Ten Movies for Thinking High Schoolers. Teenage angst and high school spats aren’t new. And high school movies about said angst, definitely are not new. And the other day, my kids were all about Hamilton – and just how it is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Fine whatever… but have you seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Uh, what’s a Ferris? Yes, Hamilton’s singing was cool, but have you seen Breakfast Club and Say Anything? Yeah, I didn’t think so. So today, in that spirit, I bring you TEN movies, both new, and old, for modern day, thinking High Schoolers.
And, shall I remind you, that these ten movie recommendations come to you free of charge. You barely paid for the electricity in your phone that brought you here. And, not only that, but all you’ll need to do to watch any of these, is to click your preferred streaming provider of choice, and begin watching on that cracked screen of yours. But turn the volume up, and set your brightness to full, because you don’t want to miss a second for any of Five Movies for Thinking High Schoolers.
Lady Bird – This one begins with two names: Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet. The only two reasons I need to recommend this movie to you. Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet also took a turn together in the gloriously affecting 2019 reprisal Little Women. But Chalamet also lit the screen on fire in his run at The King. But Lady Bird tells the story of a firecracker of a gal, sequestered to a Catholic school in Sacramento. The film takes its protagonist from myopicness through to recognition, and finally thankfulness, as her school years wind her past many hazards and complications. But all of it is seen through the filter of money. Every hello. Every goodbye. All tainted by money. Which, our poor Lady Bird has none. Watch on Google, or Amazon.
Breakfast Club – I’m sorry, but way too few teens that I have spoken with have any clue this movie exist. “Don’t you mean, Breakfast at Tiffany’s?” Uh, no. No I don’t. This movie, unlike THAT movie, places five high school students from different cliques into a single moment… forcing the five to actually learn something from one another. The film includes an all star cast in, Emilio Estevez as the jock of the group, Ally Sheedy as the emo basket case, the ever brilliant Molly Ringwald as the princess, Judd Nelson as the muscle, and my personal favorite, Anthony Michael Hall as the nerd of the group. It might be one of the only perfect movies ever made. Watch on Amazon, and iTunes.
Booksmart – headlined by Kaitlyn Dever of the unbelievable movie, Unbelievable, and Beanie Feldstein of the aforementioned Lady Bird, Booksmart is the 10 Things I Hate About You of the teens. The story revolves around a couple of young academic Einsteins and best friends that are slowly coming to the realization they should have actually enjoyed their high school years instead of studying it away. And when they both realize that the jocks also made it into Harvards and Princetons, they decide they are going to try and jam the entirety of their past four years in one night. And boom! That’s all you need, and then it explodes. Watch it on Hulu, and Amazon.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Without a doubt, the single best high school movie ever made… oh and by the way, not a bit of it takes place inside a high school. I spent a large portion of my time in at college in Chicago attempting to do literally everything that Ferris did throughout the 103 minute running time. Walk into the middle of a parade and serenade the audience? Check. Wander the Art Institute in Chicago pondering the deeper meaning of life? Check. Stand at the top of the Sears Tower, looking down as the city bustles by? Check. Heck, I even caught a foul ball while out at a Cubs game during Senior Hook day. I kid you not. So yeah, this movie left a little bit of a imprint on my life apparently. But what is it about? It follows Ferris, his hypochondriac buddy Cameron, and his girlfriend Sloan, as they play hooky for the day, constantly on the run from Ed Rooney, the ever-determined principal, as he attempts to catch the threesome. Watch on Netflix or Amazon.
Peanut Butter Falcon – Some movies defy gravity. Defy expectations, and defy all standards. Peanut Butter Falcon is one of those movies. I can’t even sum this movie up for you in a way that will salvage the attempt of it. And my just telling you to go watch it isn’t going to work either. Alright, I’ll give it a shot… it tells the story of Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome – trapped in an old folks home – who escapes, and all in order to try and make his dream of becoming a wrestler come true. SEE! I told you that you wouldn’t get it. And you just took the words at face value. GAH! Just trust me for once. Peanut Butter Falcon is possibly the best movie you haven’t seen in ten years. It’s lead by Shia LaBeouf, and he’s magic. And it’s lead by Zack Gottsagen, and he’s magic. And oh my gosh, Dakota Johnson… and she’s magic. (Isn’t possible you say, she’s 50 Shades girl you say… can you just trust me for once?) Just watch the stupid movie… I mean, I don’t even care. But whatever. Do what you want. But if you do decide to watch it, you can watch it on Amazon and iTunes.
Brick – I only recently found out about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fantastic little film Brick… but I swooned the moment it started. Rian Johnson wrote and directed this little marvel. Yeah, that Rian Johnson. What? No parle Rian Johnson???! Yeah, he’s just the dude that brought us Knives Out, Looper, and Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. But think, dark detective murder noir film, with fast talking dialogue, and self referential brilliance, but all set in a high school… and led by the brilliant Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I don’t care what Rotten Tomatoes says, this thing is magic. Watch it right now on Amazon and iTunes.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Off beat brilliance is what this is. A 2012 coming of age story based on Chbosky’s novel of the same name. It was picked up by Mr. Mudd Productions. I know right? So great. Wait, you don’t know Mr. Mudd??? They also did Juno and Ghost World – two films that I should have at the top of this list. Basically the story revolves around a high school student’s overwhelming anxiety and depression, and the friends that circle the wagons during this important time. You can watch it right now on Netflix. (Do you need a second place? Really?)
Say Anything – John Cusack. John CUSACK. JOHN Cusack. The 80’s were monopolized, nearly 100% by this kid. At least in my world. What’s a Tom Cruise again? But Say Anything is about an underachiever, totally in love with the valedictorian (Lone Skye). But although she’s interested, her ultra-conservative dad does anything but approve. You can watch it at Amazon, or Vudu. If this sort of thing floats your boat, then you also have to check out Can’t Buy Me Love. Had a real proper cry the day I found out Amanda Peterson died.
Napoleon Dynamite – If you start the movie Napoleon Dynamite, and aren’t cracking up when Napoleon walks out of his house to get on the bus, then just stop what you are doing. Put away the movie. And move on. This film isn’t for everyone. But for those of you that this will speak to? You are welcome. My friends and I have a running search for theaters showing this film to this day. It’s my circle’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. It might literally be the only perfect movie ever made. Or the worst. It’s really hard to tell. Watch it iTunes or Amazon.
10 Things I Hate About You – The best film, on this entire list, is right here. 10 Things I Hate About You. What? Better than Ferris Bueller and Lady Bird? Yes. By a factor. This film is straight up faithful to its Shakespearean roots – after all, it’s Taming of the Shrew remake. It focuses on two Stratford (on avon, get it?) girls whose strict father won’t let Bianca (played by Larisa Oleynik), the younger of the two, date until Kat (Julia Stiles) does. The clever twist, Kat has zero use for boys, or their patriarchal and oppressive society. So, Bianca, working with Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – second time on the list woot WOOT!) decide to try and hook Kat up with Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). The writing here is beyond top notch. It’s literally inspired. Watch now on Disney+, and iTunes.
Well – there you have it. Personally, I see this list as an aspirational goal for my own kids, and something I will look back on to measure whether my life has been successful or not. Sure, they’ve been forced to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off since they arrived in the world. But not all of these films have made it into the land of ubiquitousness, like they should. But that’s okay, because I’m playing the long game baby. It’s all about that long game.