Sep 8, 2005

Essential School Survival Tips
Straight from the Movies

By Frank Paiva
Special to MSN Movies

Like it or not, another school year is just around the corner. It's time to put away the beach bag and pull out the backpack. It's time to buy the latest fashions for that first day of class. For smart people, it's also time to create a plan to make this the most awesome school year ever. And what better place to go searching for ideas than the movies?

Hollywood needs the adolescent dollar in order to stay alive, and studios provide teens with a glut of high school movies to help students escape the horrors of a full eight periods of learning each weekday. Most of these films are mindless garbage, but some provide real gems of wisdom that can be applied to everyday life in school. Here are some basic survival tips for typical school situations inspired by great teens in movie history:

The Basic Mantra
The basic mantra of any school year is: Anything can happen. Just because you were friends with someone last year doesn't necessarily mean you'll be friends with them again. Just because you got good grades last year doesn't mean you can coast through this year. The wonderful thing about a new school year is that the possibilities are endless.

Remember that when the popular kids started being mean to Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in "Carrie," they probably didn't think she had telekinetic powers and would go all crazy and burn down the school. Likewise, no one in "She's All That" would've predicted a shy, arty girl like Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) would become the girlfriend of the hottest boy (Freddie Prinze Jr.) in school. Expect the unexpected.

How to Pick an Outfit for the First Day of School
Pick something unique, but not so expensive or precious that if it's ruined you'll be out a lot of money. Those poor freshmen in "Dazed and Confused" probably didn't anticipate the elaborate, fabric-staining hazing rituals devised by the cruel seniors.

Underclassmen should be on the prowl for upperclassmen jerks looking for a little fun. Resist the mall's insistence that you subscribe to punk or preppy for the rest of the year on the first day of school. Go for something in between. Something that says, "I don't really want to be here, but I might as well look good since I have to be."

How to Greet New Students
This sounds terrible, but one should always be suspicious of new students, especially ones entering after the start of the school year. You never know when they could actually be undercover reporters looking for dirt, as in "Never Been Kissed."
This is especially true of social circles with high standing. Just look at what Winona Ryder did to The Heathers in "Heathers." Or what Lindsay Lohan did to The Plastics in "Mean Girls." If you have power, you have to protect it, and sometimes that means being exclusive.

How to Ask That Hot Guy/Girl Out
Remember that the worst they can do is laugh in your face and say no. While that sounds horrible, it's really a lot better than having someone tell you, "I ran over your dog" or "I love you, but you're just too ugly for me to sleep with" or "I think I have a big thing for your little sister." Movies have shown time and time again how two people can form a bond across the superficial lines of high school, whether it's the head cheerleader and the '70s punk guy in "Bring It On" or a geeky unpopular boy with the school's big soccer jock in "Beautiful Thing." Nothing is impossible.
A word of caution, however, to avoid overly melodramatic or difficult situations: Don't go crazy, like Natalie Wood in "Splendor in the Grass." Just suck it up and go for it! Or at least make them aware that you exist -- that way your situation isn't entirely sad.

How to be the Life of the Biggest Parties
Everyone goes to parties for different reasons, and as we've learned from "Can't Hardly Wait," they all have a story. Being funny and charming always works, but having a negative attitude will attract fewer people than "Grease 2." Get all the details about the party you're planning to attend. Know who's throwing it, and what types of people are likely to be there. A teenage party like the one in "Kids" means something very different from a teenage party in, say, "10 Things I Hate About You." With a little research beforehand, you can't go wrong. Also, sneak out without parental approval only if absolutely necessary. We all saw what happened in "House Party." Unfortunately.

How to Deal with Detention
Do I really have to say that "The Breakfast Club" is the blueprint on this topic? If you have the chance to interact with the other people in detention, do it. It doesn't matter if they're more or less popular than you, or if you have nothing in common. None of you want to be there, and it's always nice to have someone to commiserate with. Strangely, there's something about smoking illegal substances and discussing virginity stories while being forcibly held for punishment in a library that seems to bring people together.

How to Fake a Sick Day
For this most important of skills, we turn to the '80s classic "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," where our protagonist turns missing school into a high art. The key, as Ferris (Matthew Broderick) explains, lies in clammy hands. Don't try to go for a too specific symptom; otherwise there might be actual medical intervention. Whatever you go for, remember that you can only have so many sick days before parents start to get suspicious, so make sure you really need a day to yourself and make it count.

How to Get Your Parents Off Your Back and Do Good
Never underestimate the value of doing something good for someone else. In "Clueless," heroine Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is the poshest, richest girl in Beverly Hills, but she's still unhappy until she becomes involved in a school disaster relief drive. Community service is not only worthwhile in itself, it can also be a lot of fun if it's something you enjoy doing, or you're with friends. In more selfish terms, it also looks good on college applications and is a bargaining chip with parents. It improves you and the people you help. For whatever your reason, helping someone else could be the best thing you do this school year.

Have a happy and eventful school year everyone, whatever your goals may be.

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