In the new movie Pitch Perfect, a boy (Skylar Astin) introduces a girl (Anna Kendrick) to The Breakfast Club. It’s a believable scene, on it’s own. Even if I don’t necessarily think the 27-year-old John Hughes film, classic status notwithstanding, is a hugely important thing to the generation currently heading into college, I can accept that the guy is a movie soundtrack dork who seemingly loves only titles from before his birth and that she genuinely has never seen it. But it is a bit much that the signature Brat Pack film’s ending, with its iconic Simple Minds tune and Judd Nelson freeze-framed fist thrust, is played over and over, and the film figures so prominently into the romantic plot throughout.
It all just feels like something from out of the mind of a thirty-something screenwriter rather than that of these modern-day teen characters. And the movie’s writer, Kay Cannon, is indeed a child of the ’80s and admits that The Breakfast Club is something she loves from her youth. Apparently, though, Say Anything was originally the teen movie of that era to be honored and made fun of in the new a-cappella-based comedy. She also is a big fan of Hughes’s Weird Science but couldn’t make it work. But for kids born around 1995, which is the target audience as well as the roles on screen, aren’t there more relevant films to reference? Maybe Mean Girls, Bring It On, Twilight, Rushmore, Juno, High School Musical, Superbad or — going way back for this one — Can’t Hardly Wait?
Or perhaps writers of modern teen and college movies can come up with their own memorable moments and classic characters, scenes and dialogue? Hughes didn’t get to be a legend of a genre by having Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall bonding over Gidget and James Dean, which would be about the same time-lapse we’re seeing with today’s movies referencing those of the ’80s. And Pitch Perfect isn’t alone. Two years ago, Easy A was an even worse offender with its homages to The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Can’t Buy Me Love and others, culminated in a final shot that was weakened by its dependency on the audience to gehalfway quarter-century-old references. It even directly told its audience through the words of the main character (Emma Stone) that Easy A is not as good as those classics. So why aren’t we just watching them instead?
Of course, like so many things today, Pitch Perfect deals in nostalgia, and that helps us older folks enjoy it if not ever call for its entry into the National Film Registry. But I think just involving the music of my childhood would have sufficed, just as some of the period-piece teen movies of the 1980s, such as Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married and Stand By Me, had their Boomer-targeted soundtracks. And while there might have been slight or subtle references and homages here and there, they never came full out and said, “Hey, look at this scene from Rebel Without a Cause in which Jim Stark is called a chicken and now look here’s Marty McFly similarly not liking being called a chicken and here’s someone telling us a reminder of the connection.”
Would it be better if new teen movies were more contemporarily referential and cite Donnie Darko rather than Ferris Bueller? Honestly, I don’t know what allusions would be most appropriate and realistic to the kids of today, but it doesn’t matter because movies like Pitch Perfect and the John Hughes stuff aren’t meant to be realistic (for that you can look to dramas such as River’s Edge then and The Myth of the American Sleepover now). They should be both timely and timeless, the latter so that it could be of interest to the teens of tomorrow but not as something to be recycled and employed for familiarity in place of fresh, original ideas. They should simply have fresh and original ideas themselves.
Like the cross-generational music mash-ups that fuel its soundtrack and protagonist’s dreams, Pitch Perfect might be entertaining in the moment, but nobody will remember it 25 years from now. Maybe that means its a good representation of its time, but it doesn’t mean it will be a classic from the era. And so far it doesn’t really seem this generation has any of their own yet, which is unfortunate for not only them but the Hollywood of 2035, which won’t have anything of its own to cash in on.