I’ve been thinking a lot about film genre recently. I’m quite interested in general in genre, and genre hybridity, thinking about the ways we classify films and literature and the criteria for inclusion within specific categories, but the main reason for my recent preoccupation with genre classification comes from the problems I have encountered with my corpus deciding which exact genre some of these films actually fit into.
All of the films I write about are linked through their subject matter: adolescent girls and their experience. Therefore, I spend a lot of my time reading about “youth film,” and, subsequently, “teen film.” But, the problem is, are these films really “teen”?
Catherine Driscoll writes that there are “narrative conventions that help to define teen film,” including “youthfulness of central characters,” “intense age-based peer relationships,” “conflict […] with an older generation,” and “coming-of-age plots”(Teen Film: A Critical Introduction 2). So far, so good. Driscoll also highlights that teen films are usually “for adolescents” as well as about them (3). Here is where I start to encounter some barriers when trying to define my corpus of films as “teen:” all of these films probably have been watched by adolescents, but are they specifically aimed at them? With films like Lisa Azuelos’s LOL (Laughing Out Loud) (2008), the answer is undoubtably yes: this film feels like a teen film (they even made an American remake in 2012 starring Miley Cyrus).
With others, though, it becomes more difficult. Take Rebecca Zlotowski’s Belle Epine (2010), for example, or Katell Quillévéré’s Suzanne (2013): both of these films revolve around the lives and experiences of adolescent girls, but are they aimed at an audience of a similar demographic? The immediate answer would be no: there’s none of the colour, the off-beat font, the teen fan forums, like there is with LOL. Just look at the posters, and the difference is clear:
As well as narrative conventions and audiences, though, I think there is also a particular “feel” to what we identify as a “teen” film. Think about films like Legally Blonde, or the numerous sequels to American Pie – these are not actually about teenagers, and yet they are almost definitely “teen films.” LOL, and others like Une semaine sur deux (Calbérac, 2009), definitely have this ‘feel.’ Others, though, like Suzanne or Belle Epine, don’t have this: they do not ‘feel’ like teen films. Maybe it is the explicit joy we expect to come with a coming-of-age narrative, or maybe it’s something else; regardless, these films do not have the ‘teen’ feel we expect.
The films I study predominantly fit into these two categories: those that we would immediately classify as “teen,” and those we wouldn’t, which usually have a more auteurist, debutant-style aesthetic and feel. However, of course, the lines are blurred. Take Céline Sciamma’s La Naissance des pieuvres, for example: it feels everything like a French auteurist film (and indeed, it was Sciamma’s directorial debut, and started out life as her final project from FEMIS, the prestigious French film school); but it was marketed with a distinctly ‘teen’ audience in mind: the film had its own MySpace page, and was aimed at the youth market prior to its release.
So, the question, really, is how do we begin to classify these films? What happens when a film is marketed at a teen audience, but either a) doesn’t fit into the narrative definition of a ‘teen film’, or b) doesn’t itself ‘feel’ like a teen film? Maybe the easiest answer is simply, we don’t. We classify these films instead as “comedies,” “dramas,” “romance” etc. Or, maybe, we can start to open up a new understanding of these youth films. Perhaps these films represent a changing landscape in film to discuss youth issues not exclusive to a youth audience. Part of my research aims is to prove that these films in fact function in very similar ways, specifically with their use of music: regardless of the ‘intended audience’ or genre classification of these films, they all present similar representations of adolescence and its navigation. Perhaps this is more a question that should be directed at the Academy as a whole, and its reluctance to critically evaluate anything deemed “popular.”
I think that sometimes, the act of classifying films into a particular generic box limits their scope: perhaps what we really need to do is move beyond this mode of classification, thinking about how these films articulate the experience of their characters and alter the subjectivity of their spectators, rather than their aesthetics or narrative form.