18 to Party is a movie for poseurs.
Before you give my editor yet another ulcer from vitriolic responses, let’s get the movie’s details out of the way.
18 to Party focuses on nine young teenagers discussing small-town adolescent life in 1984 while waiting behind a local venue to enter. As their parents attend a town hall regarding recent UFO sightings, the kids discuss suicide, loss and their elders’ obsession with the extraterrestrial visitors.
18 to Party’s young cast does its best to work with the choppy and meandering dialogue. Particular standouts Taylor Richardson and Ivy Miller bring a sincerity to their characters Missy and Kira that’s lacking throughout this film.
Looking for a Movie in a Song
Much attention has been made about 18 to Party’s soundtrack; a mix of 80’s post-punk artists such as Big Audio Dynamite and The Alarm. The songs are individually good, but never align with the plot itself. It’s as if genre obsessives picked the tracks to dog-whistle their coolness to the three former Tower Records employees watching.
Which brings me back to the dreaded “P” word.
“Poseur” is the scarlet letter of the uncool. The caterwaul of inferiority that comes from those self-elected vanguards of whatever decorum a subset deems necessary to maintain its antisocial function. You can like a certain band, movie, even ideology enough to be a fan. But to those true believers who verbally brand the red “P” upon their victims, nothing short of blind devotion’s sufficient.
For The Cool Kids And The Poseurs
To his credit, 18 to Party director/screenwriter Jeff Roda acknowledges the impossibly rigid standards set forth by the “cool kids”. On more than one occasion, the nine adolescents drop witty references that would make most Gen-X music savants chuckle.
But therein lies the problem: Obscure subcultural jabs at the mainstream does not a great movie make. Snappy retorts regarding U2’s sonic plagiarism doesn’t salvage mediocre-at-best dialogue (even if they’re not totally wrong). Cracking wise on Reagan’s use of “Born in the USA” doesn’t rouse a glacial sloth of a plot. 18 to Party unfortunately suffers from its own attempts at coolness. For the most part, these attempts are as vapid as the characters’ mocking.
The third act of 18 to Party does its best to repent for the first 45 minutes with a decent reflection on friendships and life choices. But it can’t make up for the self-aggrandizing slog before the third act. It’s the Pyrrhic equivalent of a week of social ridicule for the brief satisfaction of popping a ripe zit.
If a Movie Soundtrack Falls in the Woods, Can Anybody Judge You for Never Hearing It?
There’s a plethora of coming-of-age films utilizing killer soundtracks to convey the frustrating complexities of teen-dom. Many of those films—however they may hold up to modern societal standards (looking at you, Mr. Bueller)—have the quality story to back up the musical selections.
The choice of song can also make a great scene truly memorable. Will we ever hear Simple Minds without picturing John Bender raising his fist in victory? Would Martin Blank’s epiphany have had the same impact were Bowie and Mercury not serenading him over the gym PA?
And ultimately, that’s where 18 to Party falls short: The emphasis is placed on the obscure coolness of its soundtrack, but it’s of little use serving an ultimately not-good movie. It’s the cinematic equivalent of the “cool kids” mocking you for having The Clash and Green Day on the same punk playlist, all the while never explaining why it matters. Not because they don’t have the ability to explain, but because they believe their overt, postured coolness precludes them from ever having to.
So when I say 18 to Party is a movie for poseurs, It’s not directed as a slight on anyone who’s ever had that dreaded moniker thrust upon them by the hegemony of cool. It’s directed toward the hegemony itself. The real poseurs.
You know exactly who they are. The guy behind the counter at Amoeba Music silently judging your purchase; the lacrosse dad YouTubing Mudhoney live shows during his kid’s game (because Pearl Jam’s soooo pop); the high-school crush with the Letters to Cleo shirt who mocked you all senior year for owning a Springsteen album.
And to those archetypes of forced hipness who make everyone’s teenage life miserable, have I got a movie for you.