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One film I somehow missed at the time was “Dirty Dancing,” with its idealistic 17-year-old protagonist Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), which a number of female writers later hailed a “feminist masterpiece.” Of course, it’s also a great summer flick, given its idyllic setting in a Catskills resort where Baby goes on summer vacation and ends up meeting the hunky, working-class dancer Johnny Castle, played by Patrick Swayze in all his hip-grinding glory.

In fact, it was ahead of its time in a lot of ways, which might make it the ultimate girl-coming-of-age movie, For its 30th anniversary this year, “Dirty Dancing” was just remade into an unnecessary TV live broadcast, which I decided to avoid and, based on reviews, that was a good idea, The age of Brat Pack America, What finally prompted me to instead sit womens ballet shoes down and watch the original film, as well as revisit my own old favorites, was reading San Francisco author Kevin Smokler’s fun new look at ’80s teen movies: “Brat Pack America.”..

Smokler’s book looks at how social and historical trends of that decade fostered the rise of the genre, which was in part fueled by the box office power of mall-browsing suburban teens with disposable incomes. This clout spawned unexpected blockbusters like the “Back to the Future,” and helped launch the careers of major male stars including Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Broderick and members of the so-called Brat Pack. Hollywood had made movies about teenagers before, Smokler said, but the 1980s films marked a notable shift, with movies consistently portraying teens as real “human beings” with stories told from their point of view.

Like many of the best ’80s teen movies, the female-centric ones I’m fond of were originally marketed as lightweight high school comedies or rom-coms, But even back then it was clear they had insightful things to say about girls’ lives, especially about what it was like to be a girl coming of age in the 1980s, Women coming of age, Yes, it was a weird decade: Reagan was in office, America was locked in a Cold War and Donald Trump and other moguls were becoming celebrity symbols of ’80s prosperity taken to excess, The feminist movement of the previous decade had won women a sexual freedom as well as a path to college and careers, But these womens ballet shoes opportunities didn’t necessarily make things any easier, especially for girls still hampered by the usual of trials of adolescence: painful insecurity, a focus on physical attractiveness and the contradictory impulses to fit in but also be independent..

In “Fast Times,” set at a fictional Los Angeles-area high school, Stacy fumbles through figuring out what sex is all about. And in a way that I have to confess is familiar to my early fumbling experiences, Stacy loses her virginity in the most unglamorous way possible, or as director Amy Heckerling once said: “Bare light bulb, harsh shadow … It’s the Valley, it’s your virginity, there it goes.”. In “Valley Girl,” Julie bristles at having to live up to the prom-queen expectations of her bad-jock boyfriend and popular friends; she’d rather be with her soul mate, smoldering Hollywood punk Nicolas Cage. Then there’s brainy and resourceful Veronica Sawyer of “Heathers”  who rebels against the “mean girl” culture of her suburban high school.

“Dirty Dancing” may be set in 1963, but it’s a rom-com dressed up as a period dance flick that smartly deals with class, feminism and the loss of innocence — both Baby’s and America’s — just before the assassination of John F, Kennedy, Though sometimes mushy and a bit campy, “Dirty Dancing” is heartfelt and electric as Baby pursues love with Johnny, She also stands up to her father and does something heroic for the sisterhood: in the pre-Roe v, Wade era, she helps a female friend get money for an womens ballet shoes abortion, then medical help when the back-alley procedure goes wrong..

You can’t write about ’80s teen movies featuring female protagonists without addressing the issue of John Hughes, who built three of his movies as director or writer around the singular screen presence of Molly Ringwald. It’s Smokler’s view that Hughes deserves massive credit for creating the template for teen movies that we still see today, and I agree. “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” certainly were part of my 1980s movie-going diet, and I enjoyed them at the time. But 30 years later, they don’t have the same charm for me as “Dirty Dancing” and the others still do. One reason, as Smokler explains, is that they are rife with the casual racism and sexism that still passed as acceptable in the ’80s. In addition to the slapstick Asian character in “Sixteen Candles,” other cringe-worthy moments come from rape jokes tossed off by male protagonists in “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.”.

Another reason these movies never entirely resonated for me is that Hughes has Ringwald play out situations that feel like they were created by a male auteur with a sentimental but limited vision of real girls’  inner lives, Most problematic are his fairy-tale endings that reduce Ringwald’s otherwise intelligent, sensitive characters to Disney princesses, Her sole purpose becomes wanting to become the girlfriend of a guy whose only remarkable womens ballet shoes qualities are that he’s good-looking and rich..

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