‘Life Moves Pretty Fast’: Five films to watch before you read the book

As we await the release of Hadley Freeman’s much anticipated Life Moves Pretty Fast, we’ve been re-watching the cult classics that form the basis of Freeman’s book and formed the basis of her (our) young adult education. American movies of the 1980s and 90s covered all bases, teaching us of love, life, loss, aliens, mermaids and much more. To really get to grips with Freeman’s insightful catalogue, you need to experience these timeless works first hand. We’ve selected our favourites and given you a taster to show why they’re just simply the best – they’ll make you laugh, make you cry and set you up for the trials and tribulations of adult life…

GHOSTBUSTERS (Ivan Reitman, 1984)

Bill Murray at his best – quick, young(ish) and only slightly balding, this dreamboat guides you through the subhuman horrors that lurk beneath the surface of every life. Realised in the form of ghosts, gremlins, and ghouls, Ghostbusters takes the universal fear of the unknown and metamorphoses it into a family-fun sci-fi comedy.  When three scientists, Dr Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Dr Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), professors of the occult and paranormal are kicked out of New York’s Columbia University they decide to set up a private business removing unwanted spirits from the city – ‘Ghostbusters’. Like modern-day musketeers (but lamer and less lucky with the ladies) they clear up the city’s supernatural waste, inadvertently coming across a cosmic gateway to another dimension and satanic plan to wipe out humanity. Tempering, what is at its heart, a poignant human preoccupation with the Other, with quick-witted quips, an iconic theme-song and some awesome 80s special effects (think dry ice, fire, and some serious production design) this film is sure to equip you with the attitude and skills to combat those mortal anxieties.


BACK TO THE FUTURE (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Continuing the sci-fi theme and coupling this with a classic coming-of-age story, Back to the Future provides the perfect segue between these two genres on our list. I was introduced to this film by my dad, subsequently having ‘Back to the Future’ alongside our ‘Star Wars’ viewings each weekend. With my home chemistry kits and fervent belief in the metaphysical I was firmly Doc’s girl, desperate to take the place of his apprentice, Marty – with my budding adolescence and romantic temperament I was totally in to Mr (Mc)Fly, desperate to fill the passenger seat and travel time and space with him… Marty McFly dreams of musical fame and matrimonial harmony between his alcoholic mother and oppressed father: stuck between his family’s problems and his own, things don’t look optimistic. When he meets his good (and mad) friend ‘Doc’ Brown late one night in a parking lot, however, events are set in motion that change the course of his past, present and future for another two films. Teenage angst set against wider familial, political and cosmic issues, this film offers the perfect dose of youthful narcissism combined with a healthy dollop of intergalactic time travel to give you a little perspective on your own personal dilemmas.


FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (John Hughes, 1986)

When I first watched this film, I had a revelatory experience – that classic, adolescent, clueless-becomes-clued-up, melodramatic sense of relief when finding something that ‘gets you’, that understands and projects your perspective of the world and so teaches you about how to deal with (or re-imagine) those oppressive forces (parents; teachers; sisters; friends) within it. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) plays truant for a day with his effortlessly glamorous girlfriend Sloane Peterson (Mia Sara), and gawky best friend, Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck), to glorious effect, inciting havoc and celebration wherever he roams – the highlight being his starring role in a Chicago street parade, where he lip syncs ‘Twist and Shout’ and rouses the whole city into a euphoric frenzy. Closely followed by his caricature of a school principal, Bueller is always just out of reach, acting as a metaphor for his own youth and a source of continual frustration for his younger sister Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey). A combination of feel-good youthful exuberance, genius comic timing, and existential contemplation, this film reflects and reflects upon adolescent life – your classic ‘come-dy-of-age’ movie. Change is in the air and the trio sense it coming – college, jobs, adulthood. For one last, glorious day they embrace their freedom and invite the viewer to do so too: let down your hair, kick off your shoes and let loose…


DIRTY DANCING (Emile Ardolino, 1987)

This is the film into which Jeanie Bueller steps, transforming into the starlet her supporting role always suggested she would be – a little older, none the wiser and ready for her time to shine. She may not have had her parent’s attention in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but in Dirty Dancing Grey becomes Frances Houseman, otherwise known as ‘Baby’ and everyone’s favourite little girl. On holiday with her parents and nightmarish older sister, Baby meets Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), one of the resort’s dance instructors, embarking upon one of cinema’s most wonderful love affairs.  A straight ‘A’ student set to join the Peace Corps, Baby is academically excellent but with a wanderlust for more radical sources of knowledge. She’s ready to temper that impeccable record with the dirt of experience – the archetypal smart and sassy lady with no real clue of how to operate in a world outside of the classroom. On the edge of womanhood, Baby is shy and awkward but with a desire to shake off her pre-pubescent skin and shake out her fully formed limbs (don’t we all!). She wants to stretch, to move, to find her own space in the world, all of which is metaphorically and literally realised in her new found love of (dirty) dancing and love with Johnny. Baby grows from child to woman, exposed to the far grimier ways of the world than she’d first anticipated. This film is a feast for any hungry eyes – beautiful people with beautiful souls doing beautiful dancing – and will leave them filled with tears. She realises the dream of every intelligent woman: having that life-changing summer romance, propelling you wiser and more womanly into your intellectually successful future. Each time I watch it, I really do have the time of my life imagining myself out of my specs and on the dance floor, rid of my washboard hips and spaghetti arms.


WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (Rob Reiner, 1989) 

In the unsteady and traumatic cross-over from VHS to DVD, my parents bought two staple discs, one of which was When Harry Met Sally. You’d think such incessant watching would make someone sick of this film, but it remains one of my favourites to this day. Opening in 1977 on college graduates Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) the film follows their journey from Chicago to New York City.  Talking of love, sex and marriage the two clearly don’t see eye to eye, sparked by Burns’ contentious claim, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way”, a theory that the film goes on to wrestle with and with which I continue to today.  They part on the mutual understanding that they won’t stay in touch but five years later meet again, becoming friends and challenging Burns’ original assertion. Charting their friendship, frustration and ultimately their love for one another, When Harry Met Sally is a pedagogue on men, women, relationships and how all these fit in to a chaotic and messy life.  With Crystal’s Woody-Allen-like cynicism and Ryan’s nonplussed sass, (or his self-obsessiveness and her uptight-ness) the two charm and temper one another, utterly engrossing an audience (impressive considering all they do is talk).  Book-ended by segments of real-life couple stories their narrative fits seamlessly into life’s uneven road, showcasing the tragi-comedy that all human relationships are. And of course it has that infamous ‘orgasm’ scene…


‘Life Moves Pretty Fast’ is published by 4th Estate on 7th May 2015

Words by Madeleine Dunnigan

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