Pop Culture Pet Peeve: Every high school dance is epic, according to Hollywood

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Oh, high school, you eternal fountain of youth — where the girls come model-pretty and mature for their age, the boys are star athletes with fully developed vocal cords, your English teacher is Michael Vartan, and all your homework problems are actually matters of life and death. All true, if your high school is set on a Hollywood campus.

If you’ve ever seen a John Hughes film, lived through the ’90s, or followed Lindsay Lohan’s early career, chances are, you’ve seen a high school-set film with a dance scene. Now, compared with typical high school dance experiences — which may or may not have involved more unglamorous scenes such as shoving 16 over-made-up girls and their scrawny dates into a stretch limo having just left an awkward group photo with their parents earlier — these Hollywood-ified versions read more like glitzy Broadway productions or well-honed Shakespearean soliloquies.

Unless we’re all doing it wrong, I’m annoyed that most high school movies use the dance as the ad hoc arena to dump all the good stuff. They make it seem like every high school dance is the apotheosis of the school year, i.e. your life. After all, from a screenwriter’s perspective, the dance is the perfect setting, as you can get all your major characters in one room, everyone looks beautiful because they’re all dolled up, there’s a guaranteed audience with the rest of the student body, and there’s ample opportunity to set the scene with moody music.

Whether it’s a Sadie Hawkins, a seasonal formal, homecoming, or — hold for bated breath — prom, the high school dance is Hollywood’s convenient little plot device, wherein something that’s been building in the movie is about to hit its boiling point, or all hell breaks loose. I’ve identified three high school dance themes for you fellow PopWatchers peeved about Hollywood’s adolescent movie wrongdoings:

First up, we’ve got the dance with a side of profound speech. In the Lindsay Lohan magnum opus Mean Girls, Cady (Lohan) ends up winning the crown for the Spring Fling dance. Fresh from a Mathletes competition, Cady trots onto the stage to accept her crown, delivering a long-and-winding apology, prompting Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows) to say, “You know, it’s not really required of you to make a speech.” But Lohan goes on, sending an olive branch to the rest of the Plastics by giving them pieces of her crown. “Seriously, most people just take the crown and go,” says Principal Duvall. I’m pretty sure that’s the etiquette for non-Hollywood dances too, unless your Kings and Queens had a knack for oratory and public apologies.

Josie Gellar (Drew Barrymore) in Never Been Kissed just might win best in show for crazy a– move made by someone who was this close to completing her assignment. But no, she’s had her glut of the popular girls’ antics, intercepting their attempted dog food drench on poor Aldys (Leelee Sobieski). In one fell linguistic swoop, Gellar reveals that she’s really a twenty-something journo with this doozy of a speech:

Let me tell you something, I don’t care about being your stupid prom queen. I’m 25 years old. I’m an undercover reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and I’ve been beating my brains out trying to impress you people. Let me tell you something, Gibby, Kirsten, Kristin, you will spend your lives trying to keep others down because it makes you feel more important. Why her? Let me tell you about this girl she is unbelievable. I was new here and she befriended me no questions asked. But you, you were only my friend after my brother, Rob, posed as a student and told you to like me. All of you people, there is a big world out there… bigger than prom, bigger than high school and it won’t matter if you were the prom queen, the quarterback of the football team, or the biggest nerd in school. Find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it.

As well-written and well-delivered as it is, would you ever have the balls to say this to the whole student body at prom?

Theme number two: The “I Can’t Believe We’re Not At A Broadway Audition” dance. In She’s All That, after Zack (Freddie Prinze) finds Laney (Rachel Leigh Cook) dancing with Dean (Paul Walker), somehow, someway, the entire school magically busts some perfectly choreographed moves. At my school, we magically stood together awkwardly. One YouTube commenter writes, “I love how everyone at this school is a professional dancer.” My sentiments exactly. Also, while we’re harping on high school facts, was Usher available to DJ at your local high school too?

Or how about this floor-clearing, spotlight-stealing dance from Ronald Miller (a young Patrick Dempsey) in Can’t Buy Me Love? Who knew McDreamy had those McMoves? And that nerds looked like that in the ’80s?

And finally: The “Holy Moly Did That Really Just Happen In Front Of Everyone?” dance. Ya can’t say they didn’t have it coming. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in 1976′s Carrie is the brunt of all gross-out pranks ever when Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and boy toy Billy (John Travolta) deluge her with pig’s blood after she’s crowned prom queen. The image is searing and vicious and soul-cringing, and actually makes me sort of glad I didn’t go to Hollywood High.

What are some other memorable high school dance scenes that never matched your own experiences? Let us know in the comments!

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