I’ve never really understood the vampire craze, though I can see why fans–particularly young women–would respond so strongly to Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular books and their subsequent film adaptations. The central heartthrob, Edward Cullen, is brooding, mature, handsome and utterly consumed with passion for the girl he loves. Whereas male screenwriters are obsessed with writing about Manic Pixie Dream Girls, female authors sure do love their Sullen Sparkly Dream Boys.
What I love the most about the teen comedy, “My Sucky Teen Romance,” is the way in which it slyly deconstructs the “Twilight” phenomenon while offering its own fresh twist on genre archetypes. Unlike “Vampires Suck,” which broadly parodied its targets with all the weary silliness of a third-rate “Scary Movie” knockoff (with the sole exception of Jenn Proske’s spot-on Kristen Stewart impression), “Sucky Teen” actually aims to tell a heartfelt story about characters that are worth caring about. Writer/director Emily Hagins (who was 18 when she completed the film) doesn’t shy away from the consequences that befall a member of the undead, and creates a heroine whose desires and aspirations are considerably more complex than those of the tiresomely needy Bella Swan. Elaine Hurt is a natural charmer as Kate, a girl who attends the sci-fi/horror convention SpaceCON with the hope that she’ll meet a cute guy. Instead, she receives a pair of fangs in her neck, and it’s not long before her reflection evaporates from her bathroom mirror, causing her to deliver the priceless line, “I can’t not live like this!”
Since Hagins is a member of the generation that has embraced “Twilight,” it’s fascinating to view its allure and absurdity from her perspective. The dialogue is chockfull of witty lines that are delivered with deadpan timing by the likable young cast. Critic and vocal Hagins fan Harry Knowles makes an uproariously funny cameo at a panel discussion where he pulverizes a starry-eyed fan’s perception that vampires are merely cute pale boy toys. That same fan is later approached by Vince (a very funny Devin Bonnée), a ruthless bloodsucker who cloaks himself in Cullen-esque sensitivity in order to seduce his victims. Yet “Sucky Teen Romance” is not a mean spirited put-down of Twihards. It’s both a celebration of modern fan culture and a cathartic satire of its current icons. Plus, it marks the latest spectacular achievement of Hagins, who has completed a total of three feature films over the last six years, making her the youngest feature film director in the U.S.
Dark Sky Films and Ain’t It Cool News are currently touring “My Sucky Teen Romance” around the country, and will screen the film in Chicago at 7:30pm Monday, August 27th at the AMC River East 21, followed by a live Q&A with Hagins. For tickets, visit the Ain’t It Cool website. For my in-depth interview with Hagins, visit HollywoodChicago.com. I had a blast chatting with her about her career, and she was thrilled that I spotted her film’s priceless homage to a certain beloved cult favorite. If you are as in love with movies as Emily and I are, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to spot it too.
By the way, here’s the trailer for “Zombie Girl: The Movie,” the splendid documentary in which filmmakers Justin Johnson, Aaron Marshall and Erik Mauck followed Hagins as she made her feature filmmaking debut at the mere age of 12…