Although the term ‘young adult’ or ‘YA’ has only been widely used in the last decade or so, movies about teenagers have been around a lot longer than that. In fact, when I went to compile my list, I had to limit it dramatically when searching for movies in the 1980s and 1990s. I started in the 1940s and worked my way forward, picking one movie from each decade. Some of these titles will be familiar because they’ve been done and redone on theatre stages everywhere, but I threw in a few that might not be as well known. The point of the list is not for you to go out and watch a bunch of old movies, though I would recommend watching these, but rather, to show that the basic themes haven’t changed much in seventy years or so.
To start, we have Meet Me in St. Louis from 1944. This is a musical staring Judy Garland who plays seventeen-year-old Esther. In the beginning of the film, Esther has fallen in love with the boy next door, but soon finds out her father is moving the entire family to New York. Basically, we have an adolescent girl who meets her first love and has to overcome the obstacles in her way for them to be together. (Sound familiar to any other YA story you’ve read lately?)
In 1955 the world was introduced to Jim Stark, the role James Dean is perhaps most known for, but never had a chance to see on screen since he died before the movie’s release. In Rebel Without A Cause, Jim is a seventeen-year-old trouble maker with family issues. He lives on the edge by getting into knife fights, deadly drag races and eventually looses a friend and falls in love. (Does this story sound familiar?)
This movie came to mind when I was writing my last post about Romeo since it was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Released in 1961 and staring Natalie Wood, who also happened to play Judy, the love interest in Rebel Without A Cause, West Side Story is about Maria and Tony, two young people from ‘different sides of the track’ who fall in love. (How about this one? Familiar yet?)
I had to put this one on the list because, while it has a happy ending and is full of great music, it actually deals with a lot of heavy issues. From 1978, Grease, about a young couple who has to overcome their own differences and deal with peer pressure from their respective groups of friends. (Am I getting close?)
In 1982, we have Fast Times at Ridgemont High. This teen comedy was written by Cameron Crowe, who went undercover in a California high school and wrote about his experiences. It deals with first jobs, fist sexual encounters, first moments after first sexual encounter as well as drugs. (And a whole bunch of other stuff I know you’ve read about in a recent YA novel.)
For the 1990s, I picked Pleasantville from 1998. Sure, Titanic would have been a good choice too, but honestly, I needed something more ‘pleasant’ and with a happier ending. (Yes, the boat still sinks and Jack still dies.) Pleasantville is about a brother and sister who get sucked into the black-and-white world of the 1950s. But things in Pleasantville are kind of boring and when ‘color’ starts to appear, their world is thrown into chaos. This film deals with racism in a very mild way, but it also deals with figuring out who you are and where you belong. (Coming-of-age story anyone?)
Last on my list is 2007’s Juno, about a sixteen-year-old girl who is pregnant and decides to give the baby up for adoption. Juno has to make some very ‘adult’ decisions in this story, but still deals with things that are very ‘young adult’, like discovering a first love.
Ok, so how did I do on my list? Do you see the reoccurring themes? Leave me a comment below with what stories of today you think sound like the ones of the past and what other stories of the past still ring true today.