The XX Factor

The Era of Great Parents in Teen Movies Is Upon Us

In the ‘80s classic Sixteen Candles Samantha Baker’s family is terrible. OK, maybe terrible is too strong of a word–her parents aren’t physically abusive, nor are they verbally cruel, but they’re terribly normal in the way that they have no clue what’s going on in her life. And they don’t really seem to care all that much. After a horrendous day of high school during which her sex quiz accidentally ends up in the hands of the most popular guy in school, her crush, Jake Ryan, Baker comes home to discover that no one in her family actually remembered her 16th birthday. In a line: Her parents are a cause of her teenage malaise, not an escape from it.

The same goes for most teen coming-of-age romances of the past two decades. Almost all of John Hughes’ beloved characters have parents who just don’t–or won’t–understand them. Judd Nelson’s bad-boy character in The Breakfast Club is subject to his father’s thirsty knuckles on a regular basis. Ringwald’s rich-girl character doesn’t fare too well in the parental department either; she confides to the other after-school detainees: “I don’t think either one of them gives a shit about me. It’s like they use me just to get back at each other.” Even though later notable teen movies like American Pie may feature parents who are more loving, they’re still typically clueless about what their kids are going through. Jim’s dad, played by Eugene Levy, memorably makes his son cringe the entire movie with well-intentioned, but ultimately oblivious lines like, “Now, do you know what a clitoris is?” and “I have to admit, you know, I did the fair bit of masturbating when I was a little younger. I used to call it stroking the salami, yeah, you know, pounding the old pud.”

But in recent years, Hollywood has introduced a slew of teen rom-coms that include parents who are with it. Cool parents. Parents whose kids actually like them. Think of the parents in Mean Girls –they raised their daughter in East Africa, as a fairly precocious citizen of the world, and they’re both fully trusting of her. And their well-adjusted teenage daughter, played by Lindsay Lohan, has absolutely no beef with them, except maybe inadvertently in that her homeschooling experience didn’t exactly prepare her for the jungle that is high school. Then there’s Juno MacGuff, the wise-cracking, utterly self-confident, impregnated daughter of Diablo Cody’s Juno , a movie that offers, according to Roger Ebert, “the only lovable parents in the history of teen comedies.” It’s true–the MacGuff parents are wise and reasonable, supportive of any choice their daughter makes while still being believable as loving parents dealing with their teenager’s pregnancy. Oh, and they’re charming and funny, just like their daughter. When Juno enters the living room looking like she’s about to burst with baby, her dad greets her with, “Hey there, big puffy version of Junebug!”

The most recent iteration of awesome parents in a teen film were the almost unbelievably cool parents of Emma Stone’s character, Olive Penderghast, in Easy A . While Olive embarks on a real-life performance of the Scarlet Letter , in an attempt to become known as a “harlot” in her high school, her parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, take each step in remarkable stride. Stone gets sent to the principal’s office for calling an obnoxious prude a “twat,” and her Dad, trusting that his daughter has a good head on her shoulders, whispers to her, “I’m sure that girl deserved it.” She starts wearing lingerie bodices with scarlet A s’ embroidered on front, and her parents actually encourage her odd political statement, telling her, “Give ‘em hell.” And it’s impossible to watch Easy A and not notice how the family movie nights and dinners seem to be a hell of a lot more fun than the cliched high-school parties Olive attends and opts out of early.

It’s worth noting that the recent movies in which the parents are decidedly cool, are the ones that center on amazingly self-possessed, well-rounded female characters. And it makes sense–if these characters are going to high schools that define a size 6 as fat (like in Mean Girls ) or uphold the double standard that a girl who has sex is a slut while a boy is a stud (like in Easy A ), great parents serve as a buffer against all of the nonsense that can plague even the smartest of teen girls. If the superb parents are the explanation behind the intelligent and witty leading-lady teens that have been popping up on-screen over the past few years, defying the boy-crazy, ditzy stereotype of teenage girls, then please, Hollywood, I’m begging you: Keep churning out the great parents.