Back to School Viewing: SheWired's Fave School / Girl Movies!
Hollywood’s fascination with girl culture in the hallowed halls of education, or its fascination with girls in plaid skirts, has a long history that could be traced to the landmark German film Mädchen in Uniform, in which a student and teacher in a girls’ school share an unusually close bond. From Madchen to D.E.B.S. to But I'm a Cheerleader, Foxfire, Higher Learning, Heathers and more, featuring Reese Witherspoon, Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder, Ally Sheedy, Lindsay Lohan and so on... Some feature lesbians and others are just strong female characters.
To herald that transitional time of year that is the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite school-themed movies, many of which feature lesbians, or at least strong female characters – whether they are the outcasts or the popular and/or mean girls.
Hollywood’s fascination with girl culture in the hallowed halls of education, or its fascination with girls in plaid skirts, has a long history that could be traced to the landmark German film Mädchen in Uniform, in which a student and teacher in a girls’ school share an unusually close bond.
From Mädchento Mean Girls to D.E.B.S and beyond, here’s 'SheWired’s Fave ‘Back to School’ Flicks.'
Mädchen in Uniform - 1931 and 1958
The gold standard of school-themed films,1931's Mädchen in Uniform, set in a German boarding school, introduced the lesbian pedagogue / student relationship that would fascinate lesbian viewers and inspire filmmakers (see Loving Annabelle), for decades to come. A 1958 remake of the groundbreaking film starred renowned German actress Romy Schneider.
Here's a clip from the remake:
Lost and Delirious
Plaid skirts, school ties and Piper Perabo as Pauline, a student obsessively in love with her roommate (Jessica Paré) at boarding school. What more could a school-themed film offer? Lea Pool's 2001 film is loosely based on the novel The Wives of Bath and stars a young -- and presumably innocent-- Mischa Barton as the third roomie who protects the lovers' secret until Paré's character becomes involved with a boy from a nearby school. Haunting, disturbing and often beautiful, this movie is really all about Perabo and her fencing gear.
The Breakfast Club
A brat packer extravaganza, The Breakfast Club focuses one day in the life of a myriad of school stereotypes -- Saturday detention. John Hughes darlings Molly Ringwald starred as the school princess --a departure from her prior roles as the outcast-- and Ally Sheedy played a taciturn, creative and sexy pariah. Enough said...
Inspired by Mädchen in Uniform, director Katherine Brooks revisited the student / teacher dynamic in 2006's Loving Annabelle, which starred Erin Kelly as a precocious new student at a Catholic school for girls, and Diane Gaidry as the object of her desire. Playing to the Catholic school girl fetishists, the film acts as a cautionary tale -- albeit enticingly so -- for acting on forbidden desire.
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Show Me Love
Acclaimed Swedish director Lukas Moodysson's little lesbian-themed film that could from 1998 is spin on the familiar story of the outsider, in this case the high school-aged Agnes, falling for the seemingly unattainable popular girl, Elin. A tender and funny love story, this coming-of-age movie has the girl getting the girl in the end.
Writer and creator Tina Fey offers up a juicy slice of high school life in what would become one of Lindsay Lohan's last really good performances. Fey's keen eye focuses on the bitchy clique of girls, The Plastics, played by burgeoning stars Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried and Party of Five alum Lacey Chabert. In a nod to a slightly older generation, the outwardly dykey --but straight-- school pariah is named Janis Ian --after the singer songwriter who penned the ode to teen outcasts, "At 17" and later came out as a lesbian. All hail burn books, trust falls in the gym and nipples that predict the weather!
While much of this reimagining of Dangerous Liasons for the bitchy teen set unfolds in the homes of wealthy teens embodied by Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar, the dénouement has the formerly preyed-upon Annette (Reese Witherspoon) exacting revenge on Gellar's pernicious Kathryn before the entire prep school student body. And talk about a pedagocical moment we can get behind... the show's stand-out scene has Kathryn teaching a hapless Cecile (Selma Blair) how to kiss.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High:
While this Amy Heckerling coming-of-age classic does not feature lesbian characters it does capture the essence of the 80's in all of its big-haired, glitzy glory, while launching a thousand Hollywood careers, including those of Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage. But there are two reasons we've included it here. It introduced us to the amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh and gave us the all-too rarely working Phoebe Cates as the school sexpot.
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Some Kind of Wonderful:
For this John Hughes-penned film, he veered from his cast of usual suspects, making Eric Stoltz the nice guy in love with the popular girl and Mary Stuart Masterson the tomboy who loved him -- but for budding lesbians watching the movie when it was released in 1987, the movie was only and all about Masterson in her andro chauffer uniform.
Arguably Alexander Payne's best film, Election stars Reese Witherspoon as plucky Tracy Flick, the stop-at-nothing student council climber, for whom her history teacher and student government adviser, played by an exasperated Matthew Broderick, has it out. Toss in a subplot that stars Jessica Campbell as the younger lesbian sister of Chris Klein's popular jock and Election is just about a pitch-perfect school-themed movie.
Based on a Joyce Carol Oates novel, Foxfire features a baby-faced but slightly tomboy-ish Angelina Jolie as the girl from the wrong side -- or right side depending on your perspective -- of the tracks whose anarchist and vigilante views alter the lives of four female students forever. The film offers up plenty of late-night, candlelit bonding in a ramschackle hideout, homemade tattoo sessions and lesbian subtext. Lesbian model Jenny Shimizu-- this is where she and Angelina met and had a brief thing -- Hedy Buress and Jenny Lewis costar.
Hot girls in plaid skirt school uniforms who are really super spies being trained in a paramilitary school? Only a lesbian could have dreamed this up, and director Angela Robinson did. Her short film with the same title, starring Tammy Lynn Michaels, was such a stand-out Robinson turned this action spy action flick into a feature. The D.E.B.S. (discipline, energy, beauty and strength), are out to capture the infamous and elusive Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster), but the D.E.B.S honor student Amy (Sara Foster) falls for Lucy -- and a happy lesbian love story ensues -- replete with gunfire, faux kidnappings and high karate kicks.
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Therese and Isabelle
A pseudo art-house film with the makings of 50's era lesbian pulp novels, Radley Metzger's 1968 film dives right into forbidden lesbian love in a boarding school. Provocative for its time, Therese and Isabelle boasts some thoughtful camera work, even if it's poorly dubbed and the actresses look a good 15 years past their high school prime.
Director Peter Jackson's break-out film that introduced audiences to the Oscar winning Kate Winslet and to Melanie Lynskey, the actress who's played gay in everything from short films to But I'm a Cheerleader and The L Word, really gets into gear when the introverted Pauline (Lynskey) finds a kindred spirit in the enchanting Juliet (Winslet) while attending school together in New Zealand. Based on the true story of the girls' obsessive love, the world they create and matricide, Heavenly Creatures' early scenes of the girls' friendship, which blossoms at school, are nothing less than magical.
St. Trinian's School for Girls
This British comedy focuses on a completely raucous girls at a private school where the students must devise a plan (legal or otherwise) to save St. Trinian's from bankruptcy, and it features a slew of amazing young actresses including Gemma Arterton, Talulah Riley, Juno Temple and Jodie Whittaker. Throw in Imagine Me and You's Lena Heady, Mischa Barton, Colin Firth and Rupert Everett and this hard-candy coated gem is a full-on guilty pleasure.
Mona Lisa Smile
Wellesley alumnae quipped over the portrayal of privileged, marriage-minded, 50's era students when 2003's Mona Lisa Smile -- which starred Julia Roberts as an inspirational art teacher with a feminist bent in the vein of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie -- was released, asserting that the film painted Wellesley girls in a bad light. But let's call it what it was... a portrayal of a Seven Sisters' school with virtually no lesbians among them --50's or not. Still, if one watches the film with blinders on, imagining receiving art and life lessons from Julia, while picturing the supporting cast of students that includes Julia Stiles, Ginnifer Goodwin, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst engaged in late-night pillow fights and hair braiding sessions, the film is a lesbian paradise.
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But I'm a Cheerleader
While the bulk of Jamie Babbit's hilarious tale about a lesbian cheerleader whose parents and friends intervene to save her from homosexuality unfolds at True Directions homo rehab camp, the early scenes in which Natasha Lyone's Megan fantasizes endlessly about her female co-cheerleaders undergarments out on the high school football field are priceless. The film stars Lyone, Clea Duvall as her love interest, Melanie Lynskey, RuPaul and Oscar nominee Cathy Moriarty as Mary, True Directions' reigning director and uber-hetero ideologue.
Sexy witches in Catholic school girl uniforms! If that image alone weren't enough to draw viewers, it just happens to be Neve Campbell, Rachel True and Fairuza Balk who allow the new girl, played by Robin Tunney, into their coven in which they mete out justice to popular girls -- Christine Taylor is one of them -- and jocks alike.
Dark, sardonic and hilarious, Heathers is the masterpiece that summed up 80's dogma and spawned a language of its own, and a series of 'mean girl' films including Mean Girls, Jawbreaker and The Craft. In her break-out role, Winona Ryder stars as the new girl, Veronica, who plays 'reindeer games' with the popular bitch crowd of girls who are all named Heather. But things change when she falls for Christian Slater's malcontent J.D., and they accidentally-on-purpose begin offing the Heathers one by one -- to make their school a nicer place of course.
Director John Singleton's issues-charged portrait of a state university melting pot touches on racism, date rape, lesbianism and more, making for a heavy and thoughtful filmic experience. Bolstered by a strong cast, Jennifer Connelly plays a lesbian activist who becomes Kristy Swanson's character's first girl / girl experience. The cast includes Regina King, Tyra Banks, Laurence Fishburn, Omar Epps, Michael Rapaport and Ice Cube -- to name a few.
Thanks to Ross von Metzke, Meredith K, Rebekah Allen, Dalila Ali Rajah, Sarah Toce and Neal Broverman for their input.
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