Gazing at a couple of pizzas, a pitcher of Cherry Coke, and a quintet of preteens engaged in a roundtable discussion of summer movies, I realize that Lyn-Lake's Dulono's Pizza doesn't smell like teen spirit--and, nine months shy of my 15-year high-school reunion, neither do I.
In other words, it has been a while since I knew what preteens really think; I'm feeling my age in a way I haven't since Dee Dee Ramone's leather jacket turned up on The Antiques Road Show. But that's okay: I'm happy to defer to the younger set, especially when it comes to picking a summer movie, which is something that no one over 30 should be trusted to do. The panel members, to their credit, don't seem to trust their 32-year-old interviewer: They appear surprised that I didn't second-guess their order of caffeinated drinks or their presence in a room full of secondhand smoke. I start to feel inadequate as an adult, and, in an attempt to salvage some clout, I offer a few guidelines for our discussion, ending with the classic, "Any questions?" I imagine The Breakfast Club's John Bender creaking back in his chair, cocking his head to one side, and answering, "Yeah, I've got a question. Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?"
Upon closer inspection, I find myself utterly unable to pigeonhole George, age 12; Michon, 13; Meghan, 13; Alex, 10; and Ann, 12, into what Bender would've called "the simplest terms, the most convenient definitions." (George, as a matter of fact, is a working critic; his website is www.filmemperor.com.) There's nothing in their fashion or demeanor--save George's Ramones T-shirt--that works to establish any one of them as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and/or a criminal. Across the board, they're dressed simply in pullover shirts and jeans, with a refreshing absence of makeup, body piercings, or complicated, product-saturated hairstyles. They are, unapologetically, kids. And while they prove in no way immune to my consultations, they do seem quite aware of what they're going through.
CITY PAGES: For this discussion we agreed to see Finding Nemo, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, The Hulk, and Spellbound. How do you normally pick the movies you're going to see?
GEORGE: Sometimes if my friends have seen good movies and recommend them, I may follow the fad. Or sometimes I'm forced to go to movies for, like, birthday parties or other special occasions.
MICHON: Also there are the ads on TV or the little trailer things before movies.
CP: How many movie ads do you think you see in a day?
MICHON: About four a day.
CP: Are there guidelines that you and your parents have agreed on for movies that you can and can't see?
MEGHAN: If there's an R-rated movie or a movie my parents might not want me to see, then sometimes they'll rent it and watch it first and decide if I can see it or not.
ALEX: I can't really see any PG-13 movies. I can see anything under PG-13.
GEORGE: My parents go to this website, screenit.com, where [the writers] view movies and tell you all the bad things in it. Like if they're blowing each other's heads off, or if they're having a special fantasy in bed or using the F-word or something like that, then they might say no. And if they say no, you can just forget about it!
MICHON: My mom is the one who's really picky about what we're going to see. PG-13 movies, I can pretty much see them all. But R movies I can't see.
CP: Never ever?
MICHON: Never ever. Sometimes my mom just thinks a movie is too stupid and she doesn't want us to see it. Like Dumb and Dumber.
GEORGE: Well, it was dumb and dumber.
CP: Are there any movies you're just waiting to see until you're older? Do you have a list?
GEORGE: Well, I'm into Hitchcock and I'd like to see Psycho. There are lots of movies that look good, but are rated R. I just can't wait until I'm 17: I'll save up a few hundred dollars and go though the movie store with a wheelbarrow and rent 'em all.
CP: Let's start with some movies you could see, like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. Did you like it?
GEORGE: I thought it was unbelievably wonderful trash: partially nude women pulling action stunts and beating up men. I think they try to make the Angels look smart, but then, on the other hand, they always have to kick people's butts and dress up in fishnet stockings. I think some girls are like that, but here you just have too many wiggly blondes and it's like, Whatever.
CP: What do you think Charlie's Angels says about girls?
MEGHAN: Um...no comment.
MICHON: I think they tried to show that the girls are all different. My friends will talk about that and say, "You're like Dylan," or, "No, you're more like Lucy Liu." We talk about that.
ANN: I think it says something positive. It says we're not, like, wimps or anything.
MEGHAN: It shows that even though they're different kinds of girls, they can stick together.
CP: What do you say to the people who think Charlie's Angels took feminism back ten years?
MEGHAN: I think I wouldn't like the person who said that. But I guess I do think it's weird how they switch back and forth so much. Like one minute they're doing impossible stunts and the next minute they're all [flighty].
CP: When I was in school, I had Charlie's Angels on my notebooks and folders and pencils and stuff. Are you going to do that?
MICHON: No, that's not really cool anymore. It's so '80s. Like when you're little, you might want Finding Nemo shoes or something like that. That's a little-kid thing. But we're older, so it's not that big a deal. We just talk about movies.
ALEX: Yeah, fourth graders are a little too old for that, too.
CP: So even though you're too old for Finding Nemo shoes, did you enjoy the movie?
GEORGE: I'd give it a four-star rating because of the story--and the whale talking. I also liked that there were a lot of hidden puns. For example, the girl with the braces was from Psycho, and all the seagulls on the telephone wires were from The Birds.
MEGHAN: They did that in Charlie's Angels, too: They [referenced] CSI and The Matrix.
CP: Was there anything in Finding Nemo that you thought was less for kids and more for adults?
ANN: Yeah. It was kind of complicated how Nemo was trying to clog up the system. My brother didn't get that. He was like, "Why do they need to clean the tank?"
CP: What about the group for sharks?
ALL: Fish are friends, not food!
MICHON: That's a good message for kids--like, Don't catch fish and kill them.
CP: Are you going vegetarian now?
MICHON: No. That's a definite no.
GEORGE: [The movie] is like an AA meeting in some ways, but it's for not eating fish.
CP: Was there anything you got from the movie that you don't think adults would find funny?
ANN: I think little kids just like all the bright colors.
GEORGE: I'd probably say if you're under seven and you didn't grow up around scary movies, then probably some of it will be scary. But [those kids] will grow up soon enough.
CP: On the topic of kids growing up quickly: What do you think of Spellbound? How do you think those kids in the movie felt about watching themselves in it?
MICHON: I think I'd laugh at myself if I saw myself up there being all stressed out.
GEORGE: All I have to say about Spellbound is that I kind of hated it. I'm not big on spelling bees. The kids were so weird. I mean, haven't they ever heard of popularity? Also, it reminded me of school, even though it's summer. So that sucks.
CP: What do you think the filmmakers thought of those kids?
GEORGE: I thought they must've really liked those kids or else they wouldn't have made the movie about them.
ANN: I thought they either liked them or they were nerds themselves.
MICHON: I think they liked some of the kids more than others.
MEGHAN: I didn't see the movie, but I feel kind of bad now. I don't really advertise it much, but I was in the district spelling bee, and there were kids who were sitting there before the spelling bee with open dictionaries. Was the movie like that? With kids just studying a lot?
MICHON: Um, yeah.
CP: Did you get a feeling from that movie that the directors liked boys more than girls? Or girls more than boys?
GEORGE: Girls--because there's always one girl winner.
MICHON: I think [the directors] are more interested in boys, because they showed the boys' families and homes more than the girls'--although they showed more girls.
CP: Do you want to be in a spelling bee now?
ALEX: No. Not ever.
GEORGE: The ads show all the good parts: You might as well just write a review [based] on the ads. I've had bad experiences with big-time comic-book movies. I was forced to see Daredevil at a birthday party, and now after The Hulk I think comic-book movies have hit rock bottom.
CP: Peter Scholtes at City Pages said in his blog that The Hulk is the best movie of the last ten years. What would you say to him?
MEGHAN: I'd say, "Look in your closet"--because it's full of comic books.
CP: There's a lot of violence in The Hulk. Quite a few adults are concerned about the amount of sex and violence in movies, and about how it's affecting kids. I'm wondering how you feel about that.
GEORGE: The violence part isn't bad--'cause it's telling kids that violence is evil. But I think the swearing is probably a bad thing. Like if you hear a word in a movie, and then you hurt yourself, you're more likely to use that word.
ANN: Good point. If you hear people swearing a lot, and it's casual, you start to think, "Well, maybe it's okay."
MICHON: The one thing I would copy from a movie is, like, if there's a funny line or something, then my friends and I will use it. There are some things like the "bend and snap" from Legally Blonde that my friends will use.
CP: Can you do the bend and snap?
MICHON: I can't [laughs].
CP: Was there any moviemaking you saw in these four movies that you thought was really smart?
ANN: The best moviemaking is where you don't notice the moviemaking.
MEGHAN: Yeah. With a bad movie, you'd notice.
CP: What do you want moviemakers to know about people your age?
GEORGE: That we're not stupid. And we want respect. They don't need to make things so simple.
MEGHAN: Yeah, and we could do without the murder and the romance.
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