Subtlety is overrated.
Let me say that again, properly: SUBTLETY IS OVERRATED. Sure, it’s great in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie when you want the subtle interpersonal dynamics of a household. But when you want to poke fun at two decades of teen romantic comedies in all their wonderful ridiculousness, you don’t start with a scalpel — you just wade right on in with a sledgehammer and start swinging away, propriety be damned. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but you’re probably going to get in more than a few good licks. This is a basic approach practically trademarked by Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker with Airplane! And Top Secret! and rarely used as well (the Friedberg and Seltzer movies are in particular terrible examples) but it’s still a good template for, say Not Another Teen Movie.
NATM takes this model and gleefully runs with it. I could go on, really, about how it helps that the parodies they are doing are affectionate, not mean. You have fun riffs on movies like Can’t Hardly Wait, the John Hughes filmography, appearances from various actors from those (Molly Ringwald being a fine example) all tossed into a blender, mixed up and tossed back on to the screen. What helps distinguish this from bad parody movies, besides the affection, is that the tossing is done with skill and attention to detail.
For example: sure, the movie has the quirky best friend who’s been secretly in love with his female friend for years but she just can’t see it (i.e., Ducky in Pretty In Pink). You could just have this reference and move on. But what makes this work is that said Quirky Nice Guy Friend is used well in the main romantic plot between your Secretly Sensitive Football Player (Chris Evans) and Secretly Hot Artist Girl From Across The Tracks (Chyler Leigh). It’s not just “oh, that’s a reference” and move on; there’s an actual plot here that the writers put time and care into and at the end, when our leads get together it actually means something, while also having some damn good jokes.
Not to say that the plot is ever meant to be that meaningful. It’s your standard “jocks make bets about getting a date with the weird giri, jock falls in love with her, she finds out about the bet, they end up together,” plot we all know from She’s All That. The plot is pretty good and it’s not just a frame to hang jokes on, but there’s some references woven in that I just wanted to highlight:
Mia Kirshner gets to play the Sarah Michelle Gellar part from Cruel Intentions, complete with casual cruelty, sideways incest-longing and a whole lot of lapdance-esque conversations (seriously, when was the last time you saw CI? that movie is twisted).
Chris Evans, ten years before Captain America, playing our Secretly Sensitive Jock with an amazing array of smirky faces. The movie is almost worth seeing just for how good he is at parodying every Blaine-esque character from the ‘80s and ‘90s with a bunch of the Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues.
Anthony Michael Dining Hall, a joke that I should hate but just makes me smile.
A guy who wants to do the perfect slow clap but can never find the right time to start one. I can’t stand slow claps in movies so this one may be just for me.
Not to say all of the movie works. Randy Quaid as Chyler Leigh’s father is supposed to be weird, flashback-to-Nam prone and gross but it comes across as just loud and gross. Then there’s the three nerds doing the “we need to get laid by prom!” plot and it never quite works. Especially unfortunate is Samm Levine, who’s trying his best but he’s stuck playing a wannabe-Asian guy who speaks in a really stupid version of Japlish. It’s one of those things where you can tell what they were going for in making fun of these things in other movies but it still comes across as just offensive.
Overall, this is a movie that has aged pretty darn well. Comedy can age really badly, especially when it’s based on parodying something that might have faded from the cultural memory, but seventeen years on ,Not Another Teen Movie still holds up. It was never a big financial success at the time (I have absolutely no idea why this would have been released in December of 2001) but it was a decent moneymaker and appears to have done well on video. (I kept forgetting that I own this on DVD and both ordered a copy from the library and found a used copy at Goodwill; at one point, I had three copies in my house.) I don’t think you need to have seen all of the movies it references and borrows from, but it does help (besides the ones already mentioned, the excellent 10 Things I Hate About You is also a big source). If you’ve never seen it, you should definitely check this out.
And yes, there’s pie fucking.