A few years ago, some South Bay parents told entertainment journalist Tara McNamara they were showing their young teens films from the 1980s—think "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club." Unhappy with modern film choices, the parents said they just wanted to expose their children to something more wholesome.
McNamara was alarmed. Many of those films actually had the opposite effect, she said, not at all reflecting today's values and the sensibilities of the #MeToo movement.
“They have fond memories of these films because they weren't thinking like a parent when they saw them in the 80s,” McNamara said.
For example, “Porky's” and “Revenge of the Nerds” focus on tricking women into having sex, said McNamara. Or, consider the focus of earning money through prostitution in "Risky Business" or "Night Shift." Not to mention, McNamara said, racially insensitive films such as “Soul Man,” where the lead actor wears blackface.
McNamara, who's been writing movie reviews since 2004, is now looking at 1980s films through a modern lens as she launches a podcast with her own teenager, 18-year-old daughter Riley Roberts.
“What we realized is that almost every single movie, no matter how perfect you think it is... there’s always something that will make you cringe, something you go, 'Oh, we don't do that anymore,” said McNamara, who lives in Hermosa Beach.
McNamara and Roberts launched “'80s Movies: A Guide to What's Wrong with Your Parents.”
The pair's new website 80sMovieGuide.com takes a comprehensive look at that decade in film, from the lighter romantic comedies to the more dramatic fare like “Heathers,” which is their latest podcast.
The 1988 film starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty deals with a school bombing, murder and bullying.
Riley, who attended Mira Costa High School before transferring and graduating from Redondo Union, said the “Heathers” podcast was one of the more challenging ones because of its subject matter.
“At Mira Costa there were at least four bomb threats the years that I went there and a ton of emergency lock downs,” said Roberts, who currently works at The Standing Room in Hermosa Beach.
McNamara said she has spent 15 years covering family films for various news outlets as a journalist and talk show host and is “fascinated by the media's influence on pop culture.”
The teen films are “more responsible” today, McNamara said. There's less focus on sex and characters even battle dystopian governments. This is in part to cultural shifts, but the studios as well.
“They don't want to deal with the backlash,” said McNamara about the studios.
But, according to McNamara, "The interesting thing about all of this is that Millennials and even more so, Generation Z, have a different take on all of this, and that’s because the films and culture of their youth is more socially progressive.
At the movies
McNamara and her son Cole McNamara, who was 9 years old at the time, started the website KidsPickFlicks.com in 2004 where kids could be movie critics. Roberts, who would come along to see films, started contributing movie reviews at 4 years old for the website and then on-camera reviews for Reelz Channel. At 8, Roberts began doing red carpet interviews.
“I started doing red carpet interviews... and I would see the movie afterward,” said Roberts where she interviewed stars such as Taylor Swift and Zac Efron. “I was doing that until I was 12. Then we moved here and I started middle school (Hermosa Valley) then I was dealing with the whole new kid middle school kind of thing.”
McNamara launched the website Crixit.com, where Roberts was the chief teen critic. Roberts then took time off for a couple of years so she could focus on high school. She even took a 80s literature class at Redondo High where the students read books like “Bright Lights Big City” and “Less Than Zero.”
After Crixit.com folded, the website 80sMovieGuide.com was founded and the podcast was launched with a look at “Bright Lights Big City.” Other podcasts have followed including “Say Anything,” “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure,” “Just One of the Guys” and “Xanadu.”
In July, McNamara teamed with HDNET Movies for a week-long festival of 1980s films hosted by Lea Thompson of “Back to the Future” “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Red Dawn” fame.
The interviews she did with Thompson, McNamara said, gave insight on the filmmaking process.
“You want to know… why was this made? They are time capsules, you can travel back in time and see 'Some Kind of Wonderful,' which is a good example of that. Those are people living in 1987.”
McNamara, who grew up in Oklahoma City, said she went to three different high schools there. She said the new website and podcast help her make sense of how movies, perhaps subconsciously, impacted her childhood.
“When you're looking to movies, not necessarily consciously, but thinking about 'who should I be'.. I remember thinking about Ariel in 'Footloose,'” McNamara said. “She was cool, she was wild, she was reckless, but in her heart you felt she was a good girl. People respond to that. I didn't necessarily have that thought process, but I definitely embraced that. I do think that kids... are influenced by that.”
For more information or to listen to the podcasts, visit 80smovieguide.com.