The way everyone seems to be positively responding to the movie Eighth Grade mirrors the way they responded to Lady Bird. There is this pattern lately with coming-of-age films where a rising star in the industry develops a down-to-earth film that’s relatable to the masses. It creates an interesting trend where, on one end of the spectrum we have these massive Marvel superhero films ruling the box offices and taking over the narratives of the film industry, and on the complete other end of the spectrum there is the quietly brilliant coming-of-age films that delve into the adolescent psyche. It’s understandable that different people positively respond to one of the two extremes, obviously people with different taste go to different movies, but what about the divide between the successful lower budget coming-of-age films that are on the same side of the spectrum as their lesser succesful, higher-budget counterparts? In the end it seems that money isn’t always what creates a good film, but that there are several other aspects to be considered.
Call Me By Your Name was an indie introspective feature with lesser-known talent, but it blew up to the point where it won an Oscar. You compare that to Love, Simon, a film with a similar message, but one that received much less recognition, and you wonder what caused the different reactions. According to Box Office Mojo, Love, Simon had a budget of $14 million while Call Me By Your Name had a budget of merely $3.5 million. So what did Call Me By Your Name have going for it that Love, Simon didn’t? For this, it may have been time. The book, Love, Simon came out in 2015, so most likely the movie was made within 3 years, which is the norm for a teen feature. For reference, the book The D.U.F.F. was published in 2011 and the movie was released in 2015. Pretty standard for that time period. Call Me By Your Name was published at the beginning of 2007. The screenplay was then optioned in 2007 and thus the film was in the works for almost 10 years before it was released. Armie Hammer was reported to have met with the film’s director, Luca Guadagnino, seven years before production started. During those 10 years there was a lot of staff rearrangements as well as script revisions that occurred until the film had the proper co-directors, writers, and actors. That doesn’t mean Love, Simon didn’t have great people working on it, but if Call Me By Your Name was made in three years instead of 10, it most certainly would not have received an Oscar.
Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, had a budget of $10 million according to Box Office Mojo, while Paper Towns had a budget of $12 million. That’s a small difference, but Paper Towns was directed and written by the same two guys who saw huge success with The Fault in our Stars, and it already had support from the author of the book’s cult following, so it was better setup for success. Even so, once again it was Lady Bird that went on to win two golden globe awards and be nominated for multiple Oscars while Paper Towns struggled, taking sixth place at the box office on opening weekend. These opposing fates were caused by the biggest difference between the two movies: clichés. If you’ve seen Lady Bird you know that there are scenes that could have easily dissolved into clichés. For example, the popular girl could have been mean and judgmental ala Regina George, but when Lady Bird exposed that she wasn’t on the same economic level as her, the ‘mean girl’ said she only cared that Lady Bird lied to her. What a great sidestep to avoid a played-out cliché and instead make it more realistic. Meanwhile, the entirety of Paper Towns is a cliché. It’s about a teenage boy falling in love with a manic pixie dream girl he hasn’t talked to since childhood, only to find out at the end of the movie that she’s not everything he thought she was. Though this movie actually aimed to break the notion that you shouldn’t make people out to be more than they are, it still had the dorky friend group inexplicitly getting together with the popular girls to go on an epic adventure, I Love You, Beth Cooper style. Thus, on the way to breaking that one cliché, it fell into a million other unrealistic high school themes, which caused it to fade into the background of other teen movies instead of standing out among them, like Lady Bird did.
It could be that we’re having an ‘80s revival where the masses are craving teenage coming-of-age films, but the shortened production time and clichés that worked for John Hughes back then aren’t translating to today’s audiences. Before, films with the biggest budgets usually won out, but now consumers are looking for more than the familiar, they want realistic characters and for the film creators to care about what their making. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, producer Eli Bush said “You had 100 people on the set that would go to the ends of the Earth for Greta,” and that’s reflected in the work. It’s time for production companies to see that there is worth in putting in the time and the effort to create something different.