If you’re 16 years old, you go into a teen comedy without a lot of knowledge of movie history. You’ve seen The Dark Knight and Iron Man everything Pixar has ever done, and a few movies your dad foisted on you when he was feeling nostalgic, but so far as teen comedies are concerned, your knowledge probably dates back to Mean Girls. You might have caught Sixteen Candles or even Can’t Hardly Wait on cable once or twice, but they probably feel a little archaic. Methods of communication have changed, so wooing strategy has likewise evolved (or devolved, depending on how you look at it). I may do a lot of lawn-yelling about drunk-texting, Facebook-dating kids these days, but it’s a reality in high school, and it’s a reality that John Hughes — for all his ability to lay out the caste system and capture the jist of high-school heartsickness — doesn’t provide in his oeuvre.
Of course, as a product of the late ’80s/early ’90s, I like to believe that I grew up on the golden age of teen comedies, but I’ve come to the realization that, for most folks, the teen comedies they were given when they were teens are the ones they are most fond of (this explains, in my mind, the inexplicable fascination with Empire Records, for those who were born between 1978 and 1983, and also why I don’t get Fast Times at Ridgemont High as much as people who are a little older than I am do.). So, essentially, what I’m saying is this: Modern teen comedies need to be judged, not against Say Anything or Pump Up the Volume (do today’s teenagers even know what a short-wave radio is, or a boombox?), but against the teen comedies of the era they grew up in because those are likely the only ones modern teenagers are familiar with. After all, I doubt there are a lot of high-school sophomores troubled with the derivative nature of Superbad. Movie critics, on the other hand, are going to shit all over Sex Drive because they’ve seen it too many times already. But if you’re 16, fuck the critics. You know why most of them loved The 40-Year-Old Virgin? Because it spoke to them. And they’re still pissed off that John Hughes promised dorks all that trim and didn’t deliver, and now they’re too bitter to see a new generation of sex comedies with fresh eyes.
But if you are that hypothetical 16-year-old curious about the teen comedies that came before you, but short on time (all that band practice and all), there’s really not much need to visit Better off Dead, Fast Times, Weird Science, Road Trip or even American Pie. You can get a pretty good taste for all of them by watching Sean Anders’ Sex Drive. I don’t say that as an insult: If you have to introduce a new generation of teenagers to teen comedies, you may as well borrow/steal/pay homage from/to some of the best. And Sex Drive takes some of the better elements of all of them, mixes them up, throws a decent soundtrack over it, and the result is a pretty fucking fun movie. And, since it’s become clear that Rocket Science isn’t going to break into the thickheaded zeitgeist of the under-20 set (damnit), Sex Drive may just become this generation’s Road Trip to Superbad’s Can’t Hardly Wait. And I’m OK with that.
Josh Zuckerman plays Ian, a hybridrized version of Michael Cera and young John Cusack’s dork cool. He’s a virgin, as the lead in these types of films must be. He’s also in love with one of his best friends, Felicia (Amanda Crews, a dead ringer for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s little sister), who doesn’t want to sully their friendship with sex. And then there’s Lance (Clark Duke), who must be a studio manufactured love child of Jonah Hill and Stifler. It’s the weirdest goddamn thing, y’all, because those two characters are the last two you’d expect to cross-breed. But the result is magnifiglorious. Rounding out the cast is “Rex” (James Marsden), who they should’ve just called Chet Donnelly, so close in spirit is he to Weird Science’s Bill Paxton character, the best compliment I could possible offer (poor Marsden; so much awesome, so little appreciation).
The set-up is fairly typical: Ian, posing as someone he’s not, meets a girl on the Internet, she offers to put out if he makes the trip, and Ian, Lance, and Felicia (oblivious to the plan) steal Chet’s car and drive cross country from outside of Chicago (is there any other way to respectfully pay homage to Hughes) to Knoxville, Tennessee. Hijinks, Diablo-ian dialogue, and honest-to-God hilarity ensues, highlighted by Seth Green’s passive-aggressive Amish car mechanic and a couple of guys who are best described as teenage versions of Clerks’ Jay. Seriously: Can you imagine two Jays playing off of one another? It’s deliciously obnoxious.
Of course, like Sex Drive’s Apatowan counterparts, the movie plays a little too long; a couple of needless scenes should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. But goddamnit, for the most part, Sex Drive manages to keep its comedic momentum throughout, and even in the end, doesn’t offer up the whiplash poignancy we’ve become accustomed to in this genre. If you’re over the age of 28, you’ve seen this movie a hundred times (only less R-rated), but it’s also the kind of movie you’d be happy to watch another 100 times (good teen comedies have the best rewatchability factor of any genre, which is why they play them on a loop in Heaven).
But if you’re 16, Sex Drive is more than just another good teen comedy. It’s the one you’re still going to be quoting from when you’re 30, and the one you’re going to defend against jackasses ten years older who insist that Empire Records was the best. It’s not their fault. They were just born at an unfortunate time.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.
Sex Drive / Dustin Rowles
Film | October 17, 2008 | Comments ()