We'll stop you before you even say it. Yes, this really is an ode to teen party comedies.
Sure, they're no Scorsese films. They've never won Oscars or Golden Globes or really anything that wasn't a Razzie. They're not going to feature hugely important dramatic actors, and you're not going to leave them with a new lease on life or having had any huge emotional epiphanies.
But damn if it isn't an amazing genre—and one worthy of paying homage to.
The premise of these movies is pretty simple. It must take place at a house. There must be a huge party. Bonus points if the entire movie takes place over the single night of the party, and even more extra credit gets doled out if the party is the only scenery. More often than not, it's the last day of high school, but we never turned down a college party movie. But while the setting is elementary, the plot lines are anything but.
House parties first worked their way into our onscreen cultural repertoire with Animal House in 1978. The brothers of the Delta Tau Chi house immortalized wild and raucous fraternity bashes forevermore. Then a young Richard Linklater gave us Dazed and Confused, which followed a group of Texas teens as they prepare to embark on a journey to adulthood—but not before they celebrate together one last time, of course.
A host of others are immortalized in the genre: You could count American Pie, since although it's ostensibly about a slightly more vulgar topic, the characters are pretty much partying all the time. Then there's 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, which borrow much of their material from early teen party movies, and of course, Superbad.
The movie that launched the careers of Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Emma Stonealso featured the most legendary party of the aughts. Beer runs go horribly awry, fake IDs are hilariously...fake, high school crushes go unrequited, there's a mildly-to-definitely offensive bit about a foreign exchange student. One could even argue that Superbad set the stage for the not-quite-teens-anymore party comedy This Is the End.
Courtesy Columbia Pictures
But that argument would be a waste of time, because in all honesty, there is only one real and true teen party comedy to beat all teen party comedies. We're talking about Can't Hardly Wait.
In the discussion of what makes this genre so great, there is no better example. This movie, for those who either haven't seen it (drop literally everything right this second and go find yourself a VHS player) or are a bit fuzzy on flicks that were made almost 20 years ago, follows a group of teens on (surprise!) the night of their high school graduation as they throw (surprise!) the most epic graduation party known to man. It stars Preston Meyers, your stereotypical lovable outsider, who has chosen this very night to profess his four-years-long crush—nay, obsession—to the queen of the school, Amanda Beckett.
Helping him in his grand plan is his platonic BFF and not-that-lovable outsider Denise, who happens to be former childhood besties with resident horn-dog Kenny. Then there's Amanda's boyfriend, Mike Dexter, a jock who is about to find himself on the business end of a revenge plot devised by the nerd whose life he made a living hell. Then in between all that there's a few hundred kids doing beer bongs and dancing to "Paradise City." Are you hooked yet?
The most jarring aspect of Can't Hardly Wait and the fellow genre members it represents is how perfectly it captures what it was like to be 17 and embarking on the last night of your high school career. It is the embodiment of the youth zeitgeist. It's a whole lot funnier and way less traumatic, sure, but everything is there. The sheer excitement that would build all day long in anticipation of the party later that night—we watch this movie and we remember not only how electric that used to feel, but also that it's been a really long time since we've been that excited about anything.
There are the popular girls whose outward confidence and coolness is really masking a veritable crapton of insecurity (except for Jaime Pressly's character; we're pretty confident she's made of steel). There was the kid who tried beer for the first time and was convinced beyond the shadow of the doubt that it had curdled, when that was really just what beer tastes like. There was the insufferably oaf-ish star jock, who, even though you knew that someday he was going to turn into a real townie nobody, it was still frustrating to see him worshiped at the time.
(And trust us: They really do all turn out that way. We have proof.)
Courtesy Columbia Pictures
And we would be bereft if we didn't mention that utter desperation to get beer and sex. It's not so ladylike when they do it in raunchy comedies, but it's the truth. Kenny, a.k.a. the desperate virgin who proclaimed "Yo, I gots to have sex tonight," was all of us. So was that girl in the corner housing beer, and the guy on the stairs eating the special brownies, and the kids who just couldn't resist jumping into the pool with all their clothes on.
Which brings us to our next point: Escapism. Every piece of entertainment content exists partially for this reason: To allow us to forget about our regular lives and fall headfirst into the far-more-interesting lives of someone onscreen. Teen party comedies all this and more. They're perfectly unrealistic—no one actually has a house like the girl who threw the party on Can't Hardly Wait, and no one actually has a band performing Guns N' Roses covers in their living rooms. No one actually has a high school graduation party that hundreds of people show up to and that lasts until the sun comes up. But man, wouldn't it be great if they did? A person can dream.
The fashion of this genre must also be recognized for its genius. The '90s in particular provided some spectacular outfits, but truly every movie captures the spirit of the times so well that it becomes hilarious to look back on. (Have you seen Emma Stone's bow tube top from Superbad lately? It's the most 2007 thing ever.) In Can't Hardly Wait, we see every sartorial cliché of the decade in its embarrassing glory: parachute pants, spaghetti strap tank tops, denim skirts, tucked in T-Shirts...on men. Seeing the biggest stars of that time modeling the biggest fashion of that era is a time capsule whose worth cannot be overstated.
Is there any better way to immortalize 1998 than the image of Jennifer Love Hewitt walking into the graduation party, herself made up entirely of hair volume, in that sky blue tank? No there is not.
One of the best ways to reel in an audience if you're a comedy is to be perfectly quotable. It's what keeps fans nostalgic and makes a movie memorable. We're pretty convinced that every post-1998 movie learned this from Can't Hardly Wait. The writers infused every scene not only with lines that made us crack up as teens ourselves, but that we still repeat as inside jokes for years afterwards. Much of this came from Kenny "I gots to have sex tonight" Fisher: "Ninety-two of the women in Los Angeles at UCLA walking around going, 'Class... or sex? What shall I do?' Ninety-two percent, yo!"
Honorable mentions should also go to "I can't feel my legs...I HAVE NO LEGS!" and "Those shoes...do they serve an orthopedic function?"
Just like all good things must come to an end, it's likely that we're at the end of the golden age of teen party comedies. Sure, there have been a few here and there, but nothing has been able to replicate that late '90s-early 2000s period. And really, nothing ever should. Some things have to stay sacred, right? So now, we hold on to our VHS tapes with everything we have, until the last VCR is gone from this Earth. And when that happens, at least we'll have the memories.