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Teen Moms: Not Just A New Trend!

Attention, Millennials! (I think that's what we call this recent generation). I know that by now we're all completely engrossed in the first season of Teen Mom 2 (or, the third season of Teen Mom, featuring new moms?). We're counting the days until the next season of 16 and Pregnant begins. But hold on a minute, MTV! Teen pregnancy is nothing new. In fact, I have recent evidence that it dates all the way back to the 80s (you know, that decade before most viewers of Teen Mom were alive yet). This weekend I watched, for the first time, a classic movie about one spunky teen mom who isn't about to call it quits: the 1988 classic, For Keeps?

Now, I have to pause a moment here and comment on the title of this film. I didn't end that previous sentence by questioning the title. The title, in fact, includes a question mark. How many movie titles do this? Seriously, how many? I don't know, but I like it. The question mark hooked me before the movie even really began. The dramatics and simplistic look at what it means to be a teen and a parent kept me watching.

I had only heard of this movie as a brief reference in an episode of Gilmore Girls (Lorelei is asked what books she read or sources of knowledge she looked to during her pregnancy, and she responded by saying she didn't read any books but got most of her information from the movie For Keeps?). As crazy as it sounds, this is totally a movie that young Lorelei would have watched. The movie stars Molly Ringwald as Darcy, an intelligent and driven high school student who wants to go to college and become a journalist and change the world. She has a pretty wonderful boyfriend, Stan, who wants to become an architect. They've both already applied to college and are making plans for their future, when--uh oh! Darcy gets pregnant. What to do?

Raise the baby, of course! And get married. That's important. Can't have any bastards, now, can we? (Insert jolly chuckle) And for some reason, they got married in a Korean church by a minister with a super heavy accent, and just for comic relief, they couldn't understand what vows they were supposed to repeat! Classic cultural comedy. What is it with 80s films and random scenes involving Asian people that the main characters can't understand? Was that really considered funny for awhile? And not, you know...racist? I'm asking you, old people (the ones among us who remember the 80s). But I digress...

Against the wishes of both families, Darcy and Stan decide to move out on their own, get married, and have the baby. At first, things are pretty great. No parents! They're so young and in love, and nothing can stand in their way! Of course, then the baby comes, and things start to get difficult. Money is the biggest problem, and lack of sleep, and figuring out how they can do the things they had planned before baby arrived. They start to fight, their relationship falls apart, and they have to move in with Darcy's mother...where things only get worse. Eventually Darcy pushes Stan away so that he'll go to college and pursue his dreams (she feels that he's sacrificing too much for her) and so they break up and everyone's sad. In the end, Stan realizes what Darcy is doing for him, and he loves her even more, and he somehow figures out a way they can both go to college together, live in married student housing, and everything is paid for through scholarships. (You see, smart kids get scholarships. This was the 80s. Student loans weren't as in yet, I guess). When all is said and done, they are a happy little family, achieving all their dreams, no harm, no foul, etc. etc.

Of course...this was a little difficult for me to stomach. I don't think I need to point out the dangers of a movie like this. Most teen parents don't get the fabulous scholarship, the supportive and loving partner. This movie did seem like it was trying, for a little while, to show how rocky the road can get, but everything was resolved by the end of the summer, just in time for them to go off to college, as planned. But what would I have changed? Do I want the characters in the movie to end up with nothing, showing teen moms everywhere that no matter how hard they try, their lives are pretty much ruined? Sorry, guys! Hope you weren't too attached to those dreams. No, of course that's not what I want...why shouldn't teen moms have a happy ending? When I am left with an unsettled feeling after watching a movie like this, I have to ask myself: OK, so what was the point of that? I did enjoy watching this Lifetime-esque 80s classic, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes schmaltz (or anyone who likes resolvable conflict and happy endings, I suppose). It was an enjoyable, entertaining little flick. So who not just let it be what it is?

When looking for information on For Keeps? (I'll never get tired of writing out that title), I saw it categorized as a "morality tale." Now, it can be too easy to classify any film that deals with teenage sex and especially pregnancy as a morality film, and I want to be careful not to do that. Just because a movie deals with these issues, or the characters in the movie deal with these issues, that doesn't mean that the movie itself is trying to moralize anything. However, the more I thought about a couple specific points in this movie, the more I agreed with this categorization, and the more I realized what made it difficult for me to get over myself and just enjoy this movie, uncritically.

Firstly, the issue of abortion was touchy in this movie. The only person who advocated abortion was the Darcy's mom, who was easily the least likable and most selfish character in the film. She was a typically unlikable ivory tower "intellectual" in its worst possible sense sort of person, who speaks French and makes French food, and well, you know how Americans feel about France. So, this is the first source of my feeling of ickiness.

Secondly, Darcy's character makes a point of saying that she was on the pill when she got pregnant. She had been on the pill for awhile, to regulate her period (not sure why this was something we needed to know, as an audience). She was taking it regularly, but...what can we say? The pill isn't 100% effective! The unsaid but very loud subtext here, I felt, was that the only thing that IS 100% effective is abstinence. I felt it was an interesting choice to not make this movie about safe sex, or a morality tale about safe sex, but really a cautionary tale about sex. Period. Pun intended.

Lastly, Darcy is "encouraged" to leave high school and attend night school once she begins to show, since, according to the guidance counselor (or maybe she was the principal?) pregnancy is contagious. If girls saw Darcy all pregnant and successful, they might start getting ideas. This notion is not new or unique to this movie, but it's an attitude that has always made me feel those ickies, once again. Why shouldn't Darcy be visible as a pregnant teenager who is finishing school? When she graduates from night school, the guidance counselor (principal??) congratulates her on doing the "right thing." Cue ickies, again. And of course, Darcy is still able to attend college, despite her initial fear that night school would deter her from her dreams.

After some reflection, I'm still not sure how I feel about this movie, though at the very least, it's worth watching and talking about as a cultural artifact. How much has changed in the last 20+ years in terms of our attitudes towards and comfort levels with teen sex, pregnancy, and birth control? What has changed, other than Molly Ringwald's celebrity status (she's still playing pregnant women 20 years later! Thanks, SLAT!) and, of course, prom dresses. We've come a long way in prom dresses, baby!

I've given you a lot to ponder, readers, and I'll leave you with one more. The next time you have sex, just think about the consequences, and how that one moment of passion just might lead to something that is...For Keeps?

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  1. Blogger qualler | 12:45 PM |  

    I can't speak to the quality of this film too much since I napped through a majority of it. I will say, though, that the guy in the movie had an extremely bad voice to try to nap to -- very screechy and full of yells. I'd rate my nap very poorly, despite it lasting for a long time.

  2. Blogger chris | 6:24 PM |  

    Haha why is it called For Keeps? on IMDb but called "For Keeps" on the DVD cover. Hilarious. I just now got to reading this and I thought for sure by first glances before that this must be a Lifetime movie. Very weird to find out it was actually theatrically released.

    More trash-TV-tie-in movie reviews, please!

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