Dead Poets Society (1989)

Director: Peter Weir Cast: Robin Williams and a load of nondescript teenage boys

A new English teacher arrives at an exclusive boys’ boarding school and introduces a new way of learning that’s a break from their usual stuffy academia. However, his unusual style doesn’t go down well with everyone.

So after a conversation with a friend in which I stated I thought I’d seen most Robin Williams films, and then proceeded to be corrected when my friend listed off all the ones I haven’t seen, I’m trying to work through his full repertoire. To be honest it probably just feels like I’ve seen all his films as I’ve watched Hook about 3 billion times- but I don’t think I’ll be watching Dead Poets Society quite as many times.

Call me uncultured but I just thought this film was so unbearably dull. I came for the Robin Williams, but I felt like he was barely in it. The scarce bits he was in were enjoyable (funny, but he also does serious very well), but they were interspersed with excruciating scenes about tedious teenage boys, none of whose name I can remember or identify because they all look the same and have no outstanding traits of note, apart for possibly the main two. Even those main two I just didn’t care about- it’s not that they were unlikeable, I just didn’t find them interesting or compelling characters.

I won’t spoil the main climax of the movie, but I thought it was out of place and, to be honest, unrealistic. It was just so over-the-top as a reaction to something that was really not that bad, and I just couldn’t help but think “get over it, you overprivileged nob head”. But, you know, maybe I’m just missing something as the film was an Oscar winner after all (Best Screenplay).

I didn’t like this film (can you tell?) but not because it’s badly made or anything, it just didn’t float my boat. I feel like it’s the sort of film my mum would watch while she’s doing the ironing. Just meh.

2.5 stars 

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Brain Backer, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates (and also Nicholas Cage for all of 5 seconds)

We follow the escapades of a group of high school students over the course of a year, including romance, jobs, studies and general teenagery-ness.

Fast Times is a bit of a cult classic, lesser known than some of the other 1980s high school student flicks, but feels like one of the more authentic or realistic ones. Indeed, the story is based on the experiences of film-maker Cameron Crowe, who spent a year undercover as a high school student and wrote a book on his experiences. The events feel a lot more like stuff that would actually happen to regular teenagers, rather than far-fetched hijinks, and I think it definitely adds to the enjoyability of the film if you can look back and reminisce on some of your own high school experiences.

Not all the stories are totally connected and the links between the characters or individual plots can be a bit tenuous, so from a standard film-viewing perspective it might seem a little unstructured or random. However, this also adds to the realism, so we can mostly forgive that. I would also warn that not all the scenes would probably get past a film classification board today, so might be a little odd for modern audiences (mainly the underage sex). It’s not one I’d watch with my parents…

This is definitely a must-see for 80s fans, especially as it’s up there in the genre of “golden-age” classics such as The Breakfast ClubBack to the Future or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s certainly not appropriate for younger audiences (I think it’s rated 18 here in the UK), but is a good dose of nostalgia for adults.

3 stars

The Breakfast Club (1985)

Breakfast Club

Director: John Hughes Cast: Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy

Peak 1980s and peak teen movie merge in this story about five very different high school students who end up in Saturday detention together.

I guarantee that 99% of people will enjoy this film. While it’s a teen movie, it has quite a lot of depth and isn’t just about irrelevant issues like making the agonising life choice between playing basketball and singing in musicals (not that I’m thinking of anything in particular). The movie delves into some pretty heavy stuff, and things that audience members will relate to.

The best part of the film is seeing how each of the characters isn’t how they appear on the surface and what prompts them to reveal their real selves. Everyone will be able to pick out one character who they were or are most like, which makes it relatable- and not just on the surface but deeper down too (and, by the way, I would most definitely be Brian).

With its classic 80s soundtrack, amusing fashion choices, thoughtful dialogues and dry humour, this film ticks all the boxes. However, I cannot let it get away without this serious criticism: the ending is total balls. Without ruining it, basically what happens would not happen. For a film that does so well to actually portray teenagers (mostly) realistically, the ending is a serious let-down. That. Would. Not. Happen. And for that serious sin, it will lose one whole star for its rating. It’s that stupid.

(Do watch it though.)

4 stars