Today: July 17, 2024

Teenage Performances

By Garry Mulholland – This week sees the release of Stranded At The Drive-In by Garry Mulholland. The book gives an insight in importance of the much over-looked Teenage Movie film genre. Garry gives Filmjuice an exclusive insight into some of the best and most important Teenage Performances in the genre.

This week sees the release of Stranded At The Drive-In by Garry Mulholland. The book gives an insight intp the importance of the much over-looked Teenage Movies. Garry gives Filmjuice an exclusive insight into some of the best and most important Teenage Performances in the genre.

A great teen
movie both illuminates the life of the adolescent viewer and revives
long-forgotten emotions in an adult.

It also paints a
bigger picture about how we all relate to an increasingly complex and demanding
world which wants us to earn money, make more children and be compliant members
of society while putting so many obstacles in our way that life feels like an
assault course, for most of us, most of the time. The heightened emotions and
anxieties of our teenage years are the perfect cipher through which to play out
rage, laughter, tears, lust and fear, while feeling both grateful and regretful
that we can’t relive our adolescence all over again with the knowledge we have

But the greatest
screenplay, story or director gets scuppered if the star isn’t right. Having
watched 300 or so teen movies to make the final list I write about in Stranded
At The Drive-In, I’ve found myself amazed at just how enduring, intense and
memorable the greatest performances in teen movies are. The list of the ten best
teen movie performers below concentrates on actors who have played teen
protagonists… hence the omission of, for example, Matthew Broderick, who, despite sterling work in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and WarGames, produced his best teen movie
turn as the vengeful mid-life crisis teacher in Alexander Payne’s Election.
His co-star in that high school comedy masterpiece is here, though, along with
nine other stars who have given us iconic performances as charismatic kids.

Malcolm McDowallIf… & A Clockwork Orange
’s 1968 public
school-set call to revolution, and Stanley
’s ultraviolent take on Anthony
’s sci-fi nightmare are arguably the most over-the-top teen movies
ever made. Without the mischievous, charming nastiness of Yorkshire’s McDowell
both movies would have been unwatchably hysterical. His Mick Travis and Alex
are two sides of the same coin: anarchistic forces of nature committed to
destroying society as we know it… Sex Pistols before the fact.
: Undergoing the
Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange. Strapped into a straitjacket and with
cobalt blue eyes clamped open, McDowell communicates the terror of being
tortured like no actor before or since. Rapist psycho Alex kind of deserves it,

James Dean (Rebel Without A Cause)
Dean’s angst-ridden, hyper-emotional
performance as the troubled juvenile delinquent in desperate need of a strong
male role model in the Daddy of all teen movies brought ‘method’ acting
crashing into the mainstream. The fact that 24-year-old Dean had died in a
car-crash just four weeks before the release of Nicholas Ray’s magical message drama made Dean the first teenage
Jesus. Every subsequent teen rebel performance has a little bit of Jimmy’s
slouching, mumbling cool in it.
: ‘You’re tearing me
apart!!!’ Drunk Jim Stark screams his angst at Mom, Dad, Nan and the whole of
American adulthood in a police station full of misunderstood kids.

Ellen Page (Hard Candy & Juno)
Page’s tomboy charm and tiny-but-tough demeanour
made you believe that a 16-year-old daft enough to get pregnant would also be
smart enough to spout super-witty motormouth one-liners like a sugar rush
Groucho Marx in the brilliant Juno. But her breakthrough turn as a teen
avenging angel in the gut-wrenching Hard Candy is arguably even more
accomplished, as she successfully makes Juno The Paedophile Slayer into a
wholly believable and likeable character.
: The All The Young
Dudes scene in Juno, where she unconsciously seduces and then powerfully
humiliates Jason Bateman’s deluded man-child Mark Loring.

Johnny Depp (A Nightmare On Elm Street & Edward Scissorhands)
Actually, all The Deppster really gets to
do in the first Freddy Kruger flick is expire as a fountain of blood. But his
breakthrough role as Tim Burton’s
heartbreaking Punkenstein monster stands as one of the most extraordinary
achievements in cinema. Covered in goth make-up and trussed up in bizarre
leather and garden shears costume, Depp somehow seduced womankind largely
through the use of mime. And nobody fancies a mime.
: ‘Hold me.’ ‘I
can’t.’ An on-the-run Edward ends Winona
’s hopes of scissory love.

Sissy Spacek (Badlands & Carrie)
Spacek’s elfin weirdness was perfect for
the teenage killer’s mad moll in Terrence
’s debut based on the real-life killing spree of Charley Starkweather. But she’ll always be remembered as the abused
and sexually repressed child turning prom night into a telekinetic apocalypse
in Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian
shocker. Have we ever cheered on a mass murderer quite so enthusiastically?
: Prom night. What
else could it be?

Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club & Pretty In Pink)
No movies define the teen genre like ‘80s John Hughes movies. And no one
symbolizes those movies and what they mean to ‘80s kids like The Ginger
Princess. Unlike most previous teen romantic leads, Ringwald wasn’t a
conventionally beautiful dream doll. Her furious pout captured an anger – at
boys, parents and authority figures – that ordinary teen girls entirely related
to. She was pretty great in Sixteen
: Any of the myriad
moments when she fixes Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy or Jon Cryer with that withering thousand-yard sulk.

Rita Tushingham (A Taste Of Honey)
The first great British teen movie stars
the extraordinary Ms Tushingham in Tony
’s 1961 version of Shelagh
’s hit play. Like McDowall, Depp and Spacek, much information about
pregnant Mancunian heroine Jo is conveyed in lovely Rita’s eyes… enormous pools
of lonely fury and fathomless sadness. Morrissey
was so impressed he based an entire pop career on Jo’s defiant working-class
: ‘We don’t ask for
life. We have it thrust upon us.’ Jo wallows in existential gloom in a bleak
churchyard with gay best friend Geoff. Much more entertaining than that sounds.

Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia & Meantime)
No matter how many sidetracks cockney Phil
takes in Blur records and stints in Eastenders, he will always be Jimmy The
Mod, rioting in Brighton and breaking down on Beachy Head in Franc Roddam’s dramatization of The
Who’s concept album. But he’s equally excellent as a runtish dole-queue
smartarse with a mullet in Mike Leigh’s Thatcher-era study of aimless youth,
: The 5.15 scene in
Quadrophenia. Resplendent in tonic suit and guyliner and speeding off his tits,
Jimmy freaks out the bowler-hatted commuters on the train from London to
Brighton, a spine-tingling amalgam of the androgynous culture shocks of A
Clockwork Orange, Ziggy Stardust and Johnny Rotten.

Reece Witherspoon (Pleasantville, Cruel Intentions &
Witherspoon is a unique actress, constantly
twisting her apparent ditzy blonde midget perkiness into portrayals of formidable
women, not least as June Carter Cash in Walk
The Line
. Her origins in teen movies defined her tough but lovable
characters early on, and she has still never bettered her role as Tracy Flick
in high school satire Election, where she plays a hyper-ambitious,
Thatcher-meets-Sarah Palin high school student, crushing all who stand in her
path to power and influence.
: ‘Some people think
I’m an overachiever’. Terrifying Tracy Flick defines the difference between
ethics and morals in Election.

10. Gabourey
The most shocking thing about watching
Precious on DVD is seeing the real-life Ms Sidibe in the extras. A vibrant,
upbeat chatty girl with an accent more Princeton than the projects, Lord only
knows how an actress so young found the well of self-debasing agony that
enabled her to play a morbidly obese abuse victim that has given birth to two
kids by her own father. She nails the role so powerfully that she (and
comedienne Mo’Nique as the evil
mother) bust right through the potential TV movie of the week hysteria of the
original story.
: Precious steals a
bucket of fried chicken, gorges herself and then vomits. Its key to the amount
of sympathy Sidibe generates because, despite the ugliness of the scene, you
still want this girl to overcome the horrors of her home life and triumph
against all odds.

Honourable Mentions: David Bradley in Kes; Stockard
in Grease; Tom Cruise
in Risky Business and Taps; Tim Roth
in Made In Britain and Meantime; Alan
in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off;
Jennifer Grey
in Ferris Bueller and Dirty Dancing; Emily Perkins in Ginger Snaps; Thora
in Ghost World; Joseph
in Mysterious Skin; Michael
in Superbad and Juno; Jean-Pierre
in The 400 Blows; Corey Haim
in Lucas; Clea DuVall in The Faculty
and But I’m A Cheerleader; Melanie
in Heavenly Creatures and But I’m A Cheerleader; Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures; Kristy McNichol in Little Darlings; Sidney Poitier in the Blackboard
Jungle; Marlon Brando in the Wild

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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