Films set over a short period, 24 hours or less, hold a particular romanticism. It reiterates the potential of a day and how much impact it can have. Action packed or pleasantly unrealistic -- a disproportionate number of these film have climbed into the annals of cult classicdom.
Reflecting on their excitement, these movies act to highlight the mundane reality that most days become. I often find myself watching these films in an effort to escape (read: when I am hungover). These are days spent inside contemplating permanent hermitage, only to concede and venture outside once I have run out of Diet Coke.
And let's face it, that day is not going to be the day I meet the love of my life on a train from Budapest. Nor will I be dancing to twist and shout on a parade float. Odds are, the only strangers I will be speaking too will be a dominoes employee or, when I start to feel really pathetic around 9pm, an underwhelming Tinder match.
The force of seeing others, all-be-it fictional others, moving forward in the world with jJoie de vivre or engaging in high-stakes interactions is the perfect anecdote to my personal brand of self-indulgent hangover anxiety. Watching characters seize the day on screen, leads me to think twice about making tomorrow slightly more memorable.
Notably, condensed chronologies are one of Richard Linklater's most popular tools. Slacker, the Before Trilogy and Dazed and Confused all take place within one day and despite the disparate subject matter and tonal differences, they all grapple with the passage of time -- thematically and structurally -- in a way that allows us to draw clear lines between them.
With their absence of fatalism, a collective characteristic of these movies, the narratives become oh-so-easily digestible. It's more than the sensation of a story washing over you -- it's going for a drive with a friend, getting lost in conversation and ending up where you never knew you wanted to go.
In Slacker, this manifests itself in the unselfconscious storylines that coexist rather than conflict. With Jesse and Celeste, their verbal sparring -- especially in Before Midnight -- isn't a signpost towards a big bust up followed by heartfelt resolution. Rather, it serves as a valuable insight into the characters and their relationship.
In the case of Dazed and Confused, Linklater revels in the characters low-stakes, quotidian conflicts not even feeling the need to conclude them by the film's end -- they will continue whether the viewer is there to see them or not. For me, it's a film I loved it as soon as I saw it without thinking very deeply as to why. Since then, I have grown up with this film, turning to it again and again for comfort, entertainment and because of this weird fetishy fascination for Texas that I have (but that one might just be me).
Promptly, I set about convincing my friends to give it a go, wearing them down with lively (and frequent) references and anecdotes. I remember the promise of a young Ben Affleck being one of my key selling points. After finally watching it together, despite their generally positive reviews, I was disappointed at the apathy they expressed towards the ending -- 'nothing really happened' was the sentiment.
And I do get that. This is no all or nothing story. Floyd kisses Jodi in the woods, and his girlfriend doesn't find out. In fact, they ride off together at the end to go get concert tickets. Equally, despite his confrontation with the coach, Floyd's football playing status is still in limbo as they career off into the sunset. For Cythnia and Wooderson, while the romance introduced earlier in the drive-thru scene and by the end, a date has been planned -- there has been no major debate over their seemingly odd match nor a big romantic coming together. The list of these instances goes on.
The story gives space for teenagers to make mistakes and missteps without moralisation. For me that what made the experience so fun and hopeful, but for others, the lack of conclusion can just be unfulfilling.
Another director that has made a standout contribution to this cannon is John 'the Don' Hughes. While Linklater uses this format most effectively for thematic emphasis, with Hughes it aligns with the idea that any of his films are, unashamedly, about the teenage experience and are targeted at teenage audiences.
For Ferris, Cameron and Sloane, playing hooky is a fuck you to the rules and restrictions that come with attending high school and living under their parent's roofs. In defying teachers and tricking their parents with farcical booby traps and theatrical set pieces, they take back control of their current day-to-day rather than just fantasying about a future where they will be free to be themselves. This empowering trope is one common in teen movies -- think Freddie Prince Jr defying his parents college choices in She's All That, Amanda Bynes pursuing football over a debutante lifestyle in She's The Man or Ellen Page in Whip It rejecting her beauty pageant legacy in favour of roughing it at roller derby.
However, Ferris is not a teen movie that merely bows to convention. I particularly like that there is no quick fix denouement. No, tying up of all the conflicts with some sort of reference -- often a voice over or montage -- to a utopian future where everyone is still together, and happy and at the college they dreamed of and has learnt the error of their ways. All tied up, nice and neat. Just like life, right.
Throughout, the characters aren't completely idealistic about their future outside of this safe, yet unsatisfying, space. Cameron's ennui and Ferris' sister's skepticism are perhaps the best examples. There is similar rumination in The Breakfast Club. The closeness between the central five characters that is built during the day is questioned. How, if at all, will the friendship established over that day survive in the harsh hierarchy in which they live?
Don't get me wrong -- there is by no means a complete rejection of trope. I find Salone and Ferris talk of marriage weird. Why would someone as adventurous, outward looking and charismatic as Ferris want to follow such a conventional path into adulthood? Also, isn't Salone 16? Similarly, in The Breakfast Club it has always fucked me off that Andy and Allison get together. It's so lazy in contrast to the teasing out of Claire and Bender's sexual tension. And why isn't she isn't a 'basketcase' anymore? 'Cause she put some mascara on? Bleh.
Nonetheless, I still find it affirming, even now I'm no longer 'an adolescent', to re-watch these movies (16 Candles is another classic). I don't have that same source of angst -- I can't resent my lot because I am not old enough to do anything about it -- but there is a sentiment of hope that goes beyond nostalgia, a timeless source of optimism.
A 24-hour narrative readily lends itself to capturing the palpable sense of potential that we attach to our late teenage years. The expectation of newness, the desire for change, the sense of something starting. Beyond Hughes and Linklater, it's something that has been embraced by many other makers of teen movies. In Empire Records the film's conflict is defined when they are given the deadline of one day -- Rex Manning day -- to save the titular record shop that is so close to the employee's hearts. By promptly putting the threat of closure on an impending deadline, the stakes are immediately raised. In its urgency, comedy becomes caper, romantic trysts race to resolution, confessions spill and conflicts burst under the pressure -- all before a soothing 'fuck-the-man' resolution and catchy musical number.
In a similar vein, there is a slew of movies that overlap the teen and 24-hour categories but that are set entirely over one night. Such antics can be seen in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, Can't Hardly Wait, Sleepover, Myth of American Sleepover and Funsize, all of which use the cover of darkness and the promise of a party to drive their protagonists. By extension, I also feel Superbad belongs in this box -- it is nothing if not a caper, and the opening set during the school day is mere preface to the party that drives and necessitates their quest to get wrecked.
Despite my teen movie focus so far, this chronology is a flexible one and has been deployed across genres effectively. It has been used to capture the energy of more illicit, high-octane past-times in Victoria and Human Traffic. And while miles away genre-wise, The Goonies uses a similar short-form structure to convey a palpable sense of childlike adventure and fantasy. The comedic effect of this set-up is also well established, with Airplane and Date Night being good examples.
Whatever the genre, these concentrated time frames are useful when addressing restless (youthful or otherwise) audiences -- they enliven that part of us which is impatient for change, satiating IRL restlessness with onscreen action. It's the ultimate vicarious experience.
Emily likes to overthink pop culture, and then write about it. Read more of her writing by heading here.