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A Forgotten Generation : There Are 40 Million Twentysomethings Who Don't See Their Lives and Their Problems inthe Movies or on TV

July 10, 1993|ROBIN RAUZI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's hard to believe that Hollywood would ignore an audience of more than 40 million.

That's the number of people between the ages of 20 and 29 in the United States. You know--twentysomethings, posties, baby busters, generation X or the 13th gen--the group over-examined in the news media yet under-examined on film and TV.

"It really shocks me that no one in Hollywood is sitting down to look at this audience," said 24-year-old New York University film school graduate Graham Justice.

After screening his student-Oscar-winning short film "A Children's Story" at the Directors Guild recently, Justice took meetings at different studios and discussed his idea for targeting twentysomethings, perhaps with a TV series. The reaction was mixed.

"There are some people who say I'm crazy. I think because they're scared of it in a way . . . they don't understand what I'm talking about," he said. "There's some people who tell me I might be on to something."

For the most part, it's been small, independent films that have taken on the twentysomethings. What's been revealed is an oddly affected, almost surreal existence. From Richard Linklater's "Slacker" to the films of Hal Hartley ("Simple Men," "Trust") to Gus VanSant ("My Own Private Idaho"), none of this is typical Hollywood fare.

Hollywood is understandably skeptical about generation X. There's a reluctance to trust new filmmakers anyway, and, with the exception of John Singleton, 25, ("Boyz N the Hood"), the twentysomething crop of high-profile film school grads have yet to produce anything notable. Singleton's upcoming film, "Poetic Justice," stars Janet Jackson as a verse-writing hairdresser and is slated for a July 23 release.

In production now is "Reality Bites," a comedy-drama from writer Helen Childress and actor-director Ben Stiller, both in their mid-20s. The Jersey Films production stars Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke and examines the search for a job, a significant other and financial stability in the awkward period after college.

"We've been portrayed as slackers, as this X generation without a purpose, without a cause. But I think that if you look at the statistics, we're a generation of privilege. We've been given a lot. We've gone to school in record numbers," said Justice, a native of New Orleans whose debut feature is in development with former Paramount Pictures chief Brandon Tartikoff.

But the generation has also become synonymous with Angst . Xers feel saddled with enormous social problems--from homelessness to the deficit--and have been told they will never achieve the standard of living their parents have.

Justice, among others, thinks it will take a twentysomething writer or director to pin the generation down. "I think there's a matter of sensibility," he said.

Mike Medavoy, president of TriStar Pictures, said, "I don't think that anybody's not doing movies about (them), but I think what we're trying to do is the kind of movies that everybody wants to see."

But he doesn't see youth as a factor that's holding filmmakers back. After all, he said, Steven Spielberg was in his 20s when he started directing.

"I think that if somebody comes up with a film that's interesting and well-made . . . if it can be done at a relatively inexpensive investment, I think someone will try it," Medavoy said. "Somebody's going to do this so-called 'Big Chill' of this X generation. And maybe it'll be successful."

Nick Nordquist, 28, thinks there are some common bonds that might allow a "Big Chill"-type examination of their generation.

"There is a common kind of attitude. The whole over-educated and under-employed kind of thing. We were largely raised by parents of the '60s and grew up in a permissive atmosphere," he said. "Growing up in Watergate, big scandals like that aren't a shock to us. And that lends a certain jaded quality."

Nordquist, a 1989 graduate of UC San Diego's film program who makes documentary films, said he hasn't seen anything in the theaters that addresses his generation. He thinks the problem is that the executives deciding what films get made are fiftysomething.

"Coming from that they can hardly capture what the twenty-something generation is about," he said. "This stuff almost has to be done independently. If it gets in the studio system, it's going to water it down."

What twentysomethings get are movies that studios think will appeal to them, but not deal with them, explained Ken Webb, a 1992 NYU film graduate.

"For people in their 20s, it's a confusing time. One tremendous issue is the fact that there are so many issues," Webb said. "Relationships are so stilted because of AIDS and the fear of AIDS. That has had a great effect on our generation specifically."

But in both Cameron Crowe's 1992 "Singles" and Michael Steinberg's "Bodies, Rest and Motion," with Bridget Fonda and Eric Stoltz, not only do couples hop right in bed, there isn't even a moment's hesitation.

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