TEEN movie menu includes some smarter, edgier fare _ along with the Pie

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ While Hollywood serves up a second helping of gross-out humor this weekend with ``American Pie 2,'' the industry also has been offering a broad mix of smarter, sweeter, more true-to-life or provocative films about teen-agers.

Although they have played in far fewer theaters than ``American Pie 2,'' some of these bolder films have found big audiences in narrow release, running counter to the notion that low-brow humor wins the day in teen flicks.

``The industry kind of pushes off those types of films on people because they think that's what kids want to see. And kids go see that because that's what's available,'' said 18-year-old Heather Matarazzo, co-star of the classy teen fairy tale ``The Princess Diaries,'' a G-rated movie that had an impressive $22.9 million debut last weekend.

``I think our movie stands as a lovely counterpoint that kids don't always want to see that _ that they're interested in films without sex and drugs and gross things and body parts exposed.''

Raunchy teen comedies such as ``Road Trip'' and ``Scary Movie 2'' have been common fare at multiplexes the past couple of summers. But there are teen movies that deal seriously with alienation, alcohol and drug abuse, sexuality, race and school violence.

This summer's smarter-than-average teen films include ``Ghost World,'' about two cynical girls coping with ennui; ``Our Song,'' a story of friendship and tribulation among three inner-city schoolgirls; ``Bully,'' a grim tale inspired by a teen who brutalized a group of high school students; ``Lost and Delirious,'' about an obsessive lesbian love affair at a boarding school; and ``crazy/beautiful,'' which examines a teen-age girl's self-destructive behavior amid a new romance.

Kirsten Dunst turned to ``crazy/beautiful'' after her box-office success in last year's frothy cheerleading movie ``Bring It On.''

``The appeal was to make a movie that was very realistic, like a real romance, instead of these fluffy teen films that come out,'' said Dunst, whose edgier teen credits include ``The Virgin Suicides'' and ``Dick.'' ``I wanted to make a movie that was truer to those emotions and that teens could identify with instead of the same old kind of stories.''

Opening this fall are ``L.I.E.'', the story of a teen-age boy struggling with his mother's death, his neglectful father and the questionable influences of a school friend and an older homosexual man; and ``My First Mister,'' about a teen misfit who forms an odd platonic relationship with her boss at a clothing store.

Coming this month is ``O,'' a long-delayed update of Shakespeare's ``Othello'' set in a private school. Shooting on the film was finished in April 1999, just before the Columbine school massacre in Colorado.

With its uncompromising ending _ a Shakespearean orgy of violence among teens _ ``O'' became a touchy film. Original distributor Miramax backed away from it, striking a deal with Lions Gate, which is now releasing the movie.

``It's the anti-teen teen film,'' said ``O'' director Tim Blake Nelson. ``This movie doesn't pander. I think it addresses the single-most serious issue in teen culture today, which is teen violence against other teens, in a manner which is sensitive, not exploitative, and utterly real.''

Nelson had been reluctant to even read the script of ``O,'' figuring it might be a watered-down version of Shakespeare's tragedy because of the teen setting. He signed on once he saw how faithfully the script adhered to the play's brutal emotions and action.

Teen actors complain they rarely see such bold, original screenplays.

``There's a lack of really good teen-age stories,'' said 16-year-old Scarlett Johansson, co-star of ``Ghost World'' and ``An American Rhapsody,'' opening this weekend, in which she plays a girl trying to reconcile her early years in Communist Hungary with her new life in America.

``It's something I encounter and many young actors encounter every day with the scripts we're getting. It's like gold-digging one shiny jewel out of a million. It's a diamond-in-the-rough to find a script like `Ghost World.'''

``I mean, I saw `American Pie,' all my friends went to see it,'' Johansson said. ``But that doesn't mean necessarily that people aren't thirsty for something deeper or darker and with more serious subject matter.''