As promised in My Top 10 Romantic Adaptations: my favorite teen adaptations!
The big news in movies last week wasn’t the casting of some big name star in a forthcoming comic book flick or the premiere of some long-awaited Oscar contender. No, the week belonged to a trailer: our first look at The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1. It’s not even out until November 18, and yet the advance buzz is insane; the trailer premiered at the MTV Movie Awards this past weekend, whereat its predecessor, Eclipse, took home a truckload of love, and even took over IMDb’s homepage, garnering millions upon millions of hits and just generally sending Twilighters into a frenzy. (I’ve personally already watched it ten times, and I am not normally one for trailers.)
Of course, the final Twilight adventure isn’t the only YA phenomenon making the leap to the screen amid cries of much rejoicing. Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments are both forthcoming, and Alex Flinn’s bestselling fairy tale redux Beastly made a much-heralded, if ultimately disappointing, appearance in theaters earlier this year.
There can be no denying that teenage love is box office bank, not to mention ratings gold, and what better source of inspiration for these potential blockbusters than the written word? Here, a look at my favorite romantic adaptations taking place in, and around, high school…
10. The Princess Diaries (2001)
Adapted by Gia Wendkos; Directed by Garry Marshall; Written by Meg Cabot (2000)
Has there ever been a more perfectly realized wish-fulfillment fantasy than this first movie made of Meg Cabot’s long-running, best-selling YA series? With Anne Hathaway luminous in the role of gawky Mia Thermopolis, newly-uncovered princess of fictional fiefdom Genovia; Julie Andrews regal as her grandmother, the Queen; Heather Matarazzo outstanding as the crusading Lily Moscovitz; and Robert Schwartzman as Mia’s endearing, scruffy-haired love interest Michael, the entire production is designed to lift even the most cynical of hearts.
Sure, much has been altered from page to screen—Mia’s princely father is dead here, for example, not merely sterile—but the movie is, nevertheless, a feelgood teen romantic comedy romp that never fails to please. (Unlike, say, the tawdry sequel.) On the other hand, Mia’s beau in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement does happen to be played by Chris Pine. So maybe it isn’t all bad.
9. Sweet Valley High (1994 – 1997)
Adapted by Francine Pascal; Written by Francine Pascal, and her prolific team of ghostwriters (1983 – 2011)
There was a time when a young girl, finding herself ready to graduate from The Baby-Sitters Club, knew there was just one place to go: Sweet Valley. First, perhaps, there may have been a visit with middle school-era Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield in their Twins books, but eventually and inevitably, SVH was the only place to be.
The TV series based upon these fantastical teenage adventures ran for four seasons in the mid-90’s (yes, really, there are 88 episodes for your viewing pleasure; hey, there are more than 300 Sweet Valley-related titles!) and featured real life twins Cynthia and Brittany Daniel in the roles of saccharine-sweet Liz and scheming, narcissistic Jess. (Brittany still pops up in film and TV here and there; Cynthia is now a photographer.)
Though dealing mostly with the troublesome Jessica vying with her perfect sister for attention and affection, there is, of course, romance aplenty to be found: Liz’s long-time “steady” is the devoted Todd Wilkins (Ryan Bittle/Jeremy Garrett), and Jessica is always falling into inconvenient love with someone or other. I must confess that I never made it up to the Sweet Valley University years, but I did dial back into the Wakefield’s wacky life for the recent self-contradicting follow-up, Sweet Valley Confidential.
And may I just say: Todd and Jessica? Shame on you, Ms. Pascal. Shame!
8. Circle of Friends (1995)
Adapted by Andrew Davies; Directed by Pat O’Connor; Written by Maeve Binchy (1990)
Just out of school and off to college in Dublin is rounded and sprightly Irish country lass Benny, alongside best-friend Eve. There they meet the pouty Nan and the personable Jack; Jack falls for Benny, Nan falls for a prissy English landowner who knocks her up… and since this is Ireland in the 1950s, she then entraps Jack into believing he needs to make an honest woman of her.
Benny is heartbroken, and Eve is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. In the movie version, Benny is played by Minnie Driver (in what was a star-making performance), alongside the exquisite Saffron Burrows as Nan and a valiantly-accented Chris O’Donnell as Jack. (Also, Colin Firth as the prissy landowner. Can you really blame Nan?)
Also, there is a changed, Hollywood-ized ending here, which should annoy me no end, and yet…I’m cool with it. Because in the novel, Jack isn’t a guy you want Benny to end up with, but in the movie, Driver and O’Donnell’s chemistry is such that it would be a crime to have things end any other way.
The book: Coming of Age. The movie: Romance. Forgive me for not being a purist, but in this case, I think I prefer the latter.
7. The Vampire Diaries (2009 – present)
Adapted by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec; Written by L. J. Smith (1991-1992; 2009-present)
Long before Bella, Edward, and Jacob—and even before Buffy, Angel, and Spike, or Anita, Jean-Claude, and Richard—the world was introduced to the supernatural love triangle of Elena, Stefan and Damon. She, a pretty and popular young thing living in a small Virginia town; they, immortal brothers locked in an eternal struggle for her love, hearkening back to a similar conflict over their vampire maker of five centuries before. (Elena looks just like her, don’t you know.)
The TV series based on L. J. Smith’s overwrought and yet utterly entrancing books brings us much of the same; the town’s name has been changed and Elena suddenly has a brother now, but who cares about those kinds of details when you have Ian Somerhalder as the mischievous Damon to gaze upon in wonder?
Of course, one has to question when, exactly, these so-called students ever make it to class, and there was a while there early in Season 2 when I simply wanted to reach inside the television and scream “Damn it, people, Tyler’s a damned werewolf! Can we please move on?” but all that aside, TVD is generally a fine hour of teen-centric television, and we can only hope that next season will bring us yet more Salvatore brothers in formal wear, and/or shirtless. ‘Cause who doesn’t want more of that?
6. Teen Titans (2003 – 2006)
Adapted by Glen Murakami and David Slack; Created by DC Comics (1964)
For anyone unaware if this perennial geek debate, I feel I should make it clear that in the Montague vs. Capulet-style battle over which is the superior of the two major comic houses, I am an avowed Marvel girl.
Nevertheless, even I must concede that DC has offered up the occasional gem… one of which is Teen Titans. And while the comic of the same name has, over its multi-decade run, dished out some truly perverse romances (some involving mind control), the dearly-missed Cartoon Network animé-style series gave us perhaps the most adorable couple in animated history: Robin and Starfire. (And yes, I’m including Popeye and Olive, Fred and Wilma, Homer and Marge and even Lightning McQueen and Sally in this grandiose statement.)
The Robin in question is, of course, Batman’s sidekick, although in Teen Titans he is unquestionably the leader of the pack. Starfire, meanwhile, is an alien entity of immeasurable power, all housed in a pretty, big-eyed package. From their first meeting, sparks ignited, and after five seasons of will-they-won’t-they-ing, the epilogue movie Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo has the two oddly-proportioned yet oddly-real superheroes locked in one of those cliché spinning kisses signifying a Happily Ever After.
Some TT enthusiasts will have it that Robin and his tempestuous teammate Raven belong together. True, it’s not quite as hotly contested as Teams Edward and Jacob, or Teams Stefan and Damon, but considering this is all relating to a cartoon that was cancelled five years ago, it is still the source of not inconsiderable fandom animosity. However, it cannot be denied by even the most ardent Raven fan that the comic book canon has Robin and Starfire as the Superman and Lois of the younger set, and so it can be safely said that in this one instance, the TV adaptation got it all very right. Eventually. And, yes. That kiss did make me just a little bit too happy.
5. Roswell (1999 – 2002)
Adapted by Jason Katims; Written by Melinda Metz, as Roswell High (1998 – 2000)
In the beginning, there were ten slim volumes detailing the adventures of three teenaged aliens living in Roswell, New Mexico and their human cohorts. The first book, The Outsider, tells of how Max Evans, one of those aliens, uses his extra-terrestrial healing powers to save long-time crush Liz Ortecha from a grisly death. She then learns that he, his sister Isabel and his best friend Michael are not of this Earth. Along with her friends Maria and Alex, Liz then promises to help Max discover the truth about his origins… In the TV show, that’s pretty much the first episode.
From there, the story diverges wildly from its source material, as it really must, since ten books at about a hundred pages a pop do not a long-lived TV series make. And I’ll not deny I had my gripes with it, throughout its three seasons.
For one, quite how a series could be set in New Mexico and yet have such a relentlessly whitebread cast was always something of a mystery. (Liz Ortecho was even rebranded Parker.) Also, Liz (Shiri Appleby) and Max (Jason Behr) were ever an exhausting couple to ship for, as were Maria (Majandra Delfino) and Michael (Brendan Fehr—hey, did anyone else notice Fehr as a random sailor in X-Men: First Class? What the hell?). Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and Alex (Colin Hanks) was always kind of a non-starter, and new addition Tess (Emilie de Ravin)… well, the less said about her, the better.
Still, there was something utterly addictive about this series; enough so that the four follow-on books that explore life after the dramatic finale (A New Beginning, Nightscape, Pursuit and Turnabout, all released in 2003) were absolutely essential reading for me. And I’m not the only one. A new copy of Turnabout is currently on offer at Amazon Marketplace for $499, the cheapest used copy is around $185, and even the Kindle edition costs a cool $14.99. I had no idea I was sitting on such a goldmine.
4. Get Real (1998)
Adapted by Patrick Wilde, from his play; Directed by Simon Shore; Written by Patrick Wilde, as What’s Wrong With Angry? (1993)
Steven (Ben Silverstone) is a delicately-featured, quick-witted and self-aware British schoolboy who is firmly in the closet; he is constantly harassed by bullies for being “queer” but denies it, the truth known only to his sassy neighbor-cum-beard Linda (Charlotte Brittain).
A chance encounter in a public bathroom (insert your own George Michael/Republican Senator joke here) leads him to enter into a passionate dalliance with the even more conflicted high school heartthrob John (Brad Gorton); they all spend an inordinate amount of time in their school uniforms; there’s a really sweet moment at the school Ball; and Steven and his Johnny both struggle against the strictures of middle-class English society even as they secretively get it on. And on. The genius of this story is that it isn’t a new one—from Sweet Dreams to John Hughes movies, tales of teen romance are almost always predicated on the notion of the Popular Boy finally noticing me—and yet it gives the trope a social conscience, using it to highlight the simple truth that first love is not only complicated, but often crippling, no matter which team you play for.
It’s what Glee could’ve been if quarterback Finn had returned the hopeful Kurt’s affections. But with less singing.
3. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
Adapted by Melissa Rosenberg; Directed by David Slade; Written by Stephenie Meyer (2007).
Oh, I love me some Twilight. That part where Robert Pattinson, as the impossibly beautiful Edward, first enters the Forks High cafeteria to what sounds like a choir of Heavenly angels channeling Muse is one of my most favorite moments in cinema ever. And the movie version of New Moon is notable for many reasons—most particularly, the wolfly development of young Taylor Lautner’s torso and the blessed manner in which hundreds of pages of tedious Bella-moping is condensed into a clever montage.
But Eclipse…oh, Eclipse! Funny, gripping, intense and insane, the movie corrects many of the book’s mistakes, gives us a kickass training scene with my favorite sparkly vamp, Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), front and center, and offers up the preternatural, pre-Raphaelite splendor of Bryce Dallas Howard as our cunning villainess. Putting Twi-hatred aside, if thus you are afflicted, this is just a really fun movie, incorporating a nicely-judged level of teen angst, some gorgeously sweeping vistas and an enjoyable, even exhilarating, climactic battle scene.
Now, bring on Breaking Dawn!
2. Gossip Girl (2008 – present)
Adapted by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage; Written by Cecily von Ziegesar
I have discussed my somewhat rocky relationship with Gossip Girl elsewhere in these pages, and while I came to the books long after I had first discovered in myself a fascination for the privileged, appalling teens of which they tell, I have nevertheless come to appreciate the source material for the elegantly-constructed, breathlessly-paced and elitism-laden burn books they truly are.
The show, meanwhile, is an absolute must-see for me; if I had to choose only one TV series to watch next Fall (Heaven forfend!), then…well, no, it wouldn’t be Gossip Girl, it would probably be producer Josh Schwartz’s other show, Chuck. But if I could choose only five, then GG would assuredly be on the list. (Plus Bones, Supernatural and Cougar Town.)
Why? Because I am sure that, despite snarky Blair (Leighton Meester) being engaged to some random royal and the spurned Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) purloining the Bonfire of the Vanities-esque memoir written by Dan (Penn Badgely), which will no doubt cause Blair a world of pain, those two crazy kids are going to make it work. And I am a sucker for a hate-turns-to-love romance. Especially when it’s conducted by such unconscionably pretty people.
1. A Walk to Remember (2002)
Adapted by Karen Janszen; Directed by Adam Shankman; Written by Nicholas Sparks (1999)
I’ve long had a problem with the tear-jerking, someone-always-dies emotional manipulations that drip from Nicholas Sparks’s far too busy pen. But for some reason, alone of all his maudlin fare, I simply adore A Walk to Remember. Oh, not the book so much. It’s just so…prosaic, as is all his writing, with nary a well-turned phrase or particularly memorable moment to make it stick in the memory even an instant after the final page is turned.
But the movie! Oh, yes. If the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice is my number one “go-to pick-me-up” in the realm of grownup romantic adaptation, then A Walk to Remember surely carries that standard in the junior division. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it, but I imagine we’re nearing the triple digits by this point. So what do I so adore about it? Is it the love I bear for the ever-watchable Mandy Moore? Is it the redemption of Shane West’s too-cool-for-school bad boy? Or is it the sweetly pure love story of selfless Jamie and sinner Landon, who overcome petty teen squabbles and small town mentalities to find ultimate happiness… at least for a little while?
Whatever it is, this is one instance in which that surefire indicator of the probable death of one, if not both, of our protagonists—the dreaded words “inspirational love story”—is made okay, because it truly is…well… inspirational. And I really do just love that Mandy Moore.
Okay, so what have I misjudged, or simply missed? Register your discontent in the comments…
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.