Finding Films to Change and Grow With Us
Girl Meets World
Published: Friday, September 27, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 00:09
There is no great college movie. There is no film that transcends, that speaks to the college or even post-grad experience in a meaningful, interesting way.
Most college movies are about frats, whether in the more traditional Animal House-style or the subversive Revenge of the Nerds or House Bunny way. Most of the others are about exceptions — proteges and heroes like in Good Will Hunting and Rudy. Pitch Perfect is one of few that don’t fit these molds, but it’s shallow.
The television landscape is bleaker. Most “college” series are really shows about high school students who go off to college — “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Boy Meets World,” “Glee” — but once the cast left high school, those got weird. Why haven’t they met any new people? Why does everyone still go to Feeney for advice? Otherwise, college is shown in humorous flashbacks. The only interesting example I can think of is “Community,” which I’ll revisit in a bit.
Why does no one care to shed any sort of meaningful light on four of the most interesting, confusing and tumultuous years of your life?
Looking to answer this question, I watched St. Elmo’s Fire, the quintessential '80s movie about Georgetown post-grads who spend all their time at Tombs — I mean, St. Elmo’s Bar.
The movie is awful. It centers around seven incredibly privileged people who are all unlikable in their own way. Each is more of a stereotype than a real person: the ambitious Hill staffer, the “fat” virgin, the party girl, the writer who can’t stop spouting horribly pretentious cliches.
Yet, despite how incredibly grating I found 93 percent of the film, there were a few things I connected with. Their angst about being thrust into the real world — one character says, “I just don’t even know who to be anymore” — is something a lot of seniors are dealing with.
The film is about their friendships slowly falling apart because of love, drugs, frustration, confusion and everything that comes with the passage of time. It wraps up with a nice little bow; one friend’s crisis brings them together again. As we grow older, we fall apart. Things change. People fall in and out of love. Senior year is already incredibly different, but life post-graduation will change everything even more. That happy ending is not guaranteed.
Maybe that very quest itself — the coming-of-age search for your purpose and your real friends — is what makes compelling media about college students seemingly so impossible. It’s their attempts at answering those questions that make the characters of St. Elmo’s Fire so very annoying. They want easy answers and refuse to reflect on who they are, where they’re going and what their friendships mean. At the end, it’s unclear that any of them have changed, but the audience is supposed to believe in a happy ending.
The likable, though flawed, characters on the aforementioned “Community” face the same questions. By contrast, they are always changing and growing. Each matures, develops strong yet unexpected friendships, and becomes a better person.
They care about each other in the complicated ways that love manifests itself in our lives. They don’t consider their lives as a sort of instant-gratification set-up, chasing sex and money. This is what college — and being a senior — ought to be about: figuring out just who you are and who you want to take with you when Georgetown throws you out of those front gates.
I think many are afraid to set their movies in colleges because they’re afraid of confronting those questions, which is why the movies that are made tend to be shallow. College is the awkward bridge between immaturity and maturity, childhood and adulthood, and even fictionally navigating it again seems to be too much for most. Comforting, right?
Senior year and the end of my Georgetown career is daunting. But an indulgent depression is not the answer — I’d be just as bad as those students from St. Elmo’s Fire. So while some days I’ll wallow in my room and watch “Community,” the only show that “gets” me right now, the rest of the time I’ll try to enjoy my last year and do the hard work of reflecting what the past has meant and where I’m going. Because we all have to grow up some time.
Victoria Edel is a senior in the College. GIRL MEETS WORLD appears every other Friday in the guide.