Gen. X Movies: Aging like Fine Wine or Crystal Pepsi?

Now here’s a category where my Gen. Y status will undoubtedly help rather than hinder–having seen none of these movies when they first came out, I can determine (subjectively, of course) whether these classics have held up well with age or deflated like so many high, scrunchy-wrapped ponytails.

Office Space

I’ve never seen a movie that better encapsulates the slow, steady death of self that happens daily in fluorescent-lit cubicles and oatmeal-colored office buildings scattered all across America. Office Space re-affirms what pains millions of people every day: the tug-of-war between dreams and reality, the occupation of that uncomfortable but safe place where we can all cling to the paycheck and put off becoming architects and inventors and novelists for just one more day.

But, and this is my only criticism of Office Space, I think the current dearth of jobs  has grown so critical that it’s hard to feel bad for lovable slackers whose main complaint is that they aren’t “fulfilled” and want a chance to “do nothing.” I thought this was awesome when I saw it two years ago, at which time I was working as a somewhat put-upon legal secretary, but now? It comes across as naïve.

I’ll always love Jennifer Aniston for this, though:

Still from the movie Office Space, showing Jennifer Anison in her role as a waitress flipping off her mean boss.

Clerks

It probably seems hypocritical of me to praise Clerks, having just bagged on Office Space, but here goes: Clerks is essentially about the same malaise that Office Space chronicles, but its protagonist, gas station employee Dante (cuz he’s in hell, get it??), lives on a far lower economic plane than the IT boys in Office Space.

And there’s a major difference between minimum-wage, customer service malaise and midlevel-management, IT malaise. The former is more universal because most of us have had that type of job, at least once, and we were treated worse than the dirty floor beneath the doughnut crumbs beneath the spilled, sticky Slurpee. You never forget feeling like that.

Plus, Clerks represents modern relationships as they really are (maybe as they always have been), as evidenced by Dante freaking out over his girlfriend Veronica’s sexual past, then idolizing an ex-girlfriend who was never that great to him in the first place.

Silent Bob’s words about choosing the one who loves you vs. the beautiful phantom are pretty wise for a guy that never talks: “There’s lots of fine looking women out there Dante, but they don’t all bring you lasagna… Most of them just cheat on you.”

Hey, is it weird to have a crush on Silent Bob? I’d show you a clip of him and Jay, but all of those feature extreme amounts of profanity, so let’s just stick with the best discussion about the ethical implications of blowing up the Death Star of all time:

American Beauty

Now this one’s a bit more difficult to parse out. I don’t remember when this came out, so I missed all the hysteria and the Academy Awards sweep and the comparisons to Hitchcock, but it feels like American Beauty‘s always been in the back of my mind as one of those films–the ones people rattle off with their all-time favorites, those movies that you just have to see because, well, you have to. And those films make me feel all skeptical and cynical and jaded.

Then I finally saw it  and I loved it. Critics can debate all day whether the characters are overly parodized or whether the film is essentially immoral, but I wouldn’t care if it was: I enjoyed American Beauty because the score was awesome, every shot was carefully framed and every scene was full of saturated colors and obviously intentional, creative uses of light. Sure, Mena Suvari covered in rose petals is hokey, but it looked beautiful.

Now don’t say that makes me the equivalent of Ricky! His character really creeped me out, and everyone should feel free to pile on the laughable “There’s so much beauty in the world so I filmed this plastic bag for 15 minutes LOL” scene:

Heathers

People are always talking about Heathers being the precursor to Mean Girls, but you know what? I think Heathers is far and away the better film, even if it doesn’t quite have the same comedic weight (though “Dear diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count” is a serious contender for Best High School Comedy One-Liner Ever).

One thing I appreciate about teen movies from the 80s/90s (I’m thinking The Craft, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Ghost World, Cruel Intentions, even Pretty in Pink) is that they are significantly darker and address more serious themes than most of what gets made today. Older teen films treat the kids they depict as fairly mature adults with moral agency, and show casual sex, substance use, and general rebellion without trivializing those acts or attaching automatic, negative consequences to them.

For example, in Heathers, Veronica and JD have sex on a lawn when they barely know one another, but that’s not why their relationship sours–things go bad when JD reveals that he’s a murderous psychopath with a God complex. That contrasts pretty starkly with modern fare like Superbad, where the two main (male) characters obsess about opportunities to have sex and illegally purchase alcohol for the entire movie–so much time is spend in the pursuit of “bad” things, that there’s no time to analyze motivation or fall-out.

And Mean Girls, while allowing the Plastics to wield a certain amount of power in the school, ultimately ends with everyone learning their lesson and virtually no permanent damage done. In the Heathers universe, people don’t get off that easily just because they’re teenagers.

“What a waste! Oh the humanity!” That is my reaction to those boxy jackets:

So which 80s and 90s movies do you think have aged particularly well or poorly? Anything in general that was done better by/for Gen. X-ers than the current generation? Here’s a few I’d love to hear about because I’ve never seen them: Reality Bites, Singles, Risky Business, and Fast Times at Ridgmont High.

7 thoughts on “Gen. X Movies: Aging like Fine Wine or Crystal Pepsi?”

  1. Empire Records is amazing. As well as Dazed and Confused. Both will stand the test of time I think if only (or especially) because of the music. Epic soundtracks. I’d also toss in Can’t Hardly Wait. I re-watched it a while ago and it’s pretty amazing. Like the precursor to Superbad, but with more depth (and also awesome soundtrack). I’m not sure if it counts, because it’s Shakespeare, but it’s also Baz Lurhmann, but Romeo & Juliet is effing awesome. And again, awesome soundtrack. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack.

  2. I’m a junkie for teen movies from the 80s and 90s.

    One of my favorites (still) is “Just One of the Guys”. I think a lot of the themes in it are just a relevant today as they were when it was made–mainly women being overlooked just because they’re women, even if they’re equally as talented as their male counterpart(s).

    Dazed & Confused also ranks up there–mainly because my everyone in that movie was a caricature of my siblings and their friends. It did a fine job of portraying 70s high school culture.

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High–I like it, I own it. Oddly it almost seems like the movie made that era more open and accepting than the current day.

    And though it didn’t come out until 1999, Dogma is a movie that I think will hold up forever. And will also allow you to continue crushing on Silent Bob!

    1. oooh, Dogma’s been in my Netflix queue for quite some time! Perhaps tonight’s the night to finally watch it.

      I’m so embarrassed that I haven’t seen any of the other movies you suggested! But I’m with you on some of the 80s/90s stuff making it seem like we’re growing less accepting as a culture.

    1. I agree, Clueless is great – I think in large part that’s due to it having such a timeless plot–even other films that don’t directly cite Emma as their inspiration have the dowdy-madeover-friend who winds up stabbing her friends in the back, the spoiled rich girl who grows a conscience, etc.

      I haven’t seen Empire Records! I’m pretty sure it’s on Netflix watch instantly though, so I need to check that out.

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