event in their average life whether it would involve school, relationships, change of times, and the uncertainty of the future after graduation are all the kind of things that many of us can relate too because we've all had similar problems growing up. No matter what time or place these films are set in, they're still relevant when judging them today, which is what makes these films timeless and the genre still as strong as it was before. A decade that I'm going to focus on regarding these films is the 80s, considering how the decade really exploited them as the films that younger audiences still watch now when compared to the other decades before it. How many people today in their teens or young adult years watch films like "American Graffiti", "A Rebel Without Cause", "The Graduate", and "The Last Picture Show", when compared to films in the 80s like "Ferris Bullers Day-Off" "The Breakfast Club", "Stand By Me", "Dirty Dancing" and "big"?

When picking two of the essential films from the decade that are prominent examples of the genre, I'm going to pick the film that launched the genre in the 80s "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", and one of John Hughes greatest works (a writer and director, who was the king at making these films in the 80s) "Sixteen Candles". It's funny that I'm picking two films that seem like polar opposites. "Fast Times" is more excessive and raunchier with its humor in a way similar to "Animal House" (one of the few films young audiences still watch), while "Sixteen Candles" though having its dirty moments too it’s more light-hearted and sentimental by comparison. And not to say that both genders can't enjoy both flicks, in fact, both films were directed by the opposite gender that you would expect to be behind the camera. But it’s obvious that "Fast Times" was more focused with entertaining male audiences for its fast-paced sexualized and near carefree juvenile world, as "Sixteen Candles" is more targeted towards females for having a slow-moving romance story set on a "Sweet Sixteen". Regardless of their differences in tone, and how they each lean more towards one specific audience, they still share plenty of similarities. They both involve High School; contain shocking humor (regardless which one does it more than the other); deal with love relationships; and show the characters learning a lesson. I'll primarily be focusing on two characters from each film from different genders by discussing their relationships and how they improve upon their selves.

WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Image result for Stacy Fast times at ridgemont high

Leaning to female characters, the female character we spend most of our time with during "Fast Times" is Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Stacy is a 15-year old girl (she certainly looks it), who works at a Pizza Parlor in the Mall with her friend Linda (Phoebe Cates). Linda is popular and has been sexually active with men, while Stacy is a virgin who isn't well known in school because of her timid awkward nature, especially towards boys. She gets her chance when a 26-year-old stereo-salesman (D.W. Brown) asks her out, which she accepts after lying to him about her age (could've fooled me), causing her to lose her virginity in a dug-out at a baseball field. She hopes for him to call her after giving him her number, only to be disappointed that it was just a one-night stand. Later, a boy named Mark (Brian Backer) who works at a movie theater across the Pizza Parlor, has feelings for Stacy but is as shy as she is to ask a girl out. Through the help of his best friend Mike (Robert Romanus) who's a pro at picking up chicks; Mark asks her out and the two go on a date that goes horribly wrong because of Mark's insecurities, and nervousness to her when Stacy tries to seduce him resulting with him to rush out and leave. Stacy feels hurt by this, believing that Mark leaving her on the spot was because he showed no interest in her, and gets involved with his friend Mike, where they have sex in the pool house. Her second-time at having sex doesn't go well with her, because now she becomes pregnant and has the fetus inside her aborted. To add insult to injury, Mike, who promised to pay half failed to show up and help her pay due to being embarrassed about not having enough money, which to her feels like she's been stood up again. Through all the poor decisions she's made from her experiences of having sex with guys to be popular, Stacy learns that sex doesn't automatically make her important, as she discovers that what she was really looking for was someone to love. The best part about the lesson she learns is that there was someone waiting for her the whole time, which was Mark. If her mind wasn't so focused on making love to him in attempts to be like her friend Linda, her pregnancy could've been avoided. Now that she knows what she wants in life and has done herself and others wrong, she ends up having a slow and steady love relationship with Mark (who "still haven't gone all the way yet").

Image result for Sixteen Candles Sam

In “Sixteen Candles” we have our leading character Sam (Molly Ringwald), who has just turned sixteen but is having the worst Birthday imaginable. Her family forgot about her Birthday for being so busy with getting ready for her sister’s wedding taking place on the following day, feeling that her family doesn’t care about her. Sam herself is unhappy with the way she looks, feeling that she doesn’t look any different to how she was when she turned 15. And at school, as she tries to speak to a boy that she likes named Jake (Michael Schoeffling), her anxiety towards him and the way she feels about herself prevents her from talking to him. Also, a geeky boy named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) won’t stop harassing her on the bus and at the Senior Dance. Though showing no interest in dating Ted, she does begin to warm up to him for his honesty, who he helps inspire her to speak to Jake (even if it doesn’t go too well). Being upset that she gave Jake a false impression about her feelings toward him, through a heart-to-heart conversation with her Father (Paul Dooley) about how she feels about herself towards Jake, Sam learns that the people who can receive a relationship easily don’t get to appreciate it and usually end up with the wrong person because of it. Sam finds the words of her Father to be true when she gets to go out with Jake and have a late Birthday celebration with him. This moment proves that her honesty and sincerity when finding the right guy is all that matters and not because how popular or gorgeous she looks.

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As Sam changes in "Sixteen Candles" so does the boy she desires. Now I'm going to flat-out admit that I don't think Jake is a good match for Sam, mainly based on how he treats his passed-out girlfriend Caroline (Haviland Morris) as he makes his realization (not to say I don't find the whole scenario to be funny for how messed-up and crazy it is). But regardless if he really deserves Sam or not, there's still development present through this character. Jake is a good-looking guy who knows he can pick up any girl he wants. But instead of looking to find someone pure, he dates the girl he finds the most attractive. Jake admires her beauty at first, believing her to be the perfect girl for him until he starts to discover as their relationship progresses that she is a shallow and selfish person. All she cares about is her looks, being popular, and partying, showing no real care or concern for Jake. Jake doesn't realize this until he starts to catch on to Sam's feelings for him on her "Sweet Sixteen" after picking up a completed "Sex Quiz" she took and inconspicuously drops for her friend Randy (Liane Curtis) to pick-up, only for her to fail to do so by snoozing in class. On the Quiz Jake learns that she's saving herself for him, taking her love for him from the way she looks at him. After finding interest in her, Jake starts asking a couple of guys at the school about her. Near the end of the Senior dance, Sam being too afraid to speak to Jake storms off right in front of him, giving him the impression that she doesn't really care about him. Still containing feelings for her, he tries to call her during a party being held at his house, only to find himself being told-off by her grandparents thus adding fuel the fire of believing her false disinterest in him. While trying to reach-out, he discovers Caroline's love for partying is getting out of the control to the point where his home gets destroyed beyond any kind of repair that he can perform to cover it up before his parents return home. Upon finding a trapped Ted, he explains to Jake about Sam's love for him, making him understand that Caroline isn't right for him for how insensitive she is, and should be with someone who's ready to have a serious relationship with him. The next morning, Jake's commitment towards Caroline officially ends after he finds her making-out with Ted who was supposed to just simply take her home. The two say their goodbyes and Jake hooks up with Sam for a better future.

In "Fast Times" we get acquainted with...

Image result for spicoli fast times at ridgemont high

Spicoli is the best character in the movie, but he's sadly not the character I'll be talking about.

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The character I'm focusing here is Stacy's brother Brad (Judge Reinhold). Brad is in his Senior year of High School who feels that he's living a successful life. He owns a hot car that he almost has paid-off, feels that he's working his way up to assistant manager at a fast-food burger joint, and plans to break-up with his girlfriend Lisa (Amanda Wyss) so he can enjoy his last year in High School by meeting girls without having any restraint. He's very cocky about his life and the decisions he plans to make but is very naive. He thinks he'll make it far in "All American-Burger" by gaining a new position, but he's given jobs that will not land him into a management position any time soon, such as cleaning up graffiti in the bathroom. And even though breaking-up his Lisa will make him free to date other girls, that doesn't automatically mean he'll find dates. Brad doesn't acknowledge the reality of it until he's fired from his burger job for threatening violence and using profanity towards an obnoxious customer. Believing that Lisa will help get him through this tough time, she breaks up with him for the same reasons that Brad wanted to in the first place. He finds a job as a waiter at a Sea Food restaurant, but hates the job for the annoying customers, working for an unreasonable manager, and being forced to wear a ridiculous pirate outfit that causes women to laugh at him. Unhappy working at a restaurant business and finding no girls to date (except within in his sexual fantasies), Brad comes to terms that his “successful life” was going nowhere and the decisions he intended to make weren't the right ones, resulting with him to miss out on the fun that his friends and sister are having. His attitude towards all this makes him less cocky and more mature by thinking critical with his choices in life that results with his naivety to lessen. So instead of staying at a job that will get him nowhere except for humiliation, he goes to work at a Mi-T-Mart that isn't his job of choice but at least he can work at the register without looking like a fool. For changing his job, he finally gets the management position he always dreamed of having after successfully foiling a robbery at the store he works at.

Through the relationships found in both films, we discover each gender learning the same overall lesson. Stacy and Sam learn that you don't need to be popular to get far in life, as Jake and Brad realize that the great things they have going for them isn't nearly as rewarding as they thought they are. But what all characters have in common is their naive outlook on life changes, as they become much wiser than they ever were before where they are rewarded for understanding themselves better at the end of both films. These films do exactly what a good "Coming of Age" film should do. They teach teenagers morals that they will most likely go through in life, as opposed to just simply entertaining them while providing a shoehorned message that has little focus in the overall story. And no matter who the films are more aimed for there's more than enough lessons and entertainment value that a person from any gender can enjoy.