High School Expectations in Film: Reality Bites

Words by Matthew Spence:

[To get the full experience, listen to Dick Lips by Blink-182]

The mind of a pre-teen boy is what professionals may call: easily impressionable and naïve,  while others may refer to them as in layman’s terms… stupid. We have these high hopes and see the glitter and glamour. Visions of our future experiences that’d make us feel famous in the 90s.  Yet alas, we’re still learning about ourselves and the world when we think that we know it all. As we’re constantly approaching our teens (one of the most pivotal times of our lives) we’re bombarded with coming-of-age high school comedies that portray the next 4 years will be a movie…no pun intended. To an extent is true for some but for many it’s not like the movies we see…. like never. 

Of course, watching these films on the surface, you can be aware that it’s fictional. However, the glee of entering high school towers over the reality. Very much like Shaq standing next to a 4-year-old kid. Yet, once you finally get to high school, all of these dreams are shattered and the expectations are lower, like telling a kid Santa isn’t real once you see won’t get a Project X.

This isn’t a call to barre them from ever being made for the record. One might say I view teen flicks once in a blue moon or a more accurate description: I think they’re the shit! Good or bad, horror or comedy, Starring Michael Cera or Molly Ringwald. 80s, 90s, 00s, name a decade I’ve probably seen it (probably). Clueless to Jawbreaker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Dope, Me Earl and the Dying to some John Hughes film. John Tucker Must Die to Daphene and Fred killed a hook guy in the summer movie. Strictly sticking to the comedy though, it’s nice to turn off your brain see live through others, remind us to have fun, and remember the good times when we did, as much as we can. Hanging out with friends, sneaking to meet up with your crush. Possibly stealing your parents’ car and hoping you get back before you get caught. From Heath Ledger singing Frankie Valli to Julia Styles in 10 Things, I Hate About You, Jim running back to Nadia in American Pie, watching Thomas jump from his rooftop into a bouncy house, or seeing Judd Nelson throw his fist in the air at the end of the Breakfast Club. It’s fun watching even if you can’t necessarily relate. 

It’s fun to watch people have fun. However, they set high expectations (intentionally or not) getting ready to begin the true journey of adolescence. Movies such as American Pie, Superbad, Project X, Dazed and Confused, and to lesser extents, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ferris Bueller Day Off, all of the classics near and dear give expectations of what high school is. Full of sex, (which isn’t the best frame of reference for pre-teens on how to treat women and the overall idea of sex), parties, drugs, debauchery; breezing by in classes as if homework doesn’t fucking exist. Doing the most before you get your driver’s license. You’ll be out all of the time; you’ll meet the person to sweep your heart. Every day is a nonstop adventure full of fun, plans, and comical inconveniences until you graduate. You have the cliques: jocks, bullies, nerds, the faculty, you’ll be categorized, we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen it all and pre-teen boys take notes from it, more than they do in an actual classroom.

Dazed and Confused

They’re portrayed as all of your best, most important memories and everything will matter. Like I mentioned before to an extent, yes, because everything you do will lead you to become the person you are today (hopefully, not shitty) but it isn’t the end all be all. American Pie, Project X, Superbad, and many others are films that can setup pre-teen boys up for failure and unholy shit problematic behavior.

American Pie

The grand scheme of things is that you’ll need to get laid, be popular, and have rambunctious/outlandish fun or it isn’t the true high school experience. Well, sure that sounds dope, but that shouldn’t be all that we should expect when become a teen and enter high school. While for some it may be the time, when they go all out, but everyone’s high school journey is different in a positive and negative way. People discover themselves: shy, introverted, and into things considered “weird”, and commonly in these films seemed to be a bad thing. Forcing the idea of needing to be among those who aren’t on the same page as you, in the mind of a 12-year-old or even a 16-year-old boy watching they’d rather be Stifler than Jim in American Pie. Even though, Jim is also somewhat of a bad person in retrospect, having live broadcast his underage naked classmate to his whole school district on the internet and having her get sent out of the country (yet she still wants to be with him at the end and in the sequel, when in reality she wouldn’t fuck with him at ALL. Plus he would’ve rightfully caught a case but American Pie is for another article). In Project X, Thomas wants to throw a party big enough to be cool, even though the people he wants to impress could be total assholes (including his friend Costa). Dazed and Confused possibly caused some people to participate in hazing.

Pinterest: Dazed and Confused


Reaching the 2010s, we’ve gotten stand-out films like Perks of Being a Wallflower and Dope, Booksmart, and Edge of Seventeen that go beyond to tell the typical high school story we’ve come accustomed and see the uniqueness. Perks is more of a dramedy than a full-blown comedy, however still a great intimate portrayal. Our main character Malcolm from Dope is a “black geek” who needs to get into Harvard as his life depends on it to get him and his mom out of the slums of LA. Charlie from Perks of Being a Wallflower, is an introverted teen who has so much repressed trauma that begins to meet people who make him feel like he belongs in this world. There are films that tell the story of those who aren’t seen. These experiences are more common than many would think for guys in high school. Do I come off like a square? Maybe. Am I projecting? Possibly. Do I give a fuck? Who knows. It shouldn’t be ignored that certain movies can promote unhealthy glamourized mentalities and views on how teens should be as if they’re a loser if they don’t fulfill the status quo of what is seen in movies.


Dope (2015)



School is a time when you slowly begin to find yourself and who you are. Shit, some people don’t find themselves until they’re 37. However, during that journey, you may come to the conclusion of you may be none of the people you see on screen and that’s ok. You’re not missing out on the teenage experience in what we see, but the true teen High School experience is doing what you love and realizing the person you are, is great.

American Pie

Now sure would you rather be getting shitfaced but instead in Mr. Griffins’ class stressing about your math exam you have after study hall, shitty lunch, and slackers that constantly copy your homework while you’re secretly having a panic attack about something that feels existential. Insecurities, feeling out of place, alone, figuring out where you fit in, college prep, pimples, and angst, it’s safe to say: a bunch of shit comes along. Plus let’s not forget our beloved “it’s not a phase” phase, talk a chef’s kiss to top it all off. 

High school expectations from films and flicks and honestly some people around you, can be a bit harmful to those who feel the pressure of filling that role. We shouldn’t give a facade of how you should be as a teenage boy (nor girl but I can’t speak from a femme perspective so I’m gonna leave that for someone else) in high school as we’re all different and our experiences shouldn’t sync up with each other. You’re no less cool if don’t go to a party or if don’t join a club or even if you don’t go to a prom. What it boils down to is: high school fucking sucks. <Freaks by Surf Curse begins to play>








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