Ain't no party like a high school party
It’s simple math: Cram a bunch of adolescents into an empty house, add alcohol along with the knowledge that this taste of unchaperoned freedom will be over almost as soon as it began, and the stakes shoot up higher than the valedictorian’s GPA. We’ve revisited 10 teen-movie celebrations — the cautionary, the aspirational, and everywhere in between — and judged how accurately they capture the high school experience. Rated on a scale of one (absolutely outlandish) to five (so real it hurts), see how these big-screen bashes rate.
Mean Girls (2004)
THE INVITE: Cady’s parents are gone and her quest to destroy Regina George continues when she hosts a “small get-together” — and doesn’t invite the deposed queen bee.
THE JAMS: “Fire (Yes, Yes Y’all),” Joe Budden feat. Busta Rhymes
THE DRAMA: Cady misses Janis’ art show to host the doomed gathering, which soon attracts an enormous crowd of people she doesn’t know. Gretchen gets drunk and then confronts (and then makes out with) Jason. Cady finally has a conversation with a disenchanted Aaron Samuels, only to be interrupted by Regina, prompting Cady to get sick. Finally, to make matters worse, Cady is wearing an awful dress in colorblocked black and pink, despite it not being a Wednesday.
TOO REAL? Like so much of Mean Girls, Cady’s chaotic party is realer than anything that’s ever actually happened, heightened to unpleasant levels of disaster and humiliation to really get to the heart of a teen party gone wrong. And isn’t “word vomit followed by actual vomit” a pretty good metaphor for (or even just a straight description of) how a lot of bad nights can feel?
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉 🎉 🎉
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
THE INVITE: Bogey Lowenstein’s perfectly civilized wine and cheese party for Padua High School’s future MBAs gets crashed by the entire student body after Michael, recently ousted from the group due to a ludicrous rumor that he buys his Izods at an outlet mall, distributes a flyer advertising a raging house party. Payback, baby!
THE JAMS: “Hypnotize,” The Notorious B.I.G.; “Atomic Dog,” George Clinton
THE DRAMA: Cameron loves Bianca! Bianca loves Joey! Joey loves himself! Kat loves nobody! Patrick loves money! So Kat gets trashed, man, then dances on a table and throws up on a swing set. Patrick won’t kiss Kat but Bianca kisses Cameron (in the car). Meanwhile, Joey’s a bore and Michael can’t flirt. In short: It’s just a party, and hell is just a sauna.
TOO REAL? In the practical sense, not so much. Only in our teen movie dreams does one clearly shady FREE BEER flyer attract such a huge, oddly punctual crowd to such a huge, suspiciously party-ready house. But emotionally speaking, so much of the 10 Things bash hits home, from Cameron’s heartbreak to Kat’s general discontent to Bianca’s slow realization that she’s chosen the wrong guy. All the teenagers being deeply frustrated and having no idea what to do about it? That’s one thing we know to be true.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉 🎉
THE INVITE: It’s the night before graduation — party at Nick’s house! The whole senior class has been invited, and approximately 500 pizzas have been ordered. Just try not to get stuck at weird side parties on the way.
THE JAMS: “You Oughta Know,” Alanis Morissette; “Slip Away,” Perfume Genius
THE DRAMA: Time for overachieving BFFs Amy and Molly to make up for four years of abstaining from the company of their classmates — let the last-minute revelations begin! Molly is much better at beer pong than Nick would have guessed; Amy has a pleasant (if slightly pitchy) singing voice, much to George’s surprise; Hope isn’t the mean girl Amy always took her for; and Triple A (but please don’t call her that) is really not so bad, Molly realizes. And that’s not to mention who makes out with whom! Most surprising of all, though, is what Molly and Amy discover about each other. Isn’t that always how it goes?
TOO REAL? Um, hello, it’s the night before graduation. There is no tomorrow, and that urgency is as real as it gets. The stakes were never so high, the crushes never so crushing, the compliment of someone seeing you for your true Hogwarts House affiliation never so, so gratifying. One final badass party-savior move from one of our heroines, however, just might begin to enter the territory of a high school fantasy.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉 🎉
Love, Simon (2018)
THE INVITE: Bram’s parents are out of town on Halloween so you know what that means: House party! This is a friendly, feel-good teen movie, so everyone’s invited.
THE JAMS: “Feel It Still,” Portugal. The Man; “Monster Mash,” Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
THE DRAMA: Poor Simon! Between fending off his blackmailer Martin (who’s threatened to out the closeted teen), trying to identify his anonymous pen pal “Blue,” and manipulating his friends to appease the former and remain ignorant of the latter, he’s got his hands full. The only thing to do is imbibe copious amounts and sing your heart out to some Bieber karaoke.
TOO REAL? I mean, sort of. Our heroes get too drunk, yes. They pine for each other and tell lies to each other and uncover truths about each other, yes. But it all goes down so gently that it’s like teen partying with training wheels (and with too-polished Halloween costumes, the halfhearted Cristiano Ronaldo notwithstanding). The most legit part has to be after Simon and his best friend Leah get back to his house (before curfew!) and she says the party “felt like I was watching it from across the room.” Yes! Redeemed by the angst!
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉 🎉
THE INVITE: More parents out of town means more drunken debauchery in an empty, spacious, well-appointed suburban home. All the teens need is some booze, but luckily for everyone, the dorkiest member of a trio of nerds recently obtained a fake ID — just call him McLovin.
THE JAMS: “Here I Come,” The Roots; “I’m Your Boogie Man,” KC and the Sunshine Band
THE DRAMA: Best friends Evan and Seth are trying to score with Becca and Jules, but Becca gets way too drunk to sleep with Evan and Jules doesn’t drink at all, a possibility for which Seth did not prepare. Meanwhile, Fogell/McLovin charms Nicola on the dance floor, somehow, only to be cock-blocked by his new cop friends.
TOO REAL? The heavy drinking to ease sexual anxiety and consequent mismatched levels of intoxication ultimately precluding any actual sexual satisfaction? That’s legit. The girls’ shopping list of hard lemonade and gimmicky vodka? Very legit. Everything that ever happens, over the course of the entire movie, involving McLovin? Not so much.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉
THE INVITE: Ugh, a Valley party. As Cher rightly points out, the cops usually break them up in less than an hour and it takes that long to get there. Worth a cameo, though.
THE JAMS: “Rollin’ With the Homies,” Coolio
THE DRAMA: Cher is in full matchmaker mode, working overtime to facilitate the pairing of adorably clueless Tai and totally popular Elton. Unfortunately for the girls, however, Elton has Cher herself in his sights, and unfairly exploits his position next to her during an otherwise perfectly wholesome game of Suck and Blow. Meanwhile, Murray shaves his head, prompting Dionne to make her play for Best Dramatic Actress at a Val Party.
TOO REAL? Um, as if! We love you, Cher, but even your trashy house parties make us wonder, ‘Is this, like, a Noxzema commercial, or what?’ I mean, what teenage girl has a wardrobe full of Alaïa dresses? And then wears one of them to a party in the Valley, of all places?
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉
American Pie (1999)
THE INVITE: Post-prom party at Stifler’s house on the lake! This is the night we’ve been waiting for! Why else have we been friends with Stifler all this time?
THE JAMS: “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon & Garfunkel
THE DRAMA: The night has arrived. Our quartet of heroes shall fulfill their pact and be virgins no more. Kevin finally sleeps with his girlfriend Vicky. Oz, having gotten in touch with his sensitive side, makes sweet love to choir girl Heather. Jim is surprised to find that his geeky date Michelle has more on her mind than band camp stories, and Finch retroactively justifies the rumor that he had an affair with an older woman by seducing Stifler’s mom on a pool table.
TOO REAL? A prom party in which everyone gets just what they hoped for sounds sweet as pie…and a little sweeter than high-school reality. The fact that they all get it in ways they never could have anticipated, though, rings true — Stifler’s mom notwithstanding.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉 🎉
House Party (1990)
THE INVITE: When Play’s parents are away, the teenagers will, well, play. After Kid gets into a fight at school, his dad doesn’t want him to go, but it’s going to take more than some paternal threats to keep Kid from this party.
THE JAMS: “Ain’t My Type of Hype,” Full Force; “Always and Forever,” Heatwave
THE DRAMA: Kid and Play have a dance-off with Sydney and Sharane and then a rap battle with each other. Kid’s dad comes to the door. Kid’s bullies come to the door. Kid flirts with Sharane, despite preferring Sydney, in an effort to cultivate multiple options. Sharane does the same even though she doesn’t really care about anyone. Sydney watches all of it sadly.
TOO REAL? The emotional confusion and competitive flirtation strike a chord, but we could only dream that most high school parties featured dance-offs and rap battles up to this standard. Let’s not even get to Kid’s ongoing evasion of the bullies, or the details of his brief stint in jail.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
THE INVITE: Congratulations to the senior class of Huntington Hillside High! As the news spreads like wildfire that Mike Dexter dumped Amanda Beckett (!!!), so does the invite: Molly Stinson’s house. Graduation night.
THE JAMS: “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” Smash Mouth; “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses
THE DRAMA: Preston’s been in love with Amanda since freshman year. Now’s his chance, and if Barry Manilow on the radio isn’t a sign, then what is? Amanda is wondering what her identity is when it isn’t “Mike Dexter’s Girlfriend,” and William wants revenge for years of Mike’s torment. Upstairs, Kenny is going to have sex if it’s the last thing he does, but finds himself locked in a bathroom with Denise, who never wanted to be at this party in the first place.
TOO REAL? Only in the moments when we’re reminded that the whole thing is just a booze-soaked tableau of people wondering who they’re going to be now that the last four years are over. (Not so much in the moments when a couple of nerds scheme on the poolhouse rooftop or when an angel stripper takes pity on Preston because she once had a crush on Scott Baio.) “Maybe it was a hero’s trial,” Preston says, believing all hope is lost. “It would have been cool to make out with her, though.” Ah, the sweet poetry of adolescence.
LEGIT-O-METER: 🎉 🎉
Project X (2012)
THE INVITE: Thomas’ birthday happens to coincide with his parents’ anniversary. They leave for the weekend. Thomas has a little party.
THE JAMS: “W.T.P.,” Eminem; “Pursuit of Happiness,” Kid Cudi; “Heads Will Roll (A-Trak remix),” Yeah Yeah Yeahs
THE DRAMA: “We wanna be big-time players, we gotta make a big-time play,” says Thomas’ friend, committed party planner and budding sociopath Costa. And do they ever. The neighbor shows up. The cops show up (twice). Miles Teller shows up in a party bus. The drug dealer shows up with a flamethrower. The dog’s on a wire and there’s ecstasy inside the stolen gnome. You want to know the drama? Where do we even begin?
TOO REAL? Forget the minutiae of how it goes down. This party is more than its logistics. It can’t be measured in partygoers, in empty Solo cups, in disturbing-the-peace decibels. This party transcends such metrics. It is an epic rager, a revel of truly mythic stature, the stuff of legend (and also, to be quite honest, of nightmares). Don’t let the found footage fool you. Project X is pure fantasy.