On April 12, Netflix released The Perfect Date, a romantic comedy starring Noah Centineo and Camila Mendes, two actors growing in popularity because of their roles in teen media. Mendes plays Veronica Lodge in The CW’s Riverdale. Centineo has quickly become an actor known for playing the male lead in teen rom-coms like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, both of which premiered on Netflix in 2018.
In The Perfect Date, Centineo plays Brooks Rattigan, a high school student who dreams of attending Yale but who can’t afford it. To solve the problem, he builds an app where people can hire him to be a personal chaperone and stand-in boyfriend to dozens of rich girls in his town.
The Perfect Date is yet another spin on the same tired romantic comedy trope: conventionally attractive teenage boy is misunderstood. He preys on the promiscuous nature of teenage girls and, in turn, forgets who he truly is. It’s a movie that most of us have seen before. Brooks Rattigan is a character that many of us have seen before—and Noah Centineo has built his brand as the teen movie heartthrob of Generation Z by playing this same character over and over again.
Centineo isn’t stopping now. Currently, the sequel to the incredibly popular To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is filming, where he’ll reprise his role as Peter Kavinsky. And, if the hoards of Twitter stans are proof of anything, his popularity (and that of his movies) is certainly not dwindling anytime soon.
Although teen movies aren’t going to be Oscar contenders, part of what makes them important is their impact on their target audiences—teenagers, and specifically teenage girls.
Why we disregard teen movies
Typically regarded as “chick flicks”, teen movies are seen as juvenile and inherently feminine, in part because they often have a female protagonist. Look through nearly any listicle of teen movies, and you will see more women than in any list of Best Picture winners. As reported by Swedish media startup Ceretai, the average speaking time for women in the 2019 Best Picture category was only 29 percent. Of eight movies nominated for Best Picture at the 2019 Oscar ceremony, only four of them have women in important roles. Even when teen movies perpetuate stereotypes about women and girls, they still tend to have more active representation in comparison to some of Hollywood’s biggest films.
Each generation seems to have a movie that stands out to them as the one that defined the genre. Clueless, Mean Girls, and Legally Blonde all fall under this umbrella, and are regarded as classics of their decade. And, even as years pass and other movies of their time become aged and less relevant, these movies remain classics for a reason—teenage girls continue to watch these movies over and over again.
References to these movies exist all over pop culture today. There are references to each of these movies in Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” music video, which was released on November 30 of last year. Each of the main characters in these films has become a cultural icon for a new generation of teenagers.
What happens to character actors
As I mentioned before, Noah Centineo has quickly become a rom-com character actor. With the last year, he has become an almost instantly recognizable face in young Hollywood. Through his roles in these three Netflix teen movies, he has established himself as a popular movie actor. And he’s hardly the first of his kind.
In fact, the first name to come to mind is Hugh Grant, who has been regularly starring in romantic comedies since 1991. Or Chad Michael Murray, who led some of the most beloved teen movies throughout the early aughts. Though they may not be littered in big Hollywood awards, these movies and the actors who play in them are important because of the ease by which people can recognize them.
In defense of the teen movie
Even at their most unrealistic portrayals of love, teen movies remain entertaining and popular because they appeal to their target demographic and follow each generation’s changing values. 2018 brought us Love, Simon—the story of a 17-year old gay boy coming of age and coming out to his family. It also brought us the critically-acclaimed Eighth Grade, a coming of age story for a new generation of teenagers.
Yes, they’re cheesy. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.