I miss girly 2000s movies. I miss bubblegum pink wardrobes, the lack of text bubbles, and the Emma Roberts of it all. When I think back to my younger years before I became a snob, entertainment was mostly confined to Disney Channel original movies, teen flicks with poppy soundtracks, OK Magazine It Girls, and a lack of self-awareness.
The mid-late 2000s, in particular, were a treasure trove for the kind of teen movies I’m talking about. While the best ’90s movies retained a cool sheen and the 2010s are remembered for ushering in a new franchise-led landscape, the movies of my generation’s youth are defined by their time capsule aesthetic and inability to escape the obvious lens through which they were made.
You can see the markers all over them: the soft haze of film grain, low-rise jeans of Travelling Pants, and comforting inoffensive stories about strained mother-daughter relationships and bestie breakups. New movies are lacking in these.
While other eras aged well or came back into fashion, the High School Musicals and Wild Childs are distinctly of their time, and you can never break them out of that rose-tinted glass. They’ll always be the ones I watched on the floor after school, revisited with friends during summer vacation, and to this day, live someplace in my psyche that makes them beyond reproach.
The way I look at a film made at that time, for the kind of audience member I was, is not the same way I look at a silly comedy made now. It’s like there’s something essential missing in digitally shot, self-aware, modernized stories made for today’s teens that lack the cozy factor that has me returning to the ones I know.
I’m not the only one. Why is it that when elder Gen Z or the younger millennials who grew up with these camp classics are sick, sad, or otherwise spiritually half-full, they are called in to rewatch these movies like kids honing in on their front porch light at the sound of a dinner bell?
The audience who frequently make viral tweets about the likes of Monte Carlo — the Selena Gomez vehicle where a teenager visits Europe and discovers she has a rich doppelgänger — are often female or queer, but there’s a certain universal element to this nostalgia that transcends these identifiers; it’s more about age, it seems.
When I returned from living in Barcelona (pronounced Barthelona, like in Booksmart) for a stint, the first thing my sister and I did was watch Cheetah Girls 2 because it takes place there.
I write about movies for a living; she considers anything over 2 and a half hours torture and would rather be waterboarded than watch something in black and white. We both love the Cheetah Girls, though, and we both held High School Musical trading cards in our grubby hands in school.
I’ve been chatting with her, and many other kindred spirits, about the new Barbie movie a lot, and we celebrated Do Revenge’s release — a homage to this sub-genre infused with modern representation and humor — on Netflix, too. It seems Hollywood is beginning to crack the code for this demographic who gravitate towards pastels, silliness, and cringey idealism.
The good-bad genre takes on many forms. The Room is a different kind of delight to the Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan iteration of Freaky Friday or the Twilight movies. The concept of sitting down to laugh at, and with, them may be somewhat similar, but the latter strangely feels like home.
Whether it’s the color grading echoing a time when everything didn’t have to look sleek and blue, the obnoxious needle drops, or the performances from the likes of Riverdale’s Camilla Mendes that fully lean in, Do Revenge understood something crucial yet inexplicable about its audience.
It knew the people most likely to click play on a comedy about two evil girls who discover they’re platonic soulmates after executing plans that included drugging the student body with psychedelic mushrooms, hitting each other with cars, and discussing the ways they’d like Sarah Michelle Gellar to murder them (Gen Z-speak for “she’s hot”).
I hesitate to say it, lest I invite a trend that sees studios pump out so much of it that it feels like the latest nostalgia hook to reel us in and eventually fatigue, but I want more of the sensibilities from the best 2000s movies in modern filmmaking, and I want the people making them do it without irony, the killer of all fun.
There’s a reason Letterboxd profiles belonging to certain people of a certain age are filled with diary logs of the likes of St Trinians — films that made zero noise and zero dollars. Hotel for Dogs isn’t on our best movies list, but the way it’s a shared connection between people approaching their quarter-life crisis, maybe it should be.
Sure, we risk over-idealizing the past or ignoring problematic elements of older films by trying to capture that pop culture moment in a bottle, this time with corporate overlords fully aware of their hook, but Do Revenge proved we can capture their spirit through a contemporary framing. All of this is to say, if it doesn’t have an Olivia Rodrigo needle-drop moment a 15-year-old can edit into a fan cam, I’m not sure I want to watch it.
For more lukewarm takes, check out our thoughts on the best TV series like why the western has always been a genre for women, our emphatic The Idol feminist critique, and how Rosalie is the best Twilight character.