Valentine's Day is sort of important to me. For one thing, it's my birthday (I was born two weeks late and my mom calls me the best Valentine she ever got). But for another, I'm a self-confessed hopeless romantic. I love love, and my head has been in the clouds since my very first crush in second grade.
My grandmother raised me on the amorous black-and-white films of yesteryear, exposing me to the swoon-inducing talents of Clark Gable and Tyrone Power. I've seen Keira Knightley's Pride and Prejudice a few dozen times and weep like an infant every time Mr. Darcy utters those halting words, "I love, I love, I love you...most ardently." And I'm a sucker for anything that ends with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan living happily ever after.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I've decided to revisit one of Hollywood's most iconic couples: the proverbial "High School Sweethearts." Though their lives may be occupied by classes, extracurricular activities, and college applications, many of your students will still find time to test the waters of teenage romance. Those of us who have been out of high school for a number of years may find it difficult to relate to the heady and often irrational nature of young love. So here are a few movies that will transport you back in time and help you empathize with your love-struck students:
Of all the high school movies ever filmed, this one is perhaps the least believable, as all of the primary actors were well into their 20s and 30s when it was released, a fact that all the makeup and jaunty ponytails in the world would fail to hide. Non sequitur wrinkles and receding hairlines aside, this musical is great fun, and the catchy tune Summer Nights sums up the lighthearted, relatable plot of teenage love. A tough guy meets a sweet girl, they share a summer fling, but he has to hide his soft side when school starts in the fall. Mischief, misunderstandings, and melodrama play out against an upbeat and unforgettable soundtrack. The actors may not look much like your own 17 year olds, but their characters and their various antics are sure to remind you of them.
I went through a pretty intense James Dean obsession awhile back, and of his three major films, this is my favorite. While its 1950s stereotyping of teenagers is a little cheesy and leaves something to be desired for the modern-day viewer, it does an excellent job of portraying the illogical speed with which young love blooms. The disillusioned main characters (played by Dean and Natalie Wood) meet in the morning and are exchanging fervent I-love-you's by nightfall, a classically teenage conceit.
While I certainly don't advocate truancy, this movie brilliantly epitomizes high school hijinks, even though very little of the film takes place within the walls of the eponymous main character's high school. The plot focuses on a popular student who plays sick and spends one glorious day doing absolutely whatever he pleases. On the precipice of adulthood, Ferris and his girlfriend Sloane seem certain that they'll be together forever. At the end of their day of gallivanting, they part ways and Sloane says quietly to herself, "He's gonna' marry me"--a common and bittersweet assumption that has plagued many a teenage romance.
If you haven't already, you should become well-versed in the John Hughes canon. He was the Michelangelo of teenage angst, and, in my opinion, Pretty in Pink is perhaps his Sistine Chapel (he also wrote and dircted the aforementioned Ferris Bueller). It is the story of Andie Walsh (played by "Brat Pack" fixture Molly Ringwald), a girl from "the wrong side of the tracks" who has a crush on her high school's resident rich boy, Blane. Despite their divergent backgrounds, they attempt to date, but their friends disapprove of the relationship and Blane begins to ignore her. Andie assumes a stiff upper lip and goes to prom alone, wearing a pink thrift store dress that she's cleverly repurposed. When Blane spots Andie, glowing with rosy confidence, he (of course) immediately realizes the error of his ways and declares his love for her. Predictable? Yes. But also delightfully nostalgic and hopeful.
Having come of age in the '90s, this movie stands out for me. And since it was wittily based on The Taming of the Shrew, curling up with this guilty pleasure won't necessarily result in a total loss of brain cells. Hollywood smarty pants Julia Stiles (she studied English literature at Columbia University) plays Kat Stratford, an academically minded high schooler who shuns typical teenage activities such as parties and dances--much to her younger sister's chagrin. When she becomes the target of an elaborate scheme to get her to date a ruggedly handsome outcast (played by Heath Ledger), hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Boisterous and poignant, this movie is sure to tug on your heartstrings and remind you of your own wily teenagers.
Now go ahead. Indulge in a high school movie night. Let the transportive magic of the silver screen take you back to your own days of blissfully naïve youth. It's sure to stir your compassion for your own college-bound but starry-eyed students.
Happy Valentine's Day!