My kid is finally going back to school tomorrow. Finally! I realize that your kids have been back for weeks at this point — at least that’s what all the cute pictures on Facebook tell me. Now, it’s my turn to send young Nic Lemire off to achieve academic greatness in junior kindergarten.
In honor of this proud occasion, here’s a look at five of my favorite movies that take place in schools. Yes, it’s heavy on ’80s films — those were my formative years, full of teased-up bangs and frosted lipstick. Feel free to chime in with your favorites:
_ “Rushmore” (1998): All the greatness of Wes Anderson’s meticulous style was new and fresh and exciting in his second feature film: the detailed production design, the slo-mos, the great ’60s soundtrack. It’s probably still my favorite of his, although I do love “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer was a true original: inventive and obsessive, sophisticated beyond his years while remaining an overgrown child intent on getting his way. The interplay between Schwartzman and Bill Murray as a wealthy Rushmore Academy parent is hilarious and heartbreaking, as each recognizes in the other a kindred, lonely spirit.
_ “The Breakfast Club” (1985): One of my favorite movies ever and perhaps the late, great John Hughes’ best, although “Sixteen Classics” is just as much of a quotable classic. It’s a toss-up. It’s got that quintessential Brat Pack cast — Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy — it’s full of recognizable high school figures and it honestly depicts the teen angst that plagues us all at some point. When I was a teenager, I felt like “The Breakfast Club” spoke to me (even though I was never really any of the five “types”). Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate the film more for its ability to morph seamlessly and effortlessly from comedy to drama to eventual uplift.
_ “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955): The prototype for all teen-angst movies. I have fond memories of watching “The Breakfast Club” with my mother; in response, she introduced me to this, the definitive youth-in-revolt movie of her era. The role of Jim Stark, the brooding and mysterious new kid in town, is of course, the ultimate James Dean character — it’s the one that defined his brief career and seems all the more tragic given that he died in a car crash at 24 just a month before its release. Blah blah blah, you know why “Rebel Without a Cause” matters. Please enjoy this decidedly old-school, melodramatic trailer.
_ “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (1982): This movie seemed so racy to me in its day — it came out the summer I turned 10 years old — and I’m still taken by the honesty of its dialogue and its depiction of teenage sexuality. One of the many beauties of Cameron Crowe’s script is that it features characters who talk the way kids really talk. I suspect “Fast Times” couldn’t be made today and remain intact, at least not in big-studio form; a character has an abortion, for example, and the film never judges her for it. It’s also such a great time capsule in terms of its young, up-and-coming cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker and an awesome Sean Penn in one of the defining roles of his career as super-stoner Jeff Spicoli.
_ “Heathers” (1989): It looks very of-its-time with its big hair and shoulder pads. But the specificity of its dialogue and the daring darkness of its humor make Michael Lehmann’s comedy a high school classic. There are so many great lines in this film — most coming from the bitchy and sadistic Heather No. 1 — I don’t even know where to begin quoting. Young Winona Ryder and Christian Slater (whose Jack Nicholson shtick seemed novel back then) had crackling chemistry. But like “Fast Times,” “Heathers” could never be made the same way today, as evidenced by the end of this clip alone.