With I LIKE IT ANYWAY, James Austin Johnson interviews a fellow comedian to discuss an activity or artifact that they love—so long as it’s uncool, unbecoming, or otherwise unacceptable.
Needless reminder: teenagers are the worst. From the minute one hits double digits, the human brain turns increasingly inward and somehow even less self-aware. The interior life of the teen becomes a brooding and emotional epic while the rest of the world looks on with horror at the social brutality, narcissism, and weird Dubstep Pokémon fashions they use to protect the modesty of their changing bodies. Full disclosure: I have never talked to a teenager. And I don’t need to. The American high school experience is universal.
Like all of us trapped within the wheel of Samsara, Hollywood is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. There are no stories left that haven’t been told a billion identical ways, and the sexy teen romp is no exception. It’s an almost worthless genre with little new to say, and still when people release this stuff I have to check it out just in case they did it right. What is so essential about these familiar rhythms that I keep turning to them for some new revelation? Even now, after reading it more times than I care to mention, my movie edition printing of Perks of Being a Wallflower leans out from the shelf, bidding me to rifle through its pages once more. (I had a first edition, and then another, and both are too banged up from knocking into binders and mechanical pencils in a messenger bag to still be readable. Kill me.) I’m with you, faceless Higgs Weldon reader with your perfect lit palate, the prose is Just Okay. But it’s not about quality; it’s that someone conjured an ideal high school experience and my brain is convinced I didn’t do my own the right way.
Comedian and author Jane Borden says she doesn’t have that problem. If you read her book I Totally Meant To Do That–and you should, it’s hilarious–you’ll find her intelligent and well adjusted with a colorful past she turns into brilliant comic essays instead of geeky regret. Somehow she’s into this garbage because she actually likes it.
Hi, Jane! Welcome to I Like It Anyway. First question as ever is: What do you Like Anyway?
Terrible teen movies. Like, not the good ones–Clueless, Ferris Bueller, etc.–I mean, I like those too, but so does everyone.
Of course we do. They’re timeless. Even Clueless, which is so 90s, but remains evergreen. But you like terrible teen movies. How do you draw a distinction?
I like to troll Netflix for flimsy plots with unknown actors. Sleepover, Legally Blondes—yes, a spinoff. In fact, spinoffs are the best, because they’re guaranteed to be terrible. Sleepover actually features Jane Lynch as the mom, and Steve Carell as a security cop.
I think I saw a promo for it once exclusively through Mastercuts. That’s not really the route taken for most movies worth remembering.
I have never heard of Mastercuts, but am now wondering if that will be a gold mine for me. Do they cater to teenage girls who wear a lot of pink and have rich parents? Those are pretty much the constants–those, and also a dead parent.
Teenage girls that favor pink are definitely a target demographic for the mall-based salon.
Okay, well, all of the characters in all of these movies would hang out in a mall-based salon. The popular girls get their nails done there. And the outcasts work there. But they only work there for fun because they’re still rich: no one in these movies is poor. That and the dead-parent trope are so common, it’s Shakespearean. These movies are like bad improv scenes: it won’t be five minutes in before someone is like, “I miss dad,” “I do too honey.”
Even garbage needs pathos to be watchable. Audiences seem to be pretty interested in the lives of rich kids. But there’s more to it than that, right? What’s so watchable to you about these movies?
I didn’t like these movies while I was in high school; that’s when you’re dour and want to dwell on death and dysfunction because you’re suddenly certain happiness doesn’t exist.
Now that I’m older, I’m still pretty sure happiness doesn’t exist, but I no longer have the emotional strength to deal with it. So I watch pretty girls wear pink, and smile without getting wrinkles. The way I just said that makes it sound like a sexual fetish, which I guess it is, but the orgasm is just the feeling of, “Hey, everything’s going to be okay!”
I love how the kids are depicted as wild animals. They throw all their papers and books in the air at the end of school, and have zero responsibilities. And there are always pop punk girl anthems playing. It’s like, “The world is ours! And nothing will get in our way–not glass ceilings, or DUIs, or crushing self-doubt. Who’s heard of parenthood?”
It’s cake. Escapist cake.
You know, now that I think about it, the fact that I’ve watched so many is also probably what makes them enjoyable: the formula is unsurprising. It’s like a Big Mac. I always know what I’m going to get; they always taste the same.
It seems like studios make these and fill them with plenty of zeitgeisty nonsense aimed at their target audience. The charm should fade with the culture. Do you remember a moment in your adult life when you started turning to Big Macs for comfort? Regardless of their ephemeral quality?
Late 20s. Interesting: Right around the time that I had to stop fidgeting/floating around and choose a path and work hard at it. I should maybe see a therapist. Is this interview serving that function in any way?
Because the other thing is that I really only like the first thirty minutes of these movies. Before the conflict is introduced. I am seriously avoiding reality.
The plot isn’t what makes these movies. It’s the sparkling dialogue, right? The kids in those movies are so well spoken, but pin down an actual teenager and try to get a single moment of wit and I’ll give you a million dollars.
It’s so true. And real teens can’t dress themselves that attractively or apply makeup without either looking like tramps or goths. The stuff I watch is the moving-picture version of dolls. Someone dressed them up, gave them flawless skin and hair, and fed them canned lines. But no touchy the dolls.
It’s starting to come together now. I had a small obsession with The OC in college. My friend Corey and I would stay inside and watch these supermodels exchange barbs about Death Cab for Cutie with dorky Jewish boys. Teen fiction presents an ideal adolescence. At least it’s someone’s ideal. Do you think maybe you lost out on that a little? (Now THIS is therapy.)
I never got into The OC but I would watch a Sabrina the Teenage Witch marathon any day. The fact that it’s so bad/canned is part of my love. I can see the cracks and therefore I don’t get engrossed. I can keep it at a distance, as opposed to good movies, about teens or otherwise, where you go on a journey.
As for the lost adolescence part, I’ve wondered about that, yes. Possibly. But it’s weird because at my high school in NC, the nice kids were the most popular. They were attractive athletes, but also overachievers, and also nice. They held offices and stuff. Then again, my boarding school was way more cutthroat and divided. And I desperately wanted to be cool. Actually my trajectory is that I at first was part of the super cool crowd, and then they basically kicked me out.
But mostly, I think I just like watching pretty people who don’t have problems bigger than where they’ll sit during lunch, that haven’t had a chance yet to screw up life.
You need to finish some of these movies. I bet some real shit goes down. Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you: now that you’re all grown up and you know yourself pretty well, where would you fit into a crappy teen movie? Those snarky working-class kids on the sidelines are pretty cool. I mean, they always have coffee shop concerts their pretty friends never go to. That sounds like a lot of my personal relationships.
Will you come to my coffee shop concert? We’re making tees for it. They’ll have big middle fingers on the back.
I would really like to be the cool, artistic, working-class kids. But probably I’d be the teacher.
By the way, my favorite ever is Wild Child, starring Emma Roberts. Logline: “A rebellious Malibu princess is shipped off to a strict English boarding school by her father.”
I had that one on DVD. Probably watched it a dozen times–the beginning at least.
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