Comedy is hard to execute, and even harder to review. All opinions are subjective, obviously, but I feel it especially with comedies. What makes me laugh might not make you laugh. What strikes me as unfunny today might seem hilarious five years from now, a month from now, even an hour from now. Your sense of humor is shaped by your subconscious, your expectations, your previous comedy experiences, your previous life experiences — it’s basically the sum of who you are, and it’s unique to each individual. You and your best friend might seem to laugh at all the same things, but I guarantee that’s not literally true, not 100 percent of the time.
Now, there’s a lot of overlap in people’s senses of humor, of course. That’s why certain comedians, TV shows, and movies are popular, because they make sizable groups of people laugh. But to paraphrase an old saying, you can make some people laugh all the time, and you can make all people laugh some of the time, but you can’t make all the people laugh all the time.
This is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve pretty much reversed my opinion of “Not Another Teen Movie.”
What I said then:
“[It] does a fine job mimicking the common plot devices and stock characters of teen movies … but has no idea how to make fun of them. It thinks that re-creating events from famous movies is the same thing as ‘parody’ or ‘satire.’… ‘Not Another Teen Movie’ is, in fact, just another teen movie…. This one is stupid, obvious, unfunny, desperate and insulting — even for people who like teen movies. It was a great idea for a parody, but it was handled just about as badly as it could have been.” Grade: D-
Whew! That was a scorcher, no? The one thing that saved it from getting an F (which I cited in the review) was the out-of-nowhere musical number. Otherwise, I appear to have hated this thing.
(Hey, look what I found! It’s my notepad from December 2001, with the actual notes I took during the screening! These notes are far more detailed than what I usually jot down. It would appear that I was so fed up with the movie that I started writing the review while I was still watching it.)
I had plenty of company in disliking it. Rotten Tomatoes reports that just 28% of reviews are positive, with an average rating of 4 out of 10. Metacritic has the average critic rating at 32 out of 100. It performed reasonably well at the box office, though, opening in third place and eventually making $38 million in the U.S. That’d be about $52 million at today’s ticket prices, a “Hall Pass” or “The Dilemma”-sized modest success.
I didn’t realize until it was too late that the DVD I was watching was the super awesome mega extended director’s cut, or whatever. At 99 minutes, it was 17 minutes longer than the theatrical version. I have no idea what was added. So this isn’t exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s close enough. More like an apples-to-bigger-apples comparison.
Anyway, I was instantly amused by Ricky (Eric Jungmann), the platonic best friend who wears a fedora and dresses in the “look how much of an individual I am!” style. His appearance and demeanor are dead-on imitations of that stock character from other movies (and, indeed, from that stock character in real life). He doesn’t do much in the way of satiric exaggeration — but since that type of character hadn’t entered my mind recently, just having it recreated so accurately was enough to make me laugh.
Jaime Pressly, who went on to fame in “My Name Is Earl,” is consistently funny as Priscilla, the shrewish cheerleader. She’s mostly on hand to parody “Bring It On” (a movie that is funnier than this one, so spoofing it is risky), and I’d always remembered her big line: “Oh, it’s already been broughten.” When the lily-white Priscilla vehemently denies stealing a routine from the black North Compton cheerleaders, I knew what the punchline was going to be: Priscilla would do her routine, and it would have elements that obviously brand it as belonging to North Compton. I was unprepared, however, for the specificity of it: “We are the North Compton wild cats. We’re black, we know it. We shake our big booties and we show it. We ain’t white. We ain’t white. We definitely ain’t white. Break it down n***as.” That’s broad, mildly offensive, and absurdly funny.
I believe “Not Another Teen Movie” is where we found Chris Evans, who went on to be the guy on fire in “Fantastic Four” and is about to be Captain America. My 2001 review suggested no one in the cast performed with any distinction, but this time I found Evans’ cheerful dumbness entertaining. There’s that relatively famous scene (a spoof of “Varsity Blues”) in which Evans tries to seduce a girl by entering the room with whipped cream covering his private parts. Before that happens, though, when he’s still fully clothed, he jauntily exits the room to go prepare, and as he does so he does a little leap and clicks his heels together. That small touch of whimsy cracked me up, and it perfectly encapsulates his likable, stupid character.
I still think the movie, apart from a few gems here and there, isn’t very clever in its satire. Most of the laughs are from pure silliness, rather than from mocking the tropes of teen movies. There are plenty of scenes that aren’t funny at all, where a joke is belabored to the point of tedium.
But I find myself having changed my opinion on so many specifics. In 2001, I criticized the movie for making fun of “American Pie’s” bathroom humor while also indulging in it. But the scene with the explosive toilet is intercut with an English teacher lecturing his students on how modern humor has gotten so crass and vulgar. The movie knows exactly what it’s doing there; how did I miss that?
I also faulted it for trying to mock both classic ’80s teen comedies as well as recent ones. I can see how the blending of old and new might have been an awkward fit at the time, and I still think “NATM” dates itself by including too many specific references to then-hot-but-now-forgotten films like “Cruel Intentions“ and “Varsity Blues.” But now, in 2011, the ’80s comedies and the late ’90s ones are ALL old. The “Breakfast Club” homages blend right in with the “American Pie” spoofs. There’s no conflict.
And that’s ultimately why I think the movie worked so much better for me now than it did then: the passage of time. I’ve had a decade to forget all the current films it was referencing, so seeing them recreated faithfully — and by such an upbeat, game-for-anything cast — didn’t feel like a simple-minded retread; it felt like comedy. It hadn’t occurred to me before that it might be easier to parody something we haven’t thought about in a while than it is to parody something that’s on everyone’s minds right now. We’re more likely to be caught by surprise (the essence of comedy) when the targets seem to come from out of nowhere, rather than from last month’s box office top 10.
Do I still hate this movie?
I do not! I rather like it, actually. It’s not a great comedy by any means — it does have scenes and subplots that fall completely flat — but I’d easily call it a “good” one. Grade: B-