Dysfunction Junction: Cinema’s 10 Most Troubled Teens

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Most teen movies are of the type that suggest the only problems adolescents might face in high school today are what outfit to wear to what party and to whom to lose their virginity. Though films like American Pie try to prove that behind the teenagers’ readily partying exterior lurk a sea of insecurities, these are usually lost in exaggerated comic situations and superficial dialogues. Fair enough, really; if you’re a teen watching these movies you’re most likely looking for something to distract you from the bitchy high school mentality. If you’re an adult, you want to reminisce about epic summer nights spent with your friends as a youth, or perhaps you’re just trying to find new ways of embarrassing your children. The point is, we can totally see why these films are attractive: Who wants to be reminded of teenage angst when we can revel in adolescent fun and adventure instead?

If you’re brave enough to face the dark side of teen rage, this list will tune you back in to the feelings of helplessness, confusion, frustration and pressure we all experienced between the ages of 12 and 18. Read on for an introduction to some of the most troubled teens on the big screen and their various dysfunctions.

10. Pauline and Juliet—Heavenly Creatures
Year: 1994

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When the posh, beautiful and outspoken Juliet (Kate Winslet) is transferred to Pauline’s (Melanie Lynskey) school, Pauline is immediately drawn to her. They find past traumas in common and end up being close friends. Pauline is envious of Juliet’s family, with their sophisticated dinner conversations, and grows increasingly hostile toward her own mother, Honora (Sarah Peirse). But Pauline no longer cares about the real world and the people in it; all she cares about is Borovnia, the fantasy world she has created with Juliet. They write entire novels about their fantasy kingdom, spending days on end immersed in their story. When Juliet lets Pauline in on the idea of “the Fourth World,” they lose their sense of reality completely and become more obsessed with the truths of their own kingdom. A series of circumstances lead Pauline and Juliet to believe that Honora has become an obstacle to them, one they will not allow to get in the way of their intense friendship.

Peter Jackson’s movie is based on the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme each carried out a five-year sentence and are believed to not have seen each other since the trial. Juliet Hulme, aka Anne Perry, is now a known writer of detective novels.

Dysfunction: Bludgeoners

9. Théo and Isabelle—The Dreamers
Year: 2003

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It’s pretty normal for teenagers to be fascinated with all things controversial, different and dangerous. Despite contrary belief, a little rock and roll has never hurt anyone, nor has New Wave cinema or a bit of student rioting. Most parents encourage at least some form of “rebellious” behavior, and if brother and sister can discard their daily quarrels to bond over common interests, even better. The Parisian twins Théo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green) share this kind of connection with each other and spend hours discussing Eric Clapton and Charles Chaplin. When American exchange student Matthew (Michael Pitt) meets them at a protest, he is taken by their insatiable hunger for music and cinema. He is somewhat wary of their unnaturally intimate sleeping arrangements but soon finds himself playing along. When he starts dating Isabelle, naked three-way cuddling becomes a part of their nightly routine…

Dysfunction: A tad incestuous

8. Tummler and Solomon—Gummo
Year: 1997

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None of the characters in this film seem quite right in the head, not even the adults. Whether it is some long-lingering side effect of the devastating tornado that whirled through the impoverished town of Xenia or simply their natural state of being, the only people who roam the desolate streets are lost souls and disturbed teens. In a ghost town where the present currency seems to be dead feral cats, a bunny-eared boy walks aimlessly on an overpass, pissing and spitting at passing cars. His chosen getup has us falsely believing in his part being a central focus of the film. The real stars here are Tummler and Solomon, the two catnappers who exchange a dead kitty for local, mentally challenged pussy. They’re ruthless in their actions and it’s hard to see them as just your usual, dim-witted troublemakers. To writer and director Harmony Korine, this film merely represents the characters of his hometown of Nashville, Tenn., and we can only hope this is a much exaggerated version of the people he grew up around. Then again, it’d explain a lot about his stories and twisted visions.

Dysfunction: Cat killers

7. Leland P. Fitzgerald—The United States of Leland
Year: 2003

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Finding sympathy for a seemingly cold-blooded murderer seems unfathomable at first, but even those capable of killing have their incomprehensibly sensitive side. Leland (Ryan Gosling) is one of them. Without any real parental stability or guidance, Leland follows his own moral philosophies; to us they suggest indifference, when in Leland’s own reality, they are born from empathy. Killing his girlfriend’s mentally handicapped brother Ryan (Michael Welch) in broad daylight was yet another moral code misunderstood. His prison teacher, Pearl (Don Cheadle), realizes that Leland wasn’t acting out of pure aggression at all, but out of a deep sense of helplessness. Overpowered by the sadness he felt the people around him emit, Leland found it increasingly hard to deal with his weltschmerz. One day, he watches Ryan become distressed by an obstacle in his way and feels his heart break for the boy. In his mind he’s following a rational thought: Life won’t be anything but a struggle for his girlfriend’s brother, and like a beetle on its back, he deserved to be put out of his misery. In an act of momentary tranquility, Leland promised Ryan the one thing he could never promise his girlfriend: that everything would be okay.

Dysfunction: Murderer

6. Tracy Freeland—Thirteen
Year: 2003

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Being 13 can seriously suck; gone are the days when we wake up in the morning, roll out of bed and simply slip into the clothes our mom’s laid out for us the night before. It’s all about being cool, wearing whatever’s hip at the moment, hanging with the popular crowd and smoking whatever it is they’re toking. Needless to say, we can relate to Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and her infatuation with Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed) in the movie Thirteen. We get to know Tracy as a sweet and sensitive girl who is still very much in touch with being a child. She seems happy in her surroundings until the “in” crowd makes fun of her “Cabbage Patch” clothes. She spirals into an “I’m-not-a-baby-anymore” frenzy; luckily, her hardworking but hip mother Melanie (Holly Hunter) understands her daughter’s need to grow up and takes her shopping for secondhand clothes. Once she changes her appearance, she draws the attention of Evie and they become inseparable. They get into trouble with drugs, petty crime and sleeping around. Tracy feels as though she has finally found her place in the adolescent world, only to realize she isn’t quite ready.

Dysfunction: The overwhelmed teen

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