GENERATION WRECKS: Not Just Another Teen Movie
For better and for worse, today’s teens are more connected to each other and their world through the unavoidable presence of social media networks. Yet in the 1990’s, their predecessors’ perceptions of our complex world were shaped by MTV, the gloomy lyrics of grunge rock poets like Nirvana’s late lead singer Kurt Cobain and popular movies and TV shows (Dawson’s Creek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, American Pie, Clueless) that examined the teen experience through humor, horror and pathos.
Though technology and cultural trends inevitably change for adolescents of every generation, the problems they have to deal with remain the same: peer pressure, being sexually responsible, finding a good job, making good decisions in risky situations.
As the characters of director Kevin T. Morales’ new feature film Generation Wrecks learn, avoiding such problems is even harder to do while living in a changing world that offers them little hope for a better future. (Now playing at various film festivals, the critically acclaimed feature is currently seeking wider distribution.)
Set in 1994 and co-written by Morales, his real life daughter/co-star Victoria Leigh and fellow film lead Bridget McGarry (who both met while co-starring in a 2015 episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), Generation Wrecks is the story of two ex-besties — Stacy (played by McGarry) and Liz (Leigh) — whose friendship shattered in 7th grade after Liz’s sexual identity was unexpectedly revealed.
Now in their first year of high school, Stacy hangs out with “the cool kids” while Liz connects with the sullen “goth” crowd that’s ridiculed by her more popular classmates. Sensing a chance to make amends following her younger brother’s untimely death, Stacy plans a weekend for her and Liz to smooth things over at the Poconos-based vacation getaway they constantly visited, but those aims are sabotaged when Liz brings her unruly friends along for the trip.
With Stacy’s older brother Brandon (Hamilton’s Okieriete Onaodowan) and his girlfriend Jess (Alice Kremelberg, Orange Is The New Black) trying to keep order, Stacy, Liz and their classmates discover while that their already troubled lives are about to get even more complicated than they imagined, no problem is too great to face when they have friends on their side.
Bridging the generation gap between Generation Wrecks’ cast of young talent and Gen X adult actors while paying homage to the popular teen movies and TV shows of the late ’90s and early ’00s, the movie also co-stars Heather Matarazzo (Welcome To The Dollhouse, The Princess Diaries) as Allison, “helicopter mom” to Liz’s long-sheltered friend/burgeoning rebel Rebecca (Violet Prete) and Emily Bergl (The Rage: Carrie 2, Gilmore Girls) as Stacy’s equally concerned mother Barbara.
Inspired by Morales’ own high school-era study of generational changes — the same one assigned to the characters in Generation Wrecks — and started by the veteran writer/director as an experiment to prompt Leigh to create stories framed from her point of view, the film’s plot and its narrative characteristics are much like those found in another memorable coming-of-age drama that explored the unresolved angst of friends who gather in the midst of a tragedy.
“We watched The Big Chill, and I said we could make a film like this (with an) ensemble, one location (more or less) and that it should be character driven,” remembers Morales, who helped Leigh and McGarry accurately craft the mannerisms of their film’s Gen X characters after conducting extensive behavioral surveys answered by a random group of former teens-turned adults who lived through the same trauma felt by their fictional counterparts in Generation Wrecks.
While Morales did his part in making the film’s story and protagonists authentic to the ’90s experience, he, Leigh and McGarry avoided portraying their characters as the irresponsible buffoons frequently found in raunchy teen comedies.
“Since I was a junior in 1994 I was able to supervise the slang and behavior, but the girls did a great job writing for the talent we assembled and (kept) the story grounded in a reality that didn’t turn into farce,” adds Morales. “I love movies like Superbad, but no one was going to blow up a cop car in this film.”
Even though Generation Wrecks takes place in the ’90s, the same problems that afflicted teens in that period — and more — are still at the forefront of their lives in 2021. As Morales sees it, the film’s consideration of that reality makes his project even more timeless.
“Gen X-ers have a tendency to feel alienated no matter what the circumstance, which is something every teenager wrestles with no matter when you were born, so revolving the story around those themes felt like the best choice in creating a film that would resonate with audiences.”
By working on the script with Leigh and McGarry, Morales gained a greater understanding of how hard teenage life can be in a world where social media can be as cruel a measure of popularity outside the classroom as it is inside, how our current generation’s awareness of socio-political changes at home and overseas informs the way they look at the world beyond their cliques, and how society’s acceptance of the LGBTQIA community has grown since the time of Generation Wrecks.
“I learned more about my daughter’s perspective of events and relationships, for sure,” Morales comments. “She (Leigh) is queer and giving the film a queer lens was really enlightening for me. It was also refreshing to have actual 17 year-olds write the script because they aren’t sentimental or cynical yet about those experiences we have as teenagers. They are still present in them, and they treated every character with respect.”
Generation Wrecks proves that times may change, but teen angst never goes away. However, Morales, Leigh and McGarry hope that its true-to-life characters and its equally realistic look at the struggles of young people will show teenagers and their parents that surviving adolescence doesn’t have to be an impossible task.
“I hope it becomes a different kind of family film that Gen X-ers can enjoy with their teenage kids. The adult language is pervasive and there is mild drug use and teen partying (in the film) but Gen X-ers know that kind of thing. We did that kind of thing (as teens), and I think many of us are comfortable with our high school-aged kids seeing stories that contain that. I feel like it’s truly a crossover event for Gen X and Gen Z.”
Find out more about Generation Wrecks, and get the latest updated info on its latest festival screenings, on the film’s official web page: