The 'tween girls who are fanatical about the Twilight series may not be aware of this, but Bella, Edward and Jacob did not invent teen angst. Sure, every word and glance between them feels like the end of the world, but it has felt that way for a long time now.
With the release this week of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, the third film in the franchise, here is a look at some other movies in which, like omigod, everything was super-dramatic:
Rebel Without a Cause (1955): The mother of all teen-angst movies, full of parents who just do not understand and kids who eloquently express their frustration and disillusionment. James Dean's performance as a young rebel who moves to Los Angeles and clashes with bullies is considered the best work of his short life, and since the film came out a month after his fatal car crash, it added further hype to his tragic persona. Looking at Robert Pattinson as teen vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight films, it is clear that Dean is the inspiration: the wavy hair and sideburns, the jeans, the perpetually sullen expression. If only Dean could have sparkled in the sun...
American Graffiti (1973): Directed and co-written by pre-Star Wars George Lucas and inspired by his own teenage years in Modesto, California, this coming-of-age dramedy nonetheless has great universality. There was plenty of fun to be had here over an August night in 1962, with longtime friends cruising the main drag joking, flirting, getting into trouble _ one last time before heading off to college. But Lucas also keenly captures the sensation of being in flux, of having to carve out a new identity between adolescence and adulthood, and all the nervousness and nostalgia that go along with that. Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss lead a great, young cast.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): Bracingly honest about the way teens talk and relate, this comedy is an early demonstration of writer Cameron Crowe's excellent ear for dialogue. The plot basically follows a year in the life of a group of high-school students, but it consists of a series of perfectly observed moments. Fast Times seemed super-racy in its day, with its subplots about teen sex and pregnancy, but not gratuitously so. Between the soundtrack (Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, The Go-Go's) and the cast of then-unknowns (Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Forest Whitaker), it is a classic and a quintessential example of the genre.
The Breakfast Club (1985): You could also insert Sixteen Candles in this space, or Pretty in Pink, or any number of John Hughes movies. Teen narcissism was the man's bread and butter. But The Breakfast Club was the heaviest of them all; its characters took their navel-gazing the most seriously. It also had that star-studded Brat Pack cast of Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall, which makes it more representative of the era than other Hughes films. Lots of fun parts, for sure Bender messing with Mr. Vernon, the whole crew of Saturday-detention misfits racing through the high-school halls. But the crying and confession on the library floor are what you remember most.
Say Anything ...(1989): That image of John Cusack, holding a boom box over his head and blaring Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes, has become iconic, shorthand, even a bit of a cliche, but it says it all. Once again from Crowe, this time directing as well as writing, but here he shows his romantic side. Say Anything ... is all about longing for that first love, even though, on paper, that person may not be right for you. Doesn't matter. The obsession and torment, the vulnerability and doubt are all part of the process. And by showing all those sides of his character, Cusack forged his on-screen persona as a leading man for the rest of us.