Thursday, June 21, 2012

Teen Noir Movies

“Mathematically, it’s a percentage of your life.  Four years, 48 months, 1,461 days.  High school is prom, football games, boyfriends, girlfriends, party at the rich kid’s house.  Fun, simple, wholesome.  But it’s really anything but.  High school might be the least wholesome four years of your life.  And there’s nothing simple about it.  High school is ugly, hard, and complicated.  As complicated as a conspiracy to assassinate the president.” – Bobby Funke (voice over), Assassination of a High School President

I almost went with the last line from this same film – “Forget it, Funke.  It’s high school.” because of the funny nod to Chinatown, but I decided I needed something a little more serious for my beginning quote.

Back in 2005 the movie Brick came out.  It starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a high schooler trying to solve the murder of a former girlfriend.  People hadn’t really seen anything quite like it before.  Much like films had been translating classic literature to a high school setting (i.e. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew became 10 Things I Hate About You), someone finally translated the conventions of film noir’s hard-boiled detective stories to a high school setting.

There is a large segment of the adult population that will not watch an animated movie because they think they are “just for kids”.  Many adults will not watch anything with a teen protagonist for the same reason.  Combine that with an R rating, which movie theaters have been strongly enforcing in the last decade or so, and this limited the audience for this film, despite the fact that it won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Because of this I thought this kind of movie might be a one-off, but it was followed in 2007 by Cherry Crush and in 2008 by Assassination of a High School President.  While neither of these were as deep into the noir conventions as Brick, it seems likely that they were inspired by it.

I will be reviewing all three of these films.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other movies that I would classify as “teen noir”.  River’s Edge and Mean Creek involve teens and a dead body, but do not have the noir conventions.  If you can think of any other films, please let me know.

As I post the reviews, I will come back and post the links to them here:

On to the reviews…


  1. Nice feature! I'm looking forward to read your reviews. I really enjoyed Brick and I don't know the other titles you mentionned so I'll have to check them since they are Film Noir related.

  2. Chip, I enjoyed me some Brick and am down with the noir/mumblecore aspects of the film. I am not familar with the other two films you mentioned so I am looking forward to checking out this feature.

    Brick was actually filmed in San Clemente where I live. It's weird how strange they made the town look and the fact that they avoided the ocean since the town is right on the coast. I think the director Rian Johnson grew up here.

  3. Sounds like a great theme, Chip! I'm looking forward to reading your reviews.

    You might also want to check out Rumble Fish, which I think might fit your criteria.

  4. @Michael Parent and 3guys1movie - In my opinion Brick is definitely the best of the three, but maybe one or both of the others will also be liked by you, if you decide to see them. As you will read, each is different from Brick, and each other, in a basic way.

    @3guys1movie - It's interesting when you recognize locations in movies, isn't it? Every once in a great while a film shoots in my home state (Maine) in places I know.

    @Barry P. - Thanks for the suggestion. Rumble Fish is one of the 80s movies that I never happened to see, despite the presence of Diane Lane in it. For whatever reason I always had the impression it was some kind of coming of age movie for Matt Dillon. I'll look into it more now.