Chuck Klosterman wrote, in the essay “This Is Emo” from his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, “My witty banter and cerebral discourse is always completely contrived. Right now, I have three and a half dates worth of material, all of which I pretend to deliver spontaneously.” I related to this so hard that it hurt. I am always extremely aware of how I am presenting myself to strangers, and I have been for as long as I can remember. If I’m at a party and someone asks me a question, I rifle through all the possible responses, then all the possible reactions to each response, in my mind before opening my mouth. The answer I settle on is designed to satisfy curiosity, inspire more conversation, and hopefully get the other person to like me.
As far as I can remember, this all started when I was six or seven and my parents were told that standardized tests had placed me in the “gifted” category at my school. My parents were (understandably) proud, and I remember their bragging about me to their friends, who’d look at me approvingly and cry, “How smart!” Hmm, I thought. Being clever and precocious gets me all kinds of positive attention. I started memorizing stories and facts to dazzle people with, gleaned from “factoid books” they used to sell at gas stations. “Did you know a duck’s quack doesn’t echo?” I’d ask visiting adults. Or: “Did you know that some people can draw on a grain of rice?” I would then smile and haul out my stuffed animals for a round of introductions, which always delighted my parents’ guests. Being a clever kid gave me a routine, a shortcut to adult approval, and a tiny little bit of identity to cling to.
As a teenager, I decided that I’d rather be seen as “cool” than “smart.” My older sister was conventionally gorgeous, and I didn’t feel like I could hold my own next to her unless I was completely different, so I picked a direction and went for it. I dressed in men’s pinstriped pants and animal-print shirts and dyed my long hair a multitude of bright colors. This look, I believed, expressed “who I was,” and it had the bonus effect of making other people think I was “weird.” I continued my habit of researching random things to impress people with, but this time the stories I collected were about Kim Gordon, or people surviving being buried alive, or just weird piercings. I wrote poetry and short stories about machines that ate feelings. I wanted people to believe that I was special. I wanted to be the cool, mysterious, irresistible person in the movie who comes along and enchants your life. I wanted you to wish you could live in my world every single day. Basically, I wanted to be a living, breathing Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
This was a ridiculous aspiration for many reasons, not least among them the fact that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is never the focus of the movie, she’s just a plot device. I had no model for what such deadly fascinating girls were supposed to do a year into a friendship, or a year into a job, or anytime they were by themselves. Were they still delightful? All through college and for a long time after, I skipped from job to job, working until I felt bored by the place (read: felt like I was becoming boring to the place). In my personal life, there were a handful of people who really knew me and “got” me, but the majority of my relationships were as brief as they were intense. We’d have all kinds of adventures and what I thought were “deep,” “profound” talks late into the night, and six weeks later, we’d just drift apart (read: I’d start getting anxious that I couldn’t keep up the mirage much longer and skedaddle). I couldn’t make the shift from being the “mysterious cool girl” to just being a loyal, dependable person, a crucial transition if you’re trying to turn an acquaintance into an actual friend. Friends are people who see you cry, who notice if you’re having a bad day and try to cheer you up. Mysterious cool girls, I thought, didn’t need cheering up. But I did.
Looking back, I can see that I was scared. I put on a big show for everyone to protect myself from rejection. No one could resist the mysterious cool girl, and even if they did, they weren’t really rejecting me, just this other girl I introduced them to. If they saw “the real me,” the girl who is sometimes overly emotional or has nothing funny to say, I believed, people would not find me worthy of their time. I didn’t think my regular self deserved friends, and I felt lucky for the few who tolerated her. The fact that people liked being around “the cool girl” just confirmed my fears. (You see how sad this merry-go-round is?) In short, I felt unlovable, and I didn’t want to give anyone the chance to confirm this feeling.
Always being the new girl is a hard lifestyle to maintain, though, unless you’re a serious drifter/vagabond. It also gets exhausting, and lonely. I had a few friends I’d made as a teenager, close friends, but I’d left them behind when I moved to college, and my single-serving friends just weren’t cutting it. I needed more connection in my life. I needed to bond over more than just being fun. It was less risky to keep myself fun to be around, but after a while it got hard to keep people at arm’s length. I learned that no matter how hard you try to be a weirdo fairy tripping around in the breeze, some people and some places will force you to get comfortable. Those people and places feel like home, and you can’t help letting your guard slip down a little bit when you’re around them.
I slipped out of my role and into being a person slowly, cautiously, and gingerly. Over time, I allowed myself to demonstrate affection and competence rather than quirky charm, and I found that caring can keep things just as interesting as taking people to hot dog festivals in the middle of nowhere (something I did more than once to prove how weird and interesting I was). At this point I’ve had the same job for almost four years, more than double the time I’ve spent anywhere else. I’ve been in the same relationship for almost seven years. I have three best friends from high school and college that I took the time to reconnect with, because when I thought about my future, I wanted it to include those parts of my past. This job and these people are so fascinating enough to me that I knew I couldn’t let them go, so I was forced to take a chance that they’d still be there even when my “new car smell” wore off.
I still have to fight the urge to put on a show when I meet new people—old habits die hard. But lots of the people in my life now have seen me cry, and they’ve seen me get angry. They’ve seen me fall down and be dull and shoot snot out of my nose while laughing. I’ve discovered that I don’t have to put on a façade to be liked, which feels pretty exhilarating. I may not seem as mysterious or cool as I used to, but I do get to have truly meaningful relationships with other people, and we can still dazzle each other with factoids about seahorses or arcane rituals from faraway lands or Victorian death photography anytime we like. ♦
Brittney Cooper’s courageous call to action in Salon articulates why women and girls of color deserve a more inclusive movement. Sadly, the controversy that has arisen in response to the open letter, and the corresponding #WhyWeCantWait campaign, don’t surprise me. Our struggle continues, and the cost of our silence is much too great. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one else will. Chanel
This week, the Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o landed the cover of Vogue‘s July issue, becoming only the ninth black cover model in the magazine’s history. I about cried when I first saw Lupita’s radiant smile—she looks absolutely stunning. While I know I’m not the only person who sees Lupita as a style icon, I’m just emotionally overwhelmed by the fact that a dark-skinned, natural-haired lady is taking over fashion/beauty so hugely. Three cheers for Lupita! Gabby
I was thrilled to find this “Guide to Fanfiction for People Who Can’t Stop Getting It Wrong,” which totally debunks all sorts of myths about fanfic. All too often, girls who write fic are written off as “creepy,” or as not “real writers,” based on their personal depictions of mythical figures and boy band members. I’m 100 percent behind teen girls writing fanfic: Today’s Tina Belchers may be tomorrow’s Jane Austens!
The Museum of Modern Art has announced that it’s doing a Björk retrospective next year. Simply titled “Björk,” it will chronicle her decades-long career and will be possibly the coolest, most important museum show OF OUR TIME. The fact that there’s going to be a WHOLE MUSEUM filled with Björk’s brain-tickings, plus a “fictitious narrative” that she’s writing with the Icelandic writer Sjón Sigurdsson just just for the show, means that this will be the place to go and get lost in, at LEAST once a week, when it debuts. Estelle
I’ve spent the past few days lost in the haze of What Is This Heart?, the new album by How to Dress Well. You can stream it for free on his site RIGHT NOW before the official release on June 24. The music is like a dream you don’t want to wake up from and whose every detail you want to remember in the morning. It’ll make you want to grab your nearest bae/bestie for a slow dance during a summertime sunset.
StyleLikeU profiled the inimitable Betsey Johnson for the lastest round of their closet interviews, and it is PRECIOUS! At the age of 71, the woman is a living legend, and her senses of style and self are profoundly developed. I especially loved listening to her talk about her grandkids—can you imagine if your grandma was Betsey Johnson and wore sequined harem pants? Betsey is a true inspiration who reminds us that getting older is just a part of life—not a reason to give up who you are. Anna F.
This article on the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl explores how it’s been transformed from a genuine, useful critique of flat female movie characters into a dismissive, reductive stereotype applied to real-live women. It’s a good companion to this piece by Gabby about the pains of being considered “quirky.”
This essay about “…Baby One More Time” is a punch in the heart. It opened me up to a whole new way of thinking about Britney Spears, and confirms to me that I could muse about her all day, every day, and never stop learning more about her music and myself. She is the princess of my Sad Girl Nation. Caitlin D.
Jackson Galaxy and his troubling facial hair have earned my forever love with this episode ofMy Cat From Hell, which features Lux, a disturbed but still very lovable cat that Julianne wrote about in a Saturday Links post some weeks back. Lucy
The documentary Out in the Night, which exposes the story of Renata Hill’s street harassment and imprisonment, debuted this week. Hill and her friends were imprisoned for 11 years for assault after they defended themselves from a stranger who physically attacked them after shouting gay and racial slurs.
This discussion on The Brian Lehrer Show takes a look at the racism and homophobia that prompted the sentence, as well as the horrifying ways the incident was reported at the time—some news reports described the attacker as “an admirer” (!) and the women as “a killer lesbian gang” (!!). The injustice of it all is infuriating, but I’m glad the case is finally getting the kind of attention it deserves. ♦
I’ve always been apprehensive about milestones. When I got my period for the first time, I did not burst out in Judy Blume–worthy tears of joy, I cried in horror. Bye, childhood, I thought, FOREVER. It’s been fun, but now I have to go do adult things, like my taxes and laundry. Also, wow, I’m really articulate for a 12-year-old. The truth is that getting your period doesn’t make you a woman. Neither does having a bat mitzvah or a quinceañera or a sweet 16. There is no definitive moment where you wake up and trade in your novelty-print romper for a beige pantsuit and feel ready for every conceivable responsibility, because maturing is a lifelong process.
I’m 19, which means I am no longer legally a child, but I’m still a teenager, and I personally can’t abide the thought of myself as a full-fledged adult. It’s not that I’m afraid of growing up—I’m just not exactly skipping down the path to maturity. I consider part of me grown up—the part that works multiple jobs, goes to college, takes care of sick family members, and successfully orders a pizza over the phone without anxiety (FINALLY). The other part of me is a total kid. I like Hey Arnold! and clothing emblazoned with baby animals. Sometimes I feel like I should cover my own eyes during sex scenes in movies. I have a desk drawer devoted to glitter and food-shaped erasers, and I can’t seem to ask a stranger for help without raising my voice a few octaves. Yes, I wear adorable vintage glasses and enjoy baking, but I also vote. Like my fellow Rookie Danielle said, just because I’m childlike doesn’t mean I am childish. I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.
When I started college this year I made some new friends, and what began as good-natured teasing about my quirkiness (a word I’ll come back to in a bit) started to feel like a dig after a while. Quirky seemed to apply to anything I wanted to do, from baking a pie to trimming my bangs. A couple months ago my (admittedly delightful) dorm room was featured in Teen Vogue. My campus blog wrote what I’m sure was meant to be a flattering nod to the piece, but when they said I was “majoring in adorable,” I worried that I was being mischaracterized as a silly person with a frivolous interest in style. Around that same time I told a friend about my plan to work at a bakery so I could wear cute aprons, and she didn’t take it as the joke I intended it to be. “Don’t manic-pixie yourself,” she warned.
She was referring, of course, to the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a recurring character in film and television. The MPDG is an adult woman who embodies a youthful free-spiritedness that many find grating. The term was coined by the film critic Nathan Rabin, who described her as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” He cites Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown and Natalie Portman’s in Garden State as two prime examples. Other common traits of MPDGs: a tendency to wear vintage clothing, a playful personality, an interest in minor disturbances of the peace, and, oh yeah, no inner life or ambitions of her own. Also, they’re usually waifish and pale and big-eyed and adorable (probably they majored in it). (This video breaks the trope down perfectly.) I’d read about MPDGs in a few articles and on a few blogs, and then started seeing the term in internet comments and Instagram bios. And now it had become a real-life thing, and it was being applied to me.
On a purely superficial level, I guess you could say I match the description. My haircut is very similar to that of Zooey Deschanel, an actress who is often blasted as the MPDG poster girl. And to be honest, before I really thought about what the MPDG archetype means in terms of women and agency and all that, I was as obsessed with them as their love-struck suitors tend to be. They dress whimsically, like to have fun, live in adorable apartments, go on dates, and did I mention FUN? In middle school, when I watched Stranger Than Fiction, a 2006 movie in which Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Ana Pascal, a kooky baker who runs a “weekly evil-conspiracy and needlepoint group,” I didn’t hate her like a lot of people did—I wanted to be just like her. And I’ll admit that I coveted Zooey’s perfect bangs and her wardrobe of retro cotton dresses in (500) Days of Summer. (SIDE NOTE: If we’re going to play Six Degrees of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, I believe the movie Elf from 2003 subverts the phenomenon: Will Ferrell plays a totally whimsical man-child who shows the jaded, deadpan Zooey Deschanel [!] how to loosen up and enjoy life. But it was released several years before the MPDG was identified and analyzed to death.)
But just because I like cute stuff doesn’t mean I’m shallow, or that I live to make guys feel more adventurous and deep. For example, I would never ask a guy to lie down in the street with me and look at the stars, because I don’t want to get hit by a car. I’m way too cynical to ever fall in love with a boy over a mixtape. And to be honest I find cupcakes kind of stupid. (I get the convenience factor, but prefer cake slices, which give you an even distribution of frosting and cake in every bite.)
My point is, likening real-life women to MPDGs is offensive. It implies that our habits and interests are affectations designed to attract dudes so we can improve their lives. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl does not actually exist—she is by definition a fantasy. We should restrict the use of the phrase to when we’re criticizing one-dimensional characters in fiction. Otherwise it’s just another way to put women down. Calling an actual living girl an MPDG because she likes traditionally domestic things like baking is akin to calling a girl a bitch because she’s confident or a slut because she enjoys sex. It’s just a derisive, limiting label, often delivered as the euphemistic Q-word. “Oh, what’s that? You crochet small replicas of fruit? How quirky!” (Never mind that crochet is an interest you’ve had since you were little and that brought you closer to your grandmother.) “You’re wearing that polka-dot dress again? Your style is sooo quirky.” “Whoa! You’re eating yogurt? Quirky! I have no idea why, but you have pink streaks in your hair, so I’m just assuming.”
There are many things I do that no one would describe as cute, including: interrupting people midsentence to share my opinion, being judgmental, and writing furiously on feminist themes in Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book. And I don’t really want to let go of some of my twee-er tendencies like figuring out how many ways I can incorporate Funfetti cake mix into my diet or embroidering portraits of my favorite pop stars.
Maybe one day I’ll have nothing but black turtlenecks in my closet and green juice in my fridge, who knows? In the meantime, though, I’m not bad at being a woman (or a feminist) if I’m not embodying the refined courage of Eleanor Roosevelt combined with the fierce independence of Beyoncé combined with the physical strength of Xena: Warrior Princess. My tastes are not designed to attract disaffected men whose lives lack zing. They’re definitely partly an attempt to cling to my childhood—or, more precisely, to hold on to my enthusiasm for life. But honestly, who cares? If I want to be curious and goofy and make crafts, who’m I hurting? I’m not “manic-pixie-ing myself,” so please don’t manic-pixie me. ♦
Groundhog Day (1993)
Saying this movie is a masterpiece is like saying Sriracha sauce is merely a good hot sauce and not the greatest hot sauce ever invented to slather on every edible thing that exists. Bill Murray plays an incorrigible narcissist whose job as a local weatherman takes him to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the Groundhog Day celebration, a yearly tradition he loathes. Because of a blizzard, Bill Murray—who in the most classic of ironic twists is named Phil just like the groundhog—is snowed in for the night, only to wake up and realize that he is stuck in some kind of cruel time warp that forces him to relive the same day (Groundhog Day!) over and over again. So what happens to a person who has experienced the same day thousands of times? Well, if you’re Bill Murray’s character, you punch away annoying people in the street, experiment with all the different ways to kill yourself, take up all the hobbies that you never had the time for before, and obsessively try to win over your producer, played by Andie MacDowell, even though she is so kind and pure-hearted that it’s almost obscene and would never love a tainted, miserable lout like you (you = Bill Murray; congratulations). You know how sometimes you try to do that ill-advised thing of becoming the person you think the person you like wants to be with? And you know how it never really works because you can’t really be someone else’s idea of a good person because you can only ever be who you are? Well, imagine if you have one million chances to try out every single combination of personalities and pick-up lines on this hypothetical crush, and BOOM, you’ve just imagined the premise of Groundhog Day. As funny as this movie is, it’s also kind of…profound? Because what is life anyway but a series of the same fucking thing over and over and over again? And god forbid you should be the Debbie Downer who points that out and refuses to smile at the scripted rituals that the rest of society expects to you participate in. Somewhere between misanthropy and clarity, we find our anti-hero, Bill Murray, doing what he does best, being a hilarious asshole you can’t help rooting for, and if you think I just got deep, well girl, you just thought right. —Jenny
Annie Hall (1977)
This is the kind of movie to watch when you are down on love troubles, because it will help you keep a sense of humor about the stupid complexity of it all. (Until you give in and watch Music and Lyrics and question the meaning of life through tears and Oreo bites, that is.) It is about a relationship that exists and then doesn’t, told in flashbacks and monologues and…I swear it’s less pretentious-artsy than it sounds, because it is also FUNNY and ridiculous and Woody Allen hates himself too much for it to be that serious. Diane Keaton is amazing, but I always get annoyed when Annie Hall is classified as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, because she has her own aspirations and (SPOILER) fulfills them, regardless of the lovable-loser Woody Allen character, whatever his name is—he basically plays himself in every movie and they may as well all be called Woody Allen by Woody Allen Starring Woody Allen Playing Woody Allen. But this one, this one is called Annie Hall. And you will fall in lurve with her. —Tavi
Fatal Attraction (1987) Fatal Attraction is the best stalker movie ever made. I think a lot of people will call me lame when I say I’ve seen it literally 20+ times, but whatever, I just love crazy people too much. Glenn Close plays Alex Forrest, a cool and sexy businesswoman who can apparently wear a white linen suit in the pouring rain and still look awesome. Michael Douglas plays Dan Gallagher, a high-powered dude who has it all (great job, cute kid, loving wife) but because he’s a dumb loserface he has a one-night stand with Alex Forrest. But it’s more than a one-night stand for Alex…WAY more. Then she goes nuts and it’s the greatest. Like, “Hey, Dan, play this cassette that I made for you while you’re in the car driving home from work. Oh btw, it’s a tape of me threatening you like crazy. Oh btw again, I’m driving in the car behind you as you listen to this tape!” Or the movie will cut to a scene of just Alex sitting by the telephone, flicking the light on and off, waiting for a call from Dan. Creepy, right? See it and weep! —Hazel
Swimfan (2002) Swimfan is like a Fatal Attraction for teenage audiences. The story goes: boy sleeps with girl, girl seems normal, everything seems cool, but actually the girl is a nutcase who will kill in the name of an obsessive crush. Awww, now that’s love! Swimfan is sort of cheesy and a little unbelievable, but that always translates to “BEST MOVIE EVER” in my book. Some intense cello is played! Some sex is had in a swimming pool! Some aggressive IMing happens! Also who doesn’t love a twisted teen? Definitely not me, ’cause I live for that shit. —Hazel
Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
This movie is just so ridiculous and happy and secretly creepy that I just don’t care to socialize with anyone who cannot find SOME kind of good or humor in it. Ann-Margret plays KIM MCAFEE, a fangirl who is nominated to kiss Elvis-esque teen heartthrob CONRAD BIRDIE on television, but she is dating the very jealous HUGO PEABODY. I know! You already love it! It is made only more amazing by the fact that Ann-Margret DATED Elvis in real life! She is so dreamy in this, and all the ’50s clothes will make you swoon. There is also a marriage subplot with Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, which I would be all yawn about since it’s about olds, but it’s the chimney sweep from Mary Poppins and the shower victim from Psycho, so it’s actually one of my favorite subplots on planet earth! God, what else? Oh yeah, it is kind of sexist and weird but like, one of those things that is too old for it to be worth being angry about, so you just have to roll with it and think about how fun it would be to be a full-blown Justin Bieber fan just to be part of the weirdly spiritual activity of screaming with a mob of other girls at a male in tight pantaloons. —Tavi
The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995)
This movie was so good I was crooning at the screen and clawing at my face with love and appreciation throughout. I’m so happy it came into my life. It’s really rare that I find a film that I connect to as a queer person, you know? But I could see myself in this. It had little moments that made me go, “That happened to me too! I get you 100%!” That is so rare. Not that heterosexual films aren’t enjoyable and their romances not enthralling (if you’re a bird, I’m a bird, Ryan Gosling) but this film really gets me. For example: the scene at the diner, which showed the dilemma of holding hands. Just HOLDING HANDS with your honey. So simple, right? But for us homos, it’s super complicated. I’ve been on the subway with my lady and felt so afraid to hold her hand for fear of other people’s reactions, so this felt 100% legit. This movie is so romantic because it has these moments where you can see the genuine joy of two people just getting to know each other and being with each other and getting to know themselves at the same time. It’s not all happy, and the lives of the main characters aren’t perfect, but overall this film was like a big hug and a reassuring pep talk from a big sister about how normal being gay is and how it is OK. WATCH IT. —Arabelle
A good girl falls in love with the bad boy, and all hell breaks loose. Fear is like a Lifetime movie but with a not-terrible ending. Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) is courted by David (Mark Walhberg), a boy from “the wrong side of the tracks”—and also obviously a man and not a boy, but I guess this is Hollywood—and even though the first time he appears you’re totally screaming “BAD NEWS BEARS” at the screen, Nicole can’t hear you and so their relationship progresses until it climaxes in possibly the best rollercoaster scene ever to be captured in a movie. Like in all good horror movies, after Nicole loses her virginity, shit gets crazy and David gets violent and jealous and gives himself a tattoo on his chest that says “NICOLE 4 EVA,” which is all the proof you need to know that dude is deranged (other signs include stealing a picture of her family and replacing the dad’s head with his own). The movie gets super intense for sure, but mostly it is full of hilariously bad decisions that can really be traced back to Nicole’s best friend, Margo (Alyssa Milano). Actually, now that I really think about it, this movie is REALLY the classic tale of “good girl led astray by her totally nutso BFF.” I mean, they go to a party and Margo immediately starts grinding on the ONE dude who’s obviously in his 30s and DEFINITELY a criminal. You will cringe, you will laugh, you will scream, you will listen to the same Bush song like three or four times, but in the end, you will love this movie. Definitely watch with friends for maximum LOLs. —Laia
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Early on Jim Carrey’s character says, “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” That line is me in a nutshell and after hearing it, I was a goner—I got a big ol’ crush on this movie. The unconventional love story is about a man who undergoes a non-surgical procedure to have his ex-girlfriend (played by the always awesome Kate Winslet) erased from his memory after learning that she’s done the same with her memories of him. It’s a relationship movie, but it’s also more than that. Eternal Sunshine looks at the importance of memory and how the things that we’d rather not remember are sometimes inextricably tied to the moments that we do want to hang on to. It’s science fiction that doesn’t really feel like science fiction. It’s fun, it’s magical, and it’s also sad in very subtle, beautiful way. —Amber
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
This is one of the best “romantic comedies” to ever exist. It is about Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan trying to answer the age-old (fake) question of whether heterosexual women and men can ever be just friends, with no desire to have sex with each another. It’s a romantic comedy, so you can probably guess exactly how everything pans out, but you will find yourself caring about these characters so much that it is worth watching even though you know the plot won’t really keep you on the edge of your seat. Meg Ryan is just so sweet and funny and Billy Crystal is just so sweet and funny and by the end you feel like you’ve eaten Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes, that is how sweet and funny it is. It is filled with gems such as the “white man’s overbite” and the fake-orgasm diner scene. As my dad likes to remind me frequently, we have eaten in that deli, along with billions of other New Yorkers and tourists HARRY AND SALLY. —Tavi
Young Adult (2011)
This movie blew me away. Diablo Cody wrote it, that’s why. The plot: YA author Mavis Gary (pushing 40, freshly divorced, hung over every AM) gets an email announcement from her high school sweetheart’s wife, proudly announcing the birth of their child. Mavis becomes obsessed and decides that she’s going to get her ex back. She is the only member of this karass to have left their tiny hometown; she drives back there listening to the same song from an old make-out cassette tape the entire way (“The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub). This movie is not pretty—I experienced some pretty sick heavy cathartic discomfort—but it was so worth it. (Your experience will be entirely different.) This is an important movie that gives some much needed insight into (my) Generation X(cellent). The details will amaze you, as will Patton Oswalt. —Sonja
Harold and Maude (1971)
SO MANY TEARS. This is about a morbid young man who drives a hearse and a delightful old lady who introduces him to hookah smoking, grand theft auto, and, most important, love. When I say SO MANY TEARS, I mean sad-happy tears. Like how I get when I think about how beautiful and strange life is, or when I successfully get those Sing-a-ma-jig things to harmonize while I am at the Jewel. Also, the soundtrack is entirely Cat Stevens! Also, it was made in the ’70s, so everything is grainy and saturated and pretty! Wahhhhh. —Tavi
Kicking and Screaming (1995)
Ostensibly about love and post-collegiate life, this movie, Noah Baumbach’s first, is really about a group of friends who are obsessed with staying young and hip and witty, and are constantly trying to outdo one another. Extra points for super-’90s fashion, and one of the best ensemble casts ever: Eric Stoltz (Some Kind of Wonderful), Josh Hamilton (The House of Yes), Olivia D’Abo (The Wonder Years), Chris Eigeman (Metropoltian), Parker Posey (Party Girl), Jason Wiles (Beverly Hills, 90210), and more. —Emma S.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
Whenever I talk about Pretty in Pink, I spend 10 seconds discussing the plot and the next six hours talking about Duckie Dale’s clothes. Like, sometimes I watch this and think, Duckie is the best! and other times I’m all, Ugh, Duckie, you are venturing into total Brian Krakow territory, and also the knowledge that you will one day star in Two and a Half Men makes me want to weep! but I always appreciate the clothes. I mean: bolo ties, checkered vests, creepers, fedoras, plaid pants??? It was like a thrift store threw up on him in the best way possible. AND THE OTIS REDDING SCENE!!! Oh god, the Otis Redding scene. But there is more to this movie than just Duckie, I swear. Molly Ringwald plays Andie Walsh, her coolest/most iconic role ever. Andie is a DIY queen with a teen bedroom to die for. And she works at a record store and her boss has the BEST fucking hair and dresses. Then there’s the kickass soundtrack! And the strangely appealing young James Spader! And the Otis Redding scene! You guys, I really love the Otis Redding scene. —Anna
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
Of all the teen movies written by John Hughes, this has to be the most underappreciated. Eric Stoltz plays Keith, a working-class kid who asks out super-popular Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson). When Amanda says yes, Keith’s platonic BFF Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) starts to realize that she has feelings for him. If you love Pretty in Pink, you’ll love this one too. In fact, the two movies complement each other—not only do they deal with some of the same issues, but both have protagonists with red hair. Anyone who has (or has ever had) a crush on a close friend needs to watch this movie. Better yet, watch it with your crush! Seriously. Do it. —Amber
Say Anything (1989)
John Cusack’s character, Lloyd Dobler, became famous for being the iconic Perfect Boyfriend and for holding a boombox over his head outside Diane Court’s bedroom window. Diane is this unattainable girl, but what places her so far out of reach is that she’s “a brain” and has ambition, not that she’s beautiful (even though she is; I mean hello she is Ione Skye). And what makes Lloyd perfect isn’t that he’s super hot and successful (he isn’t either); it’s that he’s devoted to Diane and happy to play a supportive role in her big life plans. This is one of the best romantic comedies of ALL TIME and if you don’t agree you have a piece of chewed-up garbage where your heart oughtta be. Watch it with your crush, and you never know what will happen! I saw it (in the theater! I’m old) with a TOTALLY PLATONIC buddy and as we walked out he asked if I wanted to be boyfriend/girlfriend. Say Anything is a secret love potion! —Anaheed
This movie really creeped me out, but in a really really good way. I was also weirded out and confused and hopeful—basically, Vertigo is a rollercoaster ride. The fever of James Stewart’s emotions is palpable, and I mean, dressing your new girlfriend up as the women you used to be in love with is a little on the obsessive side. The storyline is really arresting, and the visuals are really washed out and eerie. I still haven’t forgotten the nightmarish green of the hotel sign, or Kim Novak’s profile. All in all, pretty perfect. —Naomi
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
There are at least 500 different reasons why I’m crazy about this adorable anti-romantic comedy, but because it would take 500 seconds (give or take) for you to read that list, I’ll give you the top five. As a kind of homage to the film’s nonlinear narrative, the numbers are non-sequential. (3) There’s a Hall & Oates dance interlude. (5) Joseph Gordon-Levitt sings “Here Comes Your Man” and if you close your eyes, you can pretend he’s singing to you. (2) Zooey Deschanel sings “Sugar Town” and if you close your eyes, you can pretend she’s singing to you. (4) This quote: “Just ’cause some cute girl likes the same bizzaro crap you do, that doesn’t make her your soul mate.” Those of us who crush hard and take our pop culture seriously should always remember these wise words. (1) The movie is cute and quirky but it’s also one of the most honest depictions of a relationship (the highs, the lows, the end, the beginning, the stillness, the expectations, the exasperation, the Sid and Nancy of it all) that I’ve ever seen. —Amber
In high school, I was told by my teachers that it was OK to be an outcast because one day I would turn my weirdness into art, into something that other people would value and appreciate, but no one ever mentioned what happens to the outcasts who don’t achieve redemption. This documentary by Terry Zwigoff (who directed Ghost World), about the radical comic-book artist R. Crumb and his brothers, Charles and Maxon, takes a weird, tender, and intimate look at both of those possible outcomes, contained in this one family. The brothers grew up fearing their abusive disciplinarian of a father and being humiliated by their peers. Two of them don’t fare so well: Charles, the oldest one, who drew comics as a kid and influenced his brothers to start drawing them too, eventually becomes a middle-aged shut-in living in his mother’s basement, medicating himself against depression and anxiety until he’s nearly catatonic. (He killed himself not long after this movie came out.) The youngest one, Max, becomes a self-punishing ascetic who sleeps nightly on a bed of nails. Meanwhile, Robert becomes the legendary artist R. Crumb, lauded and reviled by critics for his brilliant, garish, often perverted, drawings. (Cue Le Tigre singing about John Cassavetes: “Misogynist? Genius?” Crumb, like Cassavetes, is probably both.) He somehow managed to turn his obsessions into art. But what about the rest of us? What about people who don’t have the ability to save ourselves from the madness of our obsessions? When Max calmly reveals to the camera that he’s a registered sex offender, it becomes clear how scary and tenuous that line is between a sick obsession as in “that’s a sick-ass Nirvana shrine right there” and “that’s a sick-ass creep right there.” And man, I really want to stay on the right side of that line. —Jenny
When I was a kid, I never thought twice about my voice. All of my friends sounded just like me—quick, high-pitched, and perpetually bubbly. Anyone who heard us knew where we were from: the San Fernando Valley, a suburban area of Los Angeles made famous in the 1980s by Moon Unit Zappa’s hit song “Valley Girl,” in which she mimicked our rhythms and cadences. See for yourself:
(A modern-day example of “Val-speak” might be the Kardashian sisterhood: they live about 10 minutes away from my childhood home.)
My voice is the calling card I never asked for and that, try as I might, I can’t throw away. Every time I embark on a new enterprise with the vague idea of redefining myself on my own terms (a job, a move, a friend, a date), I expose my Valley-girl roots the moment words begin to tumble out of my mouth, despite my best attempts to—as my high-school drama teacher once commanded me—speak at least five times slower than I perceive myself to be speaking.
The first time I remember feeling defined by my voice was at drama camp, where I yearned to play soulful romantic leads or brassy ball-busters, but was consistently cast as the ditz, the flirt, or anyone with a Southern accent. (According to most playwrights, Southern girls are both flirty and ditzy.)
In middle school I spent hours upon hours writing poetry on LiveJournal, not so much because I liked poetry, but because I loved constructing my identity solely through sans-serif fonts and an excessive use of enjambment. I made friends through the site, cool girls that I won over with thrift store finds and references to the Smiths. “Your voice doesn’t sound anything like I thought it would” was always the first thing they said when we talked on the phone. I worried: were they disappointed that my voice didn’t match my sophisticated online persona?
When I went away to college up north, at UC Berkeley, I worked hard to drop the “likes” from my vernacular and stop raising my voice at the end of every sentence, making each statement of fact into a question. It was easier to do this once I’d left the Valley, because I wasn’t around as many girls who sounded like extras from Clueless.
But I could never shake the speedy tempo or the ebullient patter. I started feeling judged and it hurt. Some memories:
—My freshman year of college, my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend and her friends made up a code name for me so they could write mean Facebook comments about us. (Nice, right?) My pseudonym was “mouse.” Squeak squeak.
—A creative-writing professor told me, in front of the entire class, that my writing reminded him of Henry James, but that he never had any idea what I was saying when I raised my hand during discussion period. I barely registered the compliment.
—This anecdote really makes me cringe, but once, a guy asked me if I was on cocaine because I was talking so quickly on our first date. I sounded “speedy,” he said.
—When I studied abroad in Buenos Aires my junior year, I was excited to put my six years of honors Spanish to use. But my friends in my program made fun of my inability to roll my Rs, and one too many Argentine told me I sounded “like the kids on The O.C.” so—and I still regret this—I stopped speaking Spanish except when necessary.
—A comment I heard dozens and dozens of times: “It wasn’t until I started listening to what you were saying that I realized you were smart, HA HA HA.”
As a result, I started to feel—and honestly, often still feel—that I constantly have to prove that my voice is not representative of the person I really am.
(Before I continue: You’re probably dying to know what I sound like, right? I had all but given up trying to think of an accurate celebrity analogy until I remembered: Lizzie McGuire. Not Hilary Duff, who played her, but Lizzie. This is an acceptable way for a 13-year-old girl to talk, but I am a 24-year-old woman.)
Since people tend to infer that I’m a ditz when they meet me, I constantly stress about presenting the more “intellectual” side of myself. But lately I’ve been wondering if the issue is larger than my uncontainable inner Lizzie. What does it really mean to “talk like a girl”?
In a recent Jezebel piece titled “Are Women’s High-Pitched Ladyvoices Holding Them Back?” Erin Gloria Ryan wrote, “Research shows that people prefer listening to instructions from deep, rich baritones over nags from high tittering trills.” I was disappointed when, instead of bemoaning the survey and its results, commenters made fun of squeaky voices or self-consciously wondered if they had “ladyvoices,” too.
Admittedly, it’s hard not to think in stereotypes when it comes to female voices. I’ve joked that I symbolize the worst parts of both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Fast-Talking Dame. I’m a tad manic, but not mysterious enough to be a Pixie, which I wouldn’t want to be anyway; and I’m snappy, but not sultry enough to embody the Dames I respect.
But we ladies really don’t have that many choices when it comes to how we should speak! There’s breathy, little-girl Marilyn. Heavily accented, over-the-top sultry, like Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. So many pejorative terms: screechy, shrill, whiny. And think: when do people criticize male voices? Not as often, but sometimes if they’re not “manly” enough—then they’re fey, lisping, or adenoidal. Hey, wait! We belittle women for having “girly” voices…but we belittle men for having “girly” voices, too?
Maybe the problem is not so much a girl’s voice, but the fact that she is a girl.
Feminist notions aside, I still can’t help feeling sometimes like it’s just not cool to have an effervescent voice if you want to be a serious person, a sexy person, or an important person. But then I realize that, despite my insecurities, I’ve never really lost out on any opportunities because of the way I speak. I’ve written front-page newspaper stories, won scholarships, and developed close relationships with professors and bosses. I have amazing friends, and guys somehow still like me, even though I talk a mile per minute. There are also some benefits to coming across as “ditzy”: I’m a great interviewer, because people feel comfortable telling me their secrets. I’m nonjudgmental, because I know from experience how much it hurts to be characterized as a “ditz” or “bitch” or “slut” based on a first impression.
For most of my life, I thought my voice highlighted the qualities I dislike about myself: my Valley-girl past, my impetuousness, my impatience, my inability to chill out. But my voice also reflects my best traits: I think very quickly, I’m energetic, and I’m adventurous. I’m empathetic, a communicator, and constantly engaged. These are qualities that I know the people in my life appreciate, the qualities that, as corny as it sounds, make me who I am.
So I’m working on it. Just don’t ask me to read this out loud. ♦
Katie J.M. Baker is a writer living in New York. You can learn more about her here.
Half of me bleeds Picnic at Hanging Rock and the other half Suspiria, therefore I love Cracks. We will forgive the title (not as bad as, say…Gigli), for that, dear reader, is the only flaw! This movie is BEAUTIFUL. The setting is an elite British boarding school for girls. What more can I say? Fairy-tale landscapes, love triangles, poetry, magic, semi-restrained histrionics, and bullying, all of which is puppeteered by the girls’ enigmatic diving instructor, Miss G. Everyone is stunning, and the costumes are splendid. You will have key pieces for your wardrobe figured out by the end credits (I especially loved the colorful silk head scarves tied in big side bows, flapper style). But aside from fashion, there’s plenty to mull over in Cracks. Existential things like: why do humans do the things we do? —Sonja
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Staying up all night to battle zombies is probably not very fun. However, staying up all night to watch other people battle zombies is most definitely awesome! And if you are planning a zombie movie marathon or simply trying to get your zombie fix while The Walking Dead is on midseason break, you must start with George A. Romero’s late-’60s classic, Night of the Living Dead. It’s shot in black-and-white (I do not recommend the colorized versions) and has all of those old-movie charms like the loud eerie music that totally clues you in that something scary and awful is about to happen. Though it’s not Shaun of the Dead funny, it’s more cheesy than 28 Days Later scary because it’s so dated. You’ll probably want to slap the protagonist Barbra, who escapes a zombie attack and spends the rest of the movie alternating between catatonia and hysteria. But you’ll still thoroughly enjoy the film if you embrace the cheese and revel in the old-school zombie awesomeness. They’re slow-moving but crafty! Radiation from outer space is to blame! And there’s organ eating! Even though they movie’s not in color, it’s still pretty gross, and caused a lot of controversy when it first came out because there was no rating system, so kids went to see it and were traumatized. I’m not sure what all the fuss was about since my dad showed me this movie when I was 10 and I turned out perfectly normal… —Stephanie
Party Monster (2003)
Everything about this movie screams bad influence: sex, drugs, murder, Marilyn Manson cameo, flagrant sexual ambiguity. The first time I watched it was at a sleepover, and two of the other girls ended up getting picked up by their parents because they were “uncomfortable.” Shock value aside, though, this is a good movie. It tells the story of the murder of a drug dealer in the late-’80s/early-’90s New York club scene. Party Monster creates a fantasy world so detailed and convincing that you’ll find yourself staying up all night on the internet researching the real case to find out what’s true and what’s not (spoiler: most of it is, horrifyingly, true). Macaulay Caulkin is spot-on as club kid Michael Alig; and Chloe Sevigny nails the part of his girlfriend, Gitsie, and looks so, so glamorous while doing it. What’s more, Party Monster’s costumes make Lady Gaga look like she shops at Talbots. The glitter budget for this movie must have been huge. —Jamie
Up All Night
Thursdays, 9:30 PM, NBC
The best thing about this awesome show, which stars Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as a couple adjusting to life with a new baby, is the fact that Reagan (Applegate) and Chris (Arnett) are both cool, intelligent, funny people that don’t make me want to kill myself or shoot the TV. You know how usually in TV sitcoms the mom stays at home and the dad is a total idiot who can barely tie his shoelaces and is all “I know you’re a liberated woman but WHERE’S MAH DINNER?”? Well, this show is totally not that. Reagan is a producer for her friend’s talk show, Ava, a kinda Oprah-esque situation hosted by the always magical Maya Rudolph, while Chris leaves his high-powered lawyer job to be a stay-at-home dad. That’s right. Stay-at-home DAD. And like, there’s no weird gay jokes about it or Who’s the Boss?-type situations either. It’s just normal. And normalcy being the salient trait of a couple whose first kiss was at a Tenacious D concert fills me with joy and restores my faith in humanity and in the future. After you’ve been laughing at this show for half an hour, you’re left with warm and fuzzy feelings inside that make you love the world. (And also butterflies in my stomach anytime Arnett is on TV). This show rules! You can even watch it with your parents without being embarrassed, and that counts for A LOT. —Laia
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Watching this movie will cause you to make an epic ’70s rock playlist and hit up your local thrift store in search of bellbottoms and puka shell necklaces. I rewatch it regularly because it’s one of those comedies that work like comfort food when you’re sick. I saw it for the first time my freshman year of high school and actually sort of wished that I’d been hazed by the seniors. Sure, that would mean that an evil young Parker Posey would be covering me with condiments and yelling at me to fry like bacon on the asphalt—or, if I was a guy, I’d be chased down by a young Ben Affleck, whose character, according to rumor, had flunked just so he could paddle incoming freshman again—but after the humiliation was over, one of the cooler seniors like Jason London (who plays the only football player I’ve ever sort of related to, Randall “Pink” Floyd) might invite me to the ultimate kegger in the woods, where I might get out to make out with the adorable stoner Slater, who provided the blueprint for all of my early high school crushes. Oh, and thank you, Matthew McConaughey, for your performance of the line “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man—I get older, they stay the same age” taught me to avoid the creepy older dude at the party. —Stephanie
American Graffiti (1973)
Drag racing and drive-ins frame this classic coming-of-age story about teenagers cruising the main strip of their Northern California town. Released in 1973 but set in 1962, director George Lucas (pre-Star Wars) beautifully captures the look (the cars are, indeed, “bitchin’”), the sound (songs by artists like Frankie Lymon, the Platters, Fats Domino, and the Beach Boys are used throughout) and the innocence of the era (young girls hop into cars with guys they don’t even know!), as well as the magic that seems to hover in the air when you’re in high school, aimlessly driving around with your crew at night. Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard—both staggeringly young—play best friends, preparing to leave for college. Dreyfuss’s character, Curt, spends his last night in town searching for a blonde goddess in a T-Bird, while Howard’s character, Steve, tries to patch things up with his girlfriend after telling her that they should see other people while he’s away. American Graffiti is just one of those movies that everyone needs to watch—if not for its historical significance or low-key awesomeness then definitely to witness the adorably naïf performance of a young Harrison Ford as a cowboy-hat-wearing drag racer. —Amber
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
I am pretty sure I saw this on a plane. I would be surprised if I rented it. I saw so many movies with Michael Cera in them, they all began to run together, as if 2008 was just a long montage of his nervous virgin hands fluttering in the air like puppet birds and the affections of too-hot girls that he loved/hated/had impregnated passed him like a teenage ship in the mixtape night. I remember I was surprised that I liked it, and that the chaos of being in a band was fairly well-represented. There may also be a scene with funny puking where I may have LOL’d. I would watch it again if it was on TV or if I was at someone’s house. Kat Dennings is always good at what she is doing. —Jessica
I thought it would be like a two-hour Converse ad, and sometimes it is, but it’s also amazingly romantic and fun and has Kat Dennings and Michael Cera at their very cutest and most charming. Plus there are some of the funniest drunk/puking scenes in movie history. Nick & Norah mimics perfectly that wandery, hopeful feeling of a really really long night spent searching for something—you don’t know what’s going to happen, and it gets boring sometimes, but then it gets fun again, and because it’s a movie, the thing you secretly hoped would happen, does. Is that too much of a spoiler? This is a romantic comedy, so you knew they’d get together, right? But what they bond over is the music they love, and that’s pretty great. If you’ve ever lived in NYC, it’s fun to spot all the places you’ve hung out with your friends. Pretend that the embarrassing subplot about how Kat Dennings has never had an orgasm didn’t happen. —Anaheed
Ronna, facing eviction, is willing to do whatever it takes to pay her rent; Simon is headed to Las Vegas with the credit card he swiped from a drug dealer; and Adam and Zack, two fidgety soap opera stars, are looking to buy some ecstasy. Go takes place over the course of one wild 24-hour period, and its three interconnected stories unfold at a thrilling pace. This movie is darkly hilarious, and the way it plays with time is genuinely cool. There’s also a young, Dawson’s Creek-era Katie Holmes and a cat with the ability to read minds (sort of), and if you pay close attention you might just see Cindy Sanders from Freaks and Geeks. —Amber
Rock ’n’ Roll High School (1979)
At this high school (where the students RULE), they love rock ’n’ roll so much that the teachers keep having nervous breakdowns and quitting…that is, till the iron lady Miss Togar shows up! It’s fun and silly and begs for audience participation like, say, a food-fight-dance-a-thon-while-pulling-an-all-nighter? And it’s got P.J. Soles from Carrie! And then there’s the soundtrack! It starts off with a rare Paul McCartney/Wings song and proceeds with Todd Rundgren, Fleetwood Mac, and beeeeeeeyond. Oh, and of course, the Ramones (who, by the way, aren’t even brothers). —Sonja
200 Cigarettes (1999)
I used to watch movie one over and over again when I was in high school. I mean, I’d finish it and then immediately rewatch it. And that was in the VCR days, so I’d actually have to rewind the cassette—how’s that for dedication? Set on New Year’s Eve, 1981, 200 Cigarettes follows several young revelers as they roam the streets of Manhattan’s East Village, looking for romance. These young hopefuls include Paul Rudd, Courtney Love, Janeane Garofalo, Kate Hudson, Dave Chappelle, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffmann, the brothers Affleck, and ELVIS COSTELLO. When I was younger, I was attracted to this comedy because of the amazing cast, but now I have a much greater appreciation for the dialogue—the back and forth between Love and Rudd is particularly smart—as well as how perfectly, and often hilariously, it captures the disparity between our expectations for a given evening and how things actually play out. —Amber
Last month, a friend of mine came to visit and brought the first four seasons of Skins (the British version) with her. We went through all of them in two weeks. The show follows various groups of teenagers through their last two years of college (like junior and senior year of American high school). There’s a lot of sex, drugs, and drinking, but whether or not you’ve led a hard-partying lifestyle, the characters will suck you in, and many of the issues that they deal with—from understanding your own sexuality and coming out to struggles with anorexia and mental health—are rarely portrayed with such honesty and emotion. I found characters like Cassie and Effy immediately fascinating because in all my book-reading and TV-viewing, I’ve never met anyone like them (especially the kooky, adorable Cassie). Then there were kids like Sid and Chris, who despite some poor decision-making clearly have good hearts and I couldn’t help rooting for and weeping over during some incredible storylines about family and grief. But the true sign that Skins is a well-crafted show is that I also came to care about characters I didn’t like at first—and to a degree still don’t—such as Tony and Cook. The one thing I will warn you about is almost the entire cast are replaced every two seasons, which I found jarring, as I got really invested in the first group and haven’t been quite so into subsequent casts. But once you are hooked on Skins, you’re hooked, so even though it means meeting another new group of people, I’ll definitely be watching season five ASAP, in preparation for the upcoming sixth season of this awesome show. —Stephanie
After Hours (1985)
Back in the mid-’80s, when I was in high school, I went on a bad date to see this weird Martin Scorsese comedy experiment at the local art-house theater. I didn’t like the boy and said yes only because I was flattered (I don’t think anyone had asked me on a proper date before) and because the boy in question was one of two dudes in my high school with a New Wave haircut. I spent the whole time blocking him from groping my boob (he actually did that whole pretend-he’s-yawning-to-reach-his-arm-over-my-shoulder move in real life), so since that repulsive eve this film has had bad associations for me. But when I rewatched it last night without an aspiring boob-toucher at my side, I found it endearingly goofy and pretentious as only an art-house film about “downtown New York” from 1985 can be. The casually corrupt main character, Paul, is as much of a cad as my high school date, but Rosanna Arquette is great as an early example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and is Catherine O’Hara (the mom from Beetlejuice) ever not glorious? The story takes place over the course of one night that becomes a swirling nightmare where EVERYTHING goes wrong in a way that makes you go AAAAAAAAAAH! and NOOOOOOOOO! and bite your nails clean off. Soundtrack has Joni Mitchell and Bad Brains and Peggy Lee. —Anaheed