Nov 102012

Watched this with the Beav out of the blue, and it was ok. It is a John Hughes reprise, a Pretty in Pink  for the kids today, which is great. Every generation needs an “it’s so hard to be richly completely me because I’m awesome and grown up but no one understands me at all, and I feel things really deeply” movie. need (or at least would enjoy) that movie.

This one was disappointing but also had some great moments. But mostly it got me thinking about genre.

But first a few small things. The night scenes in the truck driving through the tunnel are great. Perfect teen-movie moments. The main actor was good looking enough to make me assume we will see him around for awhile. Just wish he was a better actor. I liked the main actress too and loved that she was made up to mimic Sheedy from The Breakfast Club. The problem? (And yes I am sliding into the problems part of this post…) the director dressed her up to look like the Freak after the Princess has made her up. Who would dress up like Ally Sheedy after the “black shit” around her eyes is gone? And the gay character was not horrible so that’s good.

I loved the music and enjoyed listening to the movie as it unspooled. But all of the music was from the late eighties and early nineties. So it made the film into a nostalgia piece. Don’t kids today have their own music? And if they don’t or they don’t have any that cool kids can like, or they do have some but none of it can nurse and nurture a teenager’s melodramatic cycles of self love and loathing, well, then god help them.

Music was also one of the main places where taste became an issue. These kids keep swapping mix tapes and complimenting each other on their great taste in what amounts to their parent’s music. When they aren’t doing that, they are swapping impossibly expensive gifts of coats and ties and tuxedoes and playing dress-up, all of which occasions additional compliments on their good tastes. They sound like obnoxious thirty year olds hosting each other at their condos or trading barbs about which galas they’ve received invitations for. If one of them had a quirky, confessional aside where they explained they “had always been fascinated by curation and hoped one day to work in a museum–the Met, MoMA–but no, it won’t happen I can’t get my life together/always mess things up/will never get out of this town” it would have fit the mood precisely.

More to the point, if this aside had happened, the moment would have felt more honest and grounded then the odd snobbery of these wealthy but troubled misfits. And this points to my sense that this film was fundamentally inauthentic. What bothers me is that I can’t decide if this is a result of a problem with the content or structure of the story.

The novelist-adaptor-director-etc-etc (all one guy) clearly tells the story of his own past and the moral he draws from it is that he was troubled and awkward but special special special but troubled too. Fine. It’s a movie about teenagers for teenagers that’s what they should. His points seems to be something else though. He seems to insist that his trouble and his specialness are super troubling and super special, that they are legitimate in a way the other characters’ aren’t. The difference arises because his situation is medicalized, diagnosed. He isn’t troubled he’s depressed and medicated. He’s not “troubled” he’s coping with death and sexual abuse.

If the point here is to explore a real difference, then the movie misunderstands and has badly chosen its genre.If the protagonist is a troubled victim and this is really a disease-of-the-week movie not a Hughes-style movie of self-discovery, then Wallflower actually delegitimizes the skewed but deeply felt emotions Hughes’s films evoke, indulge and celebrate. It suggests that these emotions lack authenticity or weight insofar as they have a social rather than a medical basis. Fine. Hughes’s approach can be revised and criticized.

The problem I have is that Wallflower clearly pays homage to Hughes and wants to appropriate his patience with and respect for teenage melodrama as the terms for its own narrative. But it appropriates the narrative tropes as well, and so, everything structural leads me to believe that the end of the movie is “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” and Judd Nelson on the football field, diamond stud in his ear, fist in the air. But it’s not.

One way to track the generic mismatch and better understand Wallflower‘s unsettling conclusion is to look at the way medical-victimization narratives and the teen genre as shaped by Hughes use confession. In medical-victim films, confession occurs late in the narrative, it is arrived at, heals and is sufficient once made. To admit and disclose the problem resolves it, allowing the protagonist to begin a changed life. In the teen genre, confession occurs early and is used to create or to advance a problem, not to resolve one. The resolution of the problem at the film’s end is instead a discovery–always the same–that the problem is not caused by the teenagers, that it is caused by the dishonestly or blindness of adults. The teenagers discover that their emotions and sense of things are right, that teenagers need to stick together and, most importantly, that they need to stay true to who they are.

Discovery and confession are not the same thing, and the difference points to the structural trouble Wallflower has. On the one hand, the teenage protagonist of that film has to discover that all the specialness he has inside him and that causes him so much trouble must be clung to because he discovers that it makes him empathetic and helpful and super-special and probably a writer! On the other hand, this same protagonist must simultaneously recognize his specialness as a medical condition to be cured by a confession that will usher him into a new life as a perpetually healing victim.

These two resolutions cannot coexist. These two resolutions are also generic. And so, I’m stumped. Is the filmmaker/novelists deluded about his own situation or is he confused about what kind of film he is making? I can’t decide but deciding determines what I make of the various unpleasant moments like, oh just to pick one, the explicit the equation of the awkward first sex with your crush with sexual abuse.

Any movie that can’t sort those two things out has got a serious problem on its hand. And so do its viewers.

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