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With the highly anticipated release of the Netflix Original To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the high school flick is well and truly back on everyone’s radar. The film adaptation of Jenny Han’s YA novel is a charming story of a young girl whose life gets turned upside when her love letters to five secret crushes are accidentally sent out in the mail. The film has been praised for its ability to sharply capture that uncertain period in one’s life when attempting to navigate the scary waters of high school dating.
The past year has seen a resurgence in this type of film on Netflix. Alex Strangelove and The Kissing Booth are other examples that comes to mind. In regards the latter, the book adaptation was described by Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarrandos as one of the most-watched movies in America and possibly the world proving the sheer popularity of the genre.
What is it about these movies that have such a wide universal appeal? As a twenty-one-year-old woman, I can say wholeheartedly that I adore films that are set in high school. There is something about the familiar coming of age narrative that is so pleasurable to watch. The heartbreak, mistakes and insecurities—we’ve all been through it. It’s relatable territory.
There’s also the nostalgia element of course. There were so many firsts. After you finish school there are less and less firsts and the novelty begins to fade. High school is a time for self-discovery and these films can transport you back to a time where the possibilities seemed endless. It’s the perfect form of escapism from reality so it’s no wonder they’re so popular. If you’ve made your way through all of Netflix’s gems this summer and are craving some good quality high school drama, here are five notable films you’ll be sure to enjoy:
Lady Bird, Dir. Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut resonated with the masses as it beautifully captured a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship. Over the course of the film, we embark on a journey with Christine “Ladybird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she completes her senior year of high school. Ladybird is determined to attend university in New York where “culture” is. Meanwhile, her mother is less than supportive. While the main focus of the film is the mother-daughter relationship we also gain a humorous insight into the world of high school dating. Ladybird finds herself pining for two boys Danny (Lucas Hedges), a theatre fanatic with a closet of skeletons and Kyle (Timothée Chalamet) a hipster who refuses to participate in the economy.
Described by Gerwig as first and foremost “a love letter to Sacramento” this film has a wide appeal as we can all recognise the special place one’s hometown will always hold in their heart.
Orange County, Dir. Jake Kasdan
Although its focus is more on the end of high school, director Jake Kasdan’s Orange County does an excellent job of capturing the difficult transition to college. The film tells the story of Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) a teen who had a dramatic change of lifestyle after his best friend Lonny (Bret Harrison) was tragically killed in a surfing accident.
Soon after this, he finds a book on the beach by Marcus Skinner which inspires him to become an author. Leaving his partying lifestyle behind him, he knuckles down at school and aspires to get into Stanford where he can study under Skinner. His grades are so good that his guidance counsellor tells him he need not bother applying to any other colleges. This is all well and good until the wrong transcript is attached to his application and he is rejected from Stanford. What follows is a near impossible mission to get his place back at the university. Along the way, Shaun becomes enlightened as he starts to realise his life may not change for the better should he attend Stanford.
Sing Street, Dir. John Carney
One of the recent gems of Irish Cinema, John Carney’s musical comedy-drama transports the viewer back to 1980s Ireland where we meet outcast student and musician Conor Lawlor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo). In order to save money, his father (Aidan Gillen) has opted to send him to Synge Street CBS as opposed to the private fee-paying school he was attending. A culture shock like no other, Conor finds it extremely difficult to fit in.
Luckily there is a band, a girl and some very good music to get him through it. Conor is besotted by an aspiring model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton) and begins practising various 80s covers with his band to serenade her. However, his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) encourages him to find his voice by making his own music. It is through this passion that Conor gains the courage to truly be individual and pursue his dreams even if that means wearing heavy layers of punk-rock eyeliner to school and facing dire consequences.
The Spectacular Now, Dir. James Ponsoldt
This 2013 drama takes more of a solemn tone than the preceding films in this list. It tells the story of Suther Keely (Miles Teller) a popular senior who is in a different place in his life in comparison with the rest of his classmates. For the past three years, he’s had it all: a beautiful girlfriend, an endless friend group, parties every weekend…but now it’s time to get serious. And Suther isn’t ready to give it all up. He gets dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larson) who doesn’t think he will do anything with his life. He ends up writing about this as the topic of his college admissions essay before stopping and deciding to go out and get drunk again.
When Amy Finicky (Shailene Woodley) enters his life things start to change. Amy is the polar opposite of Suther. She is shy, studious and has never had a boyfriend. It’s unclear if her good influence is enough to change Suther and additionally whether their relationship is holding her back. The film offers a very realistic portrayal of high school relationships but it doesn’t lose the fuzziness and charm that we have all come to expect in this genre. At its core, this is a film about the pain and fear that comes with making that next transition in your life after high school.
The Edge of Seventeen, Dir. Kelly Fremon Craig
Featuring shades of Juno, this comedy centres on a teen who has an array of witty comebacks to those she seems to outsmart on the regular. It follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) a needy teenager whose life falls apart when her one and only best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) falls for her jock twin brother (Blake Jenner). Her teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson) offers little solace to her dramatic stories with his deadpan humour. It seems like the only person she can rely on is classmate Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto) who’s huge crush she does not reciprocate. Nadine is more interested in Nick (Alexander Calvert), a stereotypical bad boy who is impressed by her blunt honesty. The Edge of Seventeen is truly a funny film which will speak to anyone who felt like that they didn’t quite fit with the regular crowd in school. The main takeaway is you might find is that’s not necessarily a bad thing!