Every generation has its defining coming-of-age movies. Classics like “Dead Poets Society” and “Perks of Being a Wallflower” are hallmarks in cinematic history with their sad but compelling storylines that capture the angst of the teenage years.
With its complex portrayal of the consequences of trauma, HBO Max’s latest feature film “The Fallout” has the potential to be the “The Fault in Our Stars” of this generation.
The film follows the story of high school student Vada Cavell (Jenna Ortega) after she survives a mass shooting at her school. The movie delicately handles the complexity of trauma while also addressing the issues of growing up in the early 2020s.
Even though it handles two difficult topics, “The Fallout” delivers with extreme mastery and nuance.
Unlike other depictions of shootings in teen and adult media, “The Fallout” does not focus on the actual violence — it chooses not to dramatize or create any suspense around the tragedy that happens in the first minutes of the movie. Instead, it focuses on portraying the raw emotions associated with the violence and its aftermath. A stellar performance by Ortega expertly showcases these effects.
“The Fallout” approaches each character’s trauma in its unique manifestations. While Vada handles her trauma by isolating herself and eventually having a rebellious outburst, other characters manifest their grief and fears in different ways. Vada’s best friend, Nick Feinstein (Will Ropp) becomes a gun control activist, and Mia Reed (Maddie Ziegler), Vada’s love interest, isolates herself from everyone but Vada. These conflicting experiences not only provide insight into the varying manifestations of trauma but they also expertly provide realistic tension among the characters.
Park, who recently transitioned into directing and writing, rose to fame as the star in classic teen TV shows of the late 2000s, like “The Secret Life of an American Teenager.” In an interview with Teen Vogue, Park said that because she was an actress in a time where teen media was often discarded and portrayed in an unrealistic manner, she feels that it is her “mission” to translate and portray teen stories in a way that feels authentic.
The portrayal of teenagers in the movie feels so natural, it’s almost a bit strange to watch. All of the teenagers feel like they could easily exist in any high school across America. Although some of the characters are inspired by high school tropes, none of them ever feel like one-dimensional stereotypes. Even if they don't have much screen time, the movie still does a good job at establishing each character and fleshing out their own uniqueness.
Park also succeeds in her authentic portrayal of teens by being able to perfectly capture the essence of Gen Z without even coming close to the realm of camp or cringiness. Everything from costumes to the soundtrack — which was produced by music giant FINNEAS — helps provide an ambiance that just feels effortlessly current. In addition, all the dialogue, especially when conducted over either text or FaceTime, flows authentically.
But, beyond just the ambience and dialogue, “The Fallout” delivers a realistic picture of Gen Z through the relationships between its characters. The movie does not seem to care for traditional gender dynamics in friendships and relationships — instead, every dynamic feels authentic.
Currently, there is no way of guaranteeing that the HBO Max production will transform into a generational classic. While one can hope that the movie will have as much cultural impact as the aforementioned classics, one thing that “The Fallout” already showcases is that there is a place for compelling teen media. There just needs to be care and nuance in telling these stories.