In the Class of … series, Nick Rogers takes a monthly look back at films celebrating their 20th or 30th anniversary of initial release this year — seven from 1991 (the extra in October’s double-feature column) and six from 2001. The self-imposed rules of the column: No films with an Oscar nomination and no films among their year’s top-10 box-office grossers.
First, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer came for the feature-length spoof movie between 2006 and 2008 with, among others, Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and no one spoke out. Then, once everyone’s pocket held a high-grade camera, YouTube came for the feature-length spoof movie and everyone started smashing a different “like” button. Finally, Twitter came for the feature-length spoof movie and there was no one left to speak even for such a concept, at least not in a culture that now launches a thousand memes as a teaser-trailer lands. Why wait 10 months to mock, say, the “Avenge father. Save mother. Kill Fjölnir” mantra of the teaser for The Northman when you can Vince McMahon Reaction all of it in 10 minutes or less? (Yes, Friedberg and Seltzer once spoofed 300. Keep quiet before they get back online for a short-form nightmare.)
Spoof movies have certainly stuck around since 2008, but none has felt as vital as 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie. (Another yes: They Came Together, sure, but that’s compiling and corralling romcom tropes in one space rather than upending them in a meaningful way.) Spoofing two decades of films in which teenagers come and / or cum of age, Not Another Teen Movie doesn’t need to brandish a giant, wiggling dildo at the beginning to let you know the movies it’s mocking are interchangeable masturbatory fantasies for their audiences — for a moonstruck past, hoped-for present or impossible future. But it definitely helps sell the strength of a sendup that, by casting so many familiar faces from the films on which it’s funnin’, arguably accumulates more meta momentum than The Matrix Resurrections. Nearly a baker’s dozen of Teen Movie cast members previously appeared in roughly nine of the titles it tweaks.
This one also has a more persuasive scene lamenting the toilet-scented state of contemporary art. After all, blockbusters generally don’t allow any character, let alone five, to take the receiving end of a geyser of cannon-eruptive shit. Yes, this is the sort of gross-out gag R-rated raunch-fests like this could get away with when not, like their targets, duty-bound to a PG-13. But the joke is also a direct acknowledgment of how asinine it was, from a standpoint of emotional authenticity, to aspires to the likes of what transpires in She’s All That, Can’t Hardly Wait and 10 Things I Hate About You even if a few such movies happened to be good. Teen Movie never forgets to vividly remind you just how insincere so many of these movies felt about integral rites of passage, the revolving door of rough emotions or the wide spectrum of teen life.
Its by-committee script comes from a who’s-who of spoof-movie scribes —among them Phil Beauman and Buddy Johnson, who had by then separately co-written the Wayans-family films Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and Scary Movie. The latter remains the subgenre’s highest-grossing film that plays spoof-a-rama with popular movies. You have to drop 20 spots before hitting Not Another Teen Movie. It remains the sole feature-film credit of Joel Gallen, generally a live-TV director of standup specials and concerts — including Comedy Central roast specials and America: A Tribute to Heroes, a 9/11 special that aired just three months before this film’s premiere. But Gallen, a longtime MTV executive in the early 1990s, also was the guy who conceived and directed so many good MTV Movie Award spoofs, such as Mission: Improbable with Ben Stiller and Tom Cruise.
Alongside his five writers, Gallen understands the assignment to vivisect a variety of movies both with verve and just the right amount of vitriol. Sure, there are incredibly dated specific references like American Beauty or Bring It On. Perhaps only those of us who came up watching Chris Klein in so many of these goddamn things will appreciate the sublime brilliance of Sam Huntington’s physical impersonation, right down to the vacant stare and haircut. But given the surplus of signs on the walls at its John Hughes High School, people will likely discover new blink-and-miss background sight gags in another 20 years. (My personal favorite: “Don’t fuck up” as #3 on the list of football motivations.) And even if later generations don’t know 10 Things I Hate About You from Drive Me Crazy, they’ll almost certainly recognize the blueprint from streaming-service balderdash about kissing booths or princess switches.
For those who do remember the heyday at which Teen Movie hacks away, its two main plots amalgamate She’s All That and Can’t Hardly Wait. Cuckolded quarterback Jake Wyler (Chris Evans … yes, that one) takes a bet that he can turn “uniquely rebellious” Janey Briggs (Chyler Leigh) into the prom queen. In most movies, this amounts to the “homely” wallflower putting her hair down and ditching her glasses, which is exactly the joke here perpetrated by actress Mia Kirshner as she parodies Sarah Michelle Gellar’s femme fatale turn in Cruel Intentions. It even borrows the same silly Sixpence None the Richer ballad from She’s All That for its signature staircase descent of the “suddenly beautiful” Janey.
Meanwhile, Janey’s brother, Mitch (Cody McMains), along with his friends Ox (Huntington) and Bruce (Samm Levine, then late of Freaks and Geeks), are desperate horndogs who make a pact to lose their virginity by graduation … even though they’re freshmen. There’s obviously a bit of American Pie across all of this, regularly referenced by holes in food items throughout and Areola (Cerina Vincent), a spoof of Shannon Elizabeth’s foreign-exchange Pie character, who is perpetually naked and around whose breasts her subtitles are conveniently arranged.
Not Another Teen Movie is crude. It’s crackling. It also calls out all the right things, from the inside baseball of Ed Lauter’s expert goddamn embrace of Jon Voight’s profane football coach from Varsity Blues or Lacey Chabert’s send-up of her Party of Five co-star Jennifer Love Hewitt in Can’t Hardly Wait to how it calls out the dorky affections of friend-zone designees like Ducky from Pretty in Pink for the creepy reality it reflects. A scene where Mitch, Ox and Bruce drive a block at best for the party at which they hope to get laid is both a funny bit and a reflection of how little such movies often choose to explore outside their typical suburban parameters or peccadilloes.
And although its deep-fetish sex talk constitutes par for the caustic-comedy course, it also reflects a more realistic experience of sexual exploration in the lives of teenagers, for whom heteronormative sex is rarely a Holy Grail and the missionary position hardly Mount Everest. In an early scene, Jake catches panties and jockstraps thrown by admirers and recognizes by name the aroma of both affections. Well before Evans embodied America’s ass, he also affixed a banana to it in a goofy spin on a body-dessert seduction joke from Varsity Blues. Strangely, this part almost went to another eventual Avenger — Mark Ruffalo, then in his mid-thirties and for whom the joke likely would have shifted toward actors in these things stretching absurdly beyond their teen years. Of course, Teen Movie has its way with that, too, with 73-year-old Beverly Polcyn as the “high-school senior” undercover to write a news story a la Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed.
Among the few performers in films that Teen Movie parodies who was of appropriate age when making them is Molly Ringwald, who turns up here as a seen-it-all flight attendant in the film’s ending. Historically aware of her influence on so many teenagers, Ringwald as the voice of harsh reason for Jake and Janey’s storybook romance plays perfectly from perspectives of satire and sensibility. Ringwald knew enough to get out of these films early on, sensing they either set unrealistic expectations in the moment or for later in life as grown women would lament not living a hilariously full romantic life they found in these movies. And as Ringwald gets the last word here, it’s clear that Not Another Teen Movie is not simply a spoof settling for mnemonic punchlines on a speed bag of references whose cultural cachet ran out long ago. It understands that peachy-keen teen romances represent a sort of sickness to which the target audience should not get too attached and adults should not glamorize as the gold standard. No one speaks for the spoof movie any longer, but Not Another Teen Movie still speaks loudly, and clearly, for itself.