Why I Love 80's Coming of Age Movies
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Why I Love 80's Coming of Age Movies

The classic films are about a lot more than high school stereotypes and nostalgia.

Why I Love 80's Coming of Age Movies

I didn’t fall in love in high school. Nor did I frequent detention, convince my hometown I had a terminal disease or murder my best friends (the last is quite shocking, I know). However, I did watch a lot of 80’s movies. And despite the fact that I don’t relate to most of the films' characters at first glance (although I certainly wish I had stolen my best friend’s father’s Ferrari and gallivanted around the greater Chicago area at some point during my high school career), there is an undeniable truth that those beloved coming of age films explore, and the reason they’ve won my heart.

The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Say Anything, even Heathers, are all so relatable, and lovable, because they explore the inescapable reality of growing up. And perhaps amidst all the clichés and predictabilities, the 80’s coming of age films can teach us how to grow up a little more, or maybe a little better.

There is no plot line more common in the 80’s teen flick then breaking out of the social clique you started high school in. High school cliques are most definitely a part of life, however, they usually aren’t so rigidly constructed as to prohibit all social contact with anyone outside your own realm (that is, of course, unless you’re a jock whose social obligation is to beat up whatever geek dare venture into your side of the cafeteria). But the exaggeration these movies make serve a point. We are all too often held back by the reputations we have built for ourselves.

Likewise, we let the reputations of others serve as a truth, and make judgments about people long before we’ve ever met them…simply because they wear too much pink, too much black, or even a trench coat. Throughout our lives we determine who fits in where, who identifies with who, and what these mean for everyone's interests.

Fitting in is rarely a bad thing, however, there is a grand difference between fitting in and belonging, and these beloved films’ leads, whom we see coming of age before our very eyes, are often forced to make some difficult decisions in regards to this concept. Being true to themselves and their childhood friends are cast aside as the characters grapple with their life long desires for popularity and love, choices that each and every one of us has had to make as we grow up as well.

As most 80’s high school dramas would have it, once the opening scene is set, and the cliques strictly defined, the two love interests from opposing social groups soon make eye contact and the primary plot is underway. As the movie progresses, the two (who are significantly more attractive than the average puberty-plagued high schooler) battle peer pressure, their own doubts, and often each other to be together. These cliché romances can actually offer some much needed advice and refreshing perspectives though.

A primary lesson is that your personal feelings should trump those of your peers. If you, as an esteemed athlete, fall in love with a basket case, so be it. Love can conquer all (even the most heinous of all challenges: parents). These characters would never end up together though, if it weren’t for the sense of urgency and initiative the lovebirds show that I fear is lost in today’s age. Sure, it could have been weird for Say Anything’s Lloyd if he showed up to beautiful Diane’s house with a giant boom-box, blasting tunes through her bedroom window, and she didn’t reciprocate the feelings.

But that was a risk he had to take. And a risk that’s been shrunk to messaging someone to “hang out”, if you’re really daring, in today’s terms. Where would Sixteen Candles’ Jake Ryan and Sam Baker be if Jake hadn’t gone out on a limb and risked rejection? What if Can’t Buy Me Love ended without Ronald telling Cindy how he really felt? Though often the product of out dated means (I would recommend a plane ticket rather than trying to recreate The Sure Thing and hitch hiking across the country with your crush in order to earn their love), the sense of endearment the characters feel is something they act upon, and something they express. In the end, their hearts could be broken, but (because it’s a movie) they never are.

The honesty these emotionally mature high schoolers demonstrate extends to more just their love interests, they communicate with their friends, parents, and even the occasional teacher in a productive way. All too often we resort to complaining about our friends behind their backs, lamenting our uninformed parents’ misunderstandings, and crying over unreciprocated feelings from people who don’t know we exist (although, if life were an 80’s movie they would indeed know you exists and likely be in love with you as well), instead of addressing our concerns upfront and expressing our true emotions and feelings.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, people can’t read our minds. Staring at someone across the room is not going to send as clear a message that you’d like to get to know them as introducing yourself. Ignoring your best friend over something they didn’t realize offended you will only lead to confusion and frustration. This type of direct honesty can only simplify our lives, even if it hurts a little along the way.

And as for that sense of urgency? The kids in these movies are well aware that high school is only four years long, senior year only a few months, and the summer before college the shortest time frame of all. They fall in love, go on adventures, get in to trouble, and make the most of the time they have, because high school doesn’t last forever, and neither does our youth. Good ol’ Ferris knew that his time at school, under his parent’s roof was coming to a close, and he made the most of that last ditch day. The reality is, there is a limited window of time we have with the people around us, whether in our classes, jobs, or neighborhoods, and putting something off for a day means there’s one less day you’re able to do it.

There are a lot of things I wish I could bring back from the 80’s, the music, the fashion, the sort of cute (sort of creepy) tradition of keeping a headshot of your significant other by your bed (refer to the opening scene of Better Off Dead for where the line is drawn between cute and definitely creepy).

But there are a lot of things that are still prevalent today, and maybe as a society, we’re still growing up and figuring out how to deal with them. The 80’s coming of age movies can teach us a lot about life, love, friendships, and navigating the world (though notably not how to clean up your completely trashed house after a party). In years from now, I expect to receive just as much enjoyment from the cheesy romances as a I do now, because growing up is a life long process, and one that can be made a little better with a little fun and a little adventure.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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