In 17 Again a mysterious angel asks Matthew Perry if he would be happy turning back the clock, literally going back in time to high school. “Of course I want to live in the past,” he says, “it was better there.”
Was it really, Matthew?
Often Hollywood romanticizes high school, forgetting that for 98 per cent of us it was a gruelling experience. Here’s a list of keywords that popped up when I let my mind drift back to the dark days of secondary education: acne, the strap, swirlies, girls that didn’t look like Vanessa Hudgens or Ashley Tisdale, smelly lockers, pop quizzes and bullies who thought wedgies were the funniest thing since Woody Allen discovered neurosis.
You couldn’t pay me to relive my teen years, but for decades Hollywood screen writers have been fixated on sending people who survived high school (and all the torments listed above) back into the fray as a way of re-examining their lives.
17 Again gets considerable mileage from Zac Efron (as a 37 year-old man in a teenager’s body) trying to navigate the treacherous waters of high school life. Of course in the end he does alright, because, well, he’s Zac Efron and anyone so impeccably coiffed, so perfectly sculpted is probably going to be able to sidestep the pitfalls of hallway culture, but it’s not always easy heading back to class.
Take for instance Back to the Future. When Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) time travels 30 years from 1985 to 1955 he accidentally prevents his parents from meeting, and jeopardizes his own future. Worse than that, he has to deal with bullies who stuff him in the trunk of a car and the mind-bending idea that his future mother “has the hots” for him.
George Burns doesn’t have it much easier in 18 Again. After swapping bodies with his teenaged nephew (Charlie Schlatter) he discovers how tough the younger man has it in school — he’s bullied by his schoolmates and track coach and ignored by the girl of his dreams. Based on Burns’ 1980 country hit single I Wish I Was 18 Again, this one is more punishing than spending Saturday detention with Emilio Estevez.
It’s not all high school horror, however. In Vice Versa, (another of the age switcheroo movies from the late 1980s along with Big, 18 Again and the atrocious Like Father, Like Son) father and son Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage’s minds magically enter each other’s bodies, causing them to swap identities.
This time the father (in his son’s body) uses his business smarts to outwit school yard bullies and finish an exam in only three minutes.
Now that’s the way to go through high school.