The other day, I was watching a teenage rom-com (romantic comedy) movie, aired on the popular Romedy Now, called The Duff. It was typical of its genre – a geeky girl, a clichéd hot dude, a mean girl, a high school setting complete with prom night and “the kiss”.
I watched it till the end credits, and admitted that Robbie Amell looks as gorgeous as ever. But then it hit me, for the first time ever – call it not being a teenager anymore (I’m still getting used to the word “adult”) – that so many movies made for impressionable teenage have the geeky kid falling for the completely wrong person, just because they are good looking.
Robbie Amell in The Duff
All teenage romantic films have the same composition – a high school, a posse of mean girls/guys, a hot jock (usually a footballer) or a hot cheerleader (always a cheerleader), a not-so-hot smart kid, and said smart kid’s also not-so-hot sidekick.
In reality, the smart kid would have a choice of two, the jock/cheerleader or the sidekick. But nobody likes the real world, and the nerd ends up with the hottie. Now, I’m not saying that that doesn’t happen, but when it comes to film scripts, every single person watching it unfold on screen fails to realize that the hottie is, in fact, a terrible person.
The Duff, A Cinderella Story, Mean Girls, even Grease to an extent, cater to exactly this kind of story. These movies are now deemed classics, watched over and over again with tissues ready for the fairytale ending and too many awws than I’d care to count.
So let’s talk about why the jock and the cheerleader are terrible people.
First of all, the jock is usually seen dating the mean girl. They go out to parties, make out in public, are the most popular couple in school, the whole nine yards. The jock ignores the smart girl who, like any teenager, has a crush on the hot athlete. He looks on and even smirks as his mean girlfriend bullies the smart girl for, well, being smart and not wearing Prada while attending an institution of learning.
Now, the jock finds that he needs help – maybe passing a class, or forced participation in a club, anything that gets him thinking of picking the brains of someone gullible. Enter smart girl.
She smiles sweetly at him as she falls to his aid, being the nice person she is, while he doesn’t even acknowledge her as a friend. Now, in the real world, this would go on till they both graduated, but of course the movie must show the hottie falling for the less hottie, like a fantasy favour to all the nerds out there who pine for people “out of their league” just because their faces happen to be well sculpted.
And thus the jock realizes that his girlfriend is a sadistic bully and doesn’t want to be seen with her anymore. And cue public break up, threats and curses. And hence proved that he is the dreamboat with a heart of gold that everyone thought he was.
Um, how about NOPE? Where was he when his girlfriend was terrorizing the life out of that poor little nerd girl in the school corridors? He was actually right there, watching, and more importantly, NOT doing a thing to stop her.
So why now? Does the smart girl automatically become someone important and worthy of being called an actual person with actual feelings just because HE seems to have fallen in love with her?
The presence of any feelings on his part validate her existence. But, that’s not the worst part of this story. It is how the poor little smart girl misunderstands that unfortunate fact and ends up believing that she has changed his heart.
Spoiler alert – that’s not an actual thing. It is a case of dominance by a narcissistic teenage boy who thinks the world falls at his feet every time he takes a step, heightened by showers of female attention.
And what about the sidekick, the best friend, the one loyal person who stood by the smart kid through every public mockery? He’s usually bespectacled, loves physics or computers, and dresses either like a hobo or an English teacher. He’s clearly unfit to be even considered for the position of boyfriend – I mean, come on. He’s not conventionally good looking. And looks are all that matter, right? What about the fact that he is the best friend, the chaddi buddy, the one dude who always had her back, and is genuinely a nice person?
And this is exactly what’s wrong with the world. The reason why so many teenagers experience sore heartbreaks, body shaming, low self-confidence and a distorted view of life is that films like these are allowed to become mainstream cinema. They become a definition of adolescent life in the worst way possible, and it has stayed strong over the years, despite movements of empowerment that try to rock the world to its core.
And the same goes for scripts like The Fault In Our Stars. You want to give children some fantasy? We have Disney and Pixar for that. Don’t mess with the experts!