Most of Kiki Penoyer’s work for 10YA thus far is realizing that a lot of movies from 2006 were deeply fucked. John Tucker Must Die is no different.
As I recall, John Tucker Must Die is about a #Squad of badass teen girls who discover they are being hurt by the same man and band together to destroy him. Who are these girls? I don’t remember. One of them is Brittany Snow. I’m wracking my brain to come up with any other powerful or moving memories of my time with this film ten years ago, but honestly, that’s as far as I’ve got. I think I liked it? I thought it was funny? #GirlPower? I don’t even know, let’s just roll the tape.
The film stars pre-Pitch Perfect Brittany Snow, sharing with us via overhead narration that she is considered ~invisible~ and emphasizing this point with a series of scenes where other people behave abnormally as if they don’t notice a Brittany Snow-sized human beside them. You know, like that scene in The Princess Diaries. Except we didn’t bother to Anne Hathaway her—she’s sparkly-eyed and perfectly coiffed and Traditional Hot Girl Brittany Snow, and we’re supposed to believe she’s ever walked into a room and no one’s noticed. Apparently this Social Invisibility Cloak is the fault of her Hot Mom Jenny McCarthy (things I learned today: Jenny McCarthy is in this movie) who has a habit of gravitating toward the Alpha Douchebag of the town, bringing him home, and getting dumped, at which point she eats three pints of chocolate frosting and makes her child change schools. The most astonishing thing about this, to me, is that in 2006, it wasn’t considered unreasonable for a person to move that often, because housing was A) reasonably affordable, and B) available literally anywhere. This movie allegedly takes place in Portland. Any Portland readers out there want to sound off on the likelihood of being able to find a two-story house overnight with no job in 2016?
“But enough about me,” Narrator BSnow says, “This story isn’t even about me. It’s about him: John Tucker.” I…. Okay. You continue, Imma get an aspirin.
BSnow has nabbed a waitressing gig at a nice restaurant (Portland readers: Are there jobs in Portland now?); from this vantage point, she witnesses Title Character John Tucker on dates with three different girls: Perpetual Teen Film Flop Star Arielle Kebbel as a stereotypical snotty A-student; 2000s Popstar Ashanti as a stereotypical snotty head cheerleader; and pre-SVU-Crossover-Ruining Sophia Bush as a stereotypical snotty Ditz. BSnow introduces Sophia in the following fashion: “Okay, I’m not passing judgment, but for whatever reason, being a ‘vegan teen activist’ is usually code for ‘Easy.’” Mmkay, BSnow, lemme just remind you that you’ve been going to this school for less than three minutes and you have never spoken to this girl, so maybe shut the fuck up about her choices?
As BSnow’s coworker explains, JT goes out with girls from different cliques so they will never actually talk to each other—it is common knowledge that girls only speak to girls within their own clique, after all—and then blames the secrecy on not being allowed to have a girlfriend during Sportsball Season. What a scumbag!!! Cue a montage of a lot of unspeaking teenage girls throwing themselves at him—set, of course, to apparently the only song that came out in all of the mid 2000s, “Dirty Little Secret” by the All-American Rejects—yes, it’s in this film TWICE, and yes, for those of you keeping track at home, this WAS also heavily featured in She’s the Man.
Naturally, all four girls with names end up in the same place and IMMEDIATELY Teen Girl Squad gets in a fight over JT, which a grumpy #Snowqueen shuts down by pointing out that JT is the one at fault here for lying to them and to stop harping on each other. The girls are all sent to detention for this disturbance, where we meet the school’s Cute Stoner, pre-Gossip Girl Seattle Native (and Only Actual Teenager On Set) Penn Badgley, who apparently is JT’s younger brother. Because he’s the first boy to ever notice #Snowqueen, there is InstaChemistry—to prove it, they become lab partners. In Chemistry. And yes, for those of you keeping track at home, this exact setup is also featured in She’s the Man.
The Three Girlfriends decide to compare notes and slut-shame each other until #Snowqueen interrupts once again to remind them that Classic Narcissist John Tucker is the problem and to please stfu so she can Detention in peace. Yes, you’re right: we DID just have this literal exact discussion five minutes ago. Maybe the filmmakers forgot what they wrote? That seems likely. Over the sound of a shitty Modest Mouse cover, Teen Girl Squad teams up with #Snowqueen to attempt to ruin John Tucker’s reputation. Example: Sophia Bush sets up a fake photoshoot and uses the pictures to put him in an ad for Herpes. While this works at first, he is eventually rewarded with more affection. Like that time in Mean Girls where they made Regina George’s face smell like a foot and her boyfriend liked it. I wish Tina Fey had written this movie, because maybe I wouldn’t be so bored.
The girls react by slut-shaming each other some more, disparaging people who use medication, and mocking Arielle Kebbel for having goals. Bored of this bullshit, Savage #Snowqueen suggests putting Estrogen in his protein powder to fuck with his chemical balance. Jesus, Brittany. We are treated to a shitty male cover of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” (why would you do that this is awful stop at once I HATE IT) as JT drinks Estrogen Powder and immediately becomes overly sensitive, ‘needs’ chocolate, freaks out asking if his thighs look fat in these shorts, and gets suddenly really shitty at sports. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH SEE IS FUNNY BECAUSE GIRLS ARE BAD AT SPORTS AND ARE OVERLY EMOTIONAL ALL THE TIME HAHAHAHAHAHAHHA gofuckyourself.
The Filmmakers continue to share their low opinions on young women through a series of scenes where nameless girls fling themselves at the now-‘sensitive’ JT and Sophia Bush utters the phrase “Ohmygod I’m such a slut!” and everyone mocks her for being promiscuous and unintelligent. Yawn. So anyway, NEW PLAN: Teen Girl Squad will turn #Snowqueen into JT’s ideal girlfriend, he’ll fall for her, and then she’ll break his heart at his birthday party. #Snowqueen isn’t so sure about this, but since she’s lonely as fuck and wants to get back at her mom’s series of shitbird boyfriends vicariously through JT, she agrees to go along with it.
The plan works quickly, which is bad news for Seattle Native Penn Badgley, who inadvertently gives his brother information on #Snowqueen’s taste in music, which JT uses to try and prove how ~compatible~ they are. Like that scene in Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. #IKnowYou #IWalkedWithYouOnceUponAnotherTeenMovie
A bunch of other dumb shit happens—I took notes on it but honestly it’s the same two or three beats used multiple times (oh no, the spycam isn’t working for some reason; oh no, #Snowqueen isn’t prepared for this situation; oh no, #Snowqueen is actually falling for him; oh look, the overheard narration is back randomly but then gone again; oh no, Sophia Bush is such a slut!) and I got bored and played some Pokémon while I waited for the plot to come back. If you had to cut every repetitive beat or extraneous device out of this film, it would actually be like 20 minutes long.
As if she’s heard my boredom, Arielle Kebbel decides to take a sudden hard left turn into WhatTheFucksville and commit a sex crime by filming in the boys’ locker room in order to get footage of JT saying disgusting things; it works, so they devise a plan wherein JT gets caught wearing a lacy thong in the middle of a crowded hotel hallway, as SURELY A MAN WEARING LADY CLOTHING WOULD BE JUST THE WORST THING IMAGINABLE?!!?!?!?!?
At this point, #Snowqueen is sick of this dumb movie and decides to drop out of the plan. Seattle Native Penn Badgley figures out what’s happening and lectures her about lying in order to get her way, delivering a monologue that will be very lightly adapted for his virtually-identical character in Easy A. That one gets a pass ONLY because Easy A came out after this dumb film and was actually good. (I THINK, BUT I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE???? IF 10YA HAS TAUGHT ME ANYTHING IT’S THAT EVERYTHING I REMEMBER IS A LIE????)
Teen Girl Squad is angry at this abandonment and decides to humiliate both JT and #Snowqueen at the aforementioned birthday party. It fails. Then some people assault the girls onstage and throw drinks at them. JT makes an announcement that it’s not okay to treat girls the way he has been doing. The dudes in the crowd assure him it is actually fine. JT and the girls smile and shrug because WELP I GUESS THEY’RE RIGHT and we have a jovial foodfight to a terrible angsty whiteboy cover of “Time After Time” (WHY.) We are treated to some useless narration, JT has changed not at all, Seattle Native Penn Badgley attacks his shop partner with a bandsaw so he can be #Snowqueen’s lab partner again, Teen Girl Squad and #Snowqueen are friends for real now even though they’re super disrespectful to each other and immediately move on to how to set up #Snowqueen and Seattle Native Penn Badgley, and the movie just fucking ends. In spite of the ‘story’ spending all that time leading up to some Epic Takedown, or even a moment of true Girl Bonding, all that really happened was four girls sniping at each other and being shitty friends for two hours in order to get back at a dude that they forgave completely after he apologized via cheerful shrug at an awkward party and everyone’s lives are totally fine now. And then it just ends. It’s like the most anticlimactic shit I’ve ever seen.
Why did I think this movie was funny? Why did I think anything about it was good? This is literally two hours of slut-shaming, weak beats, and shitty whiteboy covers of Girl Power songs. Why was it such a common device ten years ago to pretend to empower women by pitting them against one another? Why, in a film where four of the five leads are women, did it take nearly an hour to get to a Bechdel Test Pass—and it was only in a brief second where the girls, plotting new ways to murder their ex, mock each other for their beauty routines, which turns INTO a discussion of how to use said beauty routines to murder their ex? Why are young women always depicted as being stupid or evil or both, and completely incapable of being friends with each other if there isn’t a boy involved? Why was this movie just a salad bowl of recycled plot points from every other teenage film of its era and yet so full of fresh rage?
I’m struggling to come up with a ‘What We Learned’ here, because I’d love to end this on a good reason to have read this whole thing. I guess the lesson here is that I’m pretty sure it’s time to change the name of this blog to ‘Everything You Thought Was Funny 10 Years Ago Turns Out to Not Be Funny At All.’ You hear me, Gorman?
[Editor’s Note: I promise Easy A is still good.]
I have nothing further to say about this dumb movie except don’t watch it unless you want to play it as a drinking game. One drink every time you can identify a moment or plot point as being virtually identical to another film that came out within five years of this one—two drinks if it’s a beat that was already used IN THIS VERY FILM. One drink every time the script is backhandedly disparaging of young women—a full shot if the word ‘slut’ is actually used.
Actually don’t do that. You’ll die. I can’t be held responsible for that. Or this movie. Go watch The Queen, also celebrating its tenth anniversary. That’s way better.