If you've been on my Twitter recently, you know I've been on a "spiritual walkabout" of sorts through the mythical lands of high school flicks. "Why now, at the ripe age of 22?" you may ask. And to that I would respond, "I grew up in a third-world country, so pop culture didn't really come my way." We didn't get television but had a VCR, so I knew "Walk to Remember," "She's the Man" and "A Cinderella Story" inside and out, but I've just begun to delve into how deep the genre's rabbit hole goes. And during this recent self-education, I discovered a formula for every. single. movie. The protagonist's love interest isn't broody and intellectual under a sullen exterior, you say? "As if!" There's not a flamboyant best friend? "And none for Gretchen Wieners, bye." There isn't a cheerleader involved? "This is not a democracy — it's a cheerocracy." (See, I know things now.)
But let me also take this opportunity to disclaim that the following list is a total generalization, so just have fun and don't read too much into it, cool? Without further ado, here they are: my completely-made-up, totally non-scientific "Guide to Writing High School Movies:"
1. Boy meets girl, or perhaps dramatically makes eye contact with her through a crowd. They run in different circles and are both misunderstood, but beneath, they both have hearts of gold.
2. The guy is a jock and a ladykiller, while the girl is super nerdy and just doing her own thing. She probably has super weird interests like school, literature, art or — gasp — even math. Extra credit on this subject includes "John Tucker Must Die," "The Duff," "A Cinderella Story," "Mean Girls" and "She's All That."
3. The plot is based off a famous piece of literature. "She's the Man" is "Twelfth Night" reimagined, "10 Things I Hate About You" is based on "The Taming of the Shrew," "Clueless" equals Jane Austen's "Emma," "Easy A" has a plot similar to "The Scarlet Letter" and "Never Been Kissed" is modeled after "As You Like It." Oh, and "A Cinderella Story" is the story of Cinderella, duh.
4. Gabrielle Union is there. Seriously, you think I'm kidding? YOU THINK THIS IS SOME KIND OF GAME?!
5. Either the guy or girl is harboring a big secret and successfully deceives everyone but meanwhile falls for the individual she/he is trying to beguile! In "John Tucker Must Die," Kate pretends to like John so her friends can get revenge on him. Viola (come back to us, Amanda Bynes) impersonates her brother in "She's the Man" but meanwhile falls in love with Duke. Zach in "She's All That" makes a bet that he can transform any girl and take her to prom, but Laney's feminine charm and falafel hat make her way into his heart! And Patrick (RIP, beautiful Heath Ledger) is bribed to start dating Kat in "10 Things I Hate About You" but soon realizes her poem and personality are pretty cool. Noticing a pattern yet? I shall continue.
6. The protagonist's main rival is a cheerleader and, oh yeah, is probably dating our girl's love interest at the start of the movie. She is also a witch with a capital b, if you catch my drift. Obviously "Bring it On" is the most prime example of cheer in teen movies, but it's also a plot staple for silver screen masterpieces like "A Cinderella Story," "Princess Diaries" and "John Tucker Must Die."
7. There is stereotypical, platonic best friend. It may come in the form of a flamboyant gay guy, a slutty sidekick, a sassy black girl or just a plain nerd, but you best believe that person will be there, archetypes out the wazoo.
8. Our girl is pretty visually off-putting. With "She's the Man," it was the obvious impersonating a dude part that made Viola so undateable to Duke, but "She's All That" has a scene with Laney (seriously, what kind of name is Laney Boggs?!) in her after-school-job's billowing falafel get-up. Mia wasn't considered a beauty in "Princess Diaries" ("somebody sat on me again"), nor was Josie in "Never Been Kissed."
9. There is a makeover, in which the off-putting, "undateable" girl becomes palatable. Cue the musical montage, which will involve a dressing room supercut of her trying on ridiculous outfits that literally no one would ever wear. "She's All That," "The Duff," "Princess Diaries" and "She's the Man" are classic examples of this. Even "Drive Me Crazy" involves a transformation, but in that case, it's the guy who changes his look (the Gap doesn't suit you, Adrian).
10. The post-makeover reveal is the most intense part of the whole movie. Of course the famous scene from "She's All That" comes to mind when Laney walks down the stairs while "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer plays (seriously, what a time to be alive). In "Princess Diaries," Mia tries to hide her new 'do with a hat, but as we all know, they aren't supposed to wear hats in class, and then Lily announces she wants to learn more about Voltaire because it rhymes with hair.
11. After the big reveal, there is a confidently-walking-down-the-hallway montage, which may be met with jealous disgust by the blonde cheerleader or perhaps a grudging respect. In the case of "Mean Girls," the makeover allows Cady to become part of the popular clique, while in the case of "She's the Man," Viola becomes the opposite of desirable. (Duke: "Why do you have tampons in your boot?" Viola: "Um, I get really bad nose bleeds?")
12. Our girl's relationship with the boy progresses, and he breaks up with his popular, cheerleader girlfriend because he realizes how shallow she is.
13. Then there is a flirtatious scene where our main guy and gal laugh and then get really serious, staring into each other's eyes. Because, as you know, that's how relationships go.
14. That dirty little secret finally comes out (sometimes with the help of the All-American Rejects song, like in "She's the Man"), and a massive fight ensues. The pair might temporary break up, and there is a musical montage where they look out separate rainy windows with something like Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah" playing in the background.
15. Someone then makes a huge gesture as an apology, and the pair make out — I mean up. Kat in "10 Things I Hate About You" writes Patrick an emotional poem, while Chase dramatically slides down their prom's senior statue in "Drive Me Crazy." As for "Never Been Kissed," Sam races to meet Josie, who is waiting for him in the middle of the baseball stadium, and "A Cinderella Story" depicts Austin running off the field during his homecoming football game and making out with Sam in front of everyone.
16. Prom is the end-all and is usually what our heroine has been stressing over for the entirety of the film. In "10 Things I Hate About You," prom is the location of the aforementioned huge fight, but with most movies, everything is resolved, and there may be a choreographed dance, like in "She's All That." (Thanks for the moves, DJ Usher.)
17. Graduation comes, and you are left with the depressing realization that the newly happy pair will probably break up as soon as they go to college, à la "Princess Diaries 2." The movie usually ends with a line like, "He's going to a college close to mine, so we can hang out on weekends."
18. Cue the inevitable music video at the end. "Drive Me Crazy" probably has the most famous one, featuring Britney Spears and the movie cast, but honorable mentions include "Princess Diaries" (If you don't know every word to "Miracles Happen" and "Supergirl" to this day, have you even lived?), the Duff sisters' "Our Lips Are Sealed" for "A Cinderella Story" and Letters to Cleo's "10 Things I Hate About You" rooftop spectacular.
19. You look down at yourself, covered in the remnants of a particularly sticky candy bar and are like, "Yes, I am proud of my life decisions." Roll credits.
Note: I don't own any of the photos in this post. All photos courtesy of Google Images and the films' respective studios.