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What to Watch: Finals Edition

Feeling stressed about final exams? Here’s what movies you should watch to get you through those last weeks!

Dustin Hoffman as Ben, in The Graduate, lounges on a floatie in the pool wearing sunglasses.
The Graduate. Credit: Youtube/@David Page

Every year, there’s that special stretch of time when the weather tells you that summer is just around the corner. The sun shines brighter, the days get longer, and you have the last day of school date memorized. However, there is one last hurdle in the way of your much-needed, long-awaited weeks of peace and rest: finals.

Finals season — the time of due dates, word counts, and a completely empty mind. If you’re like me, you open a blank Google Doc and stare at it for at least ten thoughtless minutes, begging your brain to kick into gear and generate something of value.

All in all, whether you’re desperately cramming for hours in the library or putting the finishing touches on that hand-crafted project, everyone knows that finals are an excellent practice in stress.

Emma Watson as Sam, in The Perks of Being a Wallflower studies in a library.
Credit: Youtube/@Fan Hub Emma Watson

So, how should you reduce those increased cortisol levels in your system? You could meditate, go for a walk in nature, take a long drive, or listen to peaceful music. Or, you could watch a movie. Any genre, any year, and any cast can bring you out of the haze made by finishing your finals checklist.

There’s always a movie out there to fit your situation; I guarantee it. And if your situation is a list of impending assignments and a lack of focus, 9 out of 10 doctors prescribe at least four CCs of movies. Side effects may include elevated relaxation, laughing, and a decrease in dread.

Booksmart (2019)

The two main characters of Booksmart walk in slow motion in their matching outfits with confident looks on their faces.
Amy and Molly, Booksmart. Credit: Gloria Sanchez Productions

Booksmart tells the story of two overachieving high schoolers, Molly and Amy, headed off to Ivy League colleges. On the last day of school, they realize they could have spent more of their high school years having fun and partying upon learning that their popular classmates are also headed off to prestigious educations. The movie follows the two besties as they navigate a perilous, wild, partying adventure.

Though you may feel bogged down by your exams and papers, Booksmart provides the perfect reminder that life is too short to spend all of your time with your nose in a book. Watching this film will provide the perfect palate cleanser for your busy week. Booksmart is a hilarious directorial debut from Olivia Wilde that provides the narrative of a generation.

Many of us spent so much time worried that we weren’t doing enough to get into the schools of our dreams, so we see ourselves reflected in the hardworking heroines of the film, as well as the classmates they initially dismissed as dumb.

High school and college alike are all about establishing yourself, both individually and in the eyes of your peers. So, as you go through revisions and all-nighters, pop Booksmart on the screen and have a nice laugh.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Sam, from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, stands against the backdrop of a dark night in the bed of a truck with her arms in the air.
Sam, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Credit: Youtube/@Rotten Tomatoes Trailers.

For me, reading Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been a staple of exam season ever since I was a freshman in high school. Written in the style of letter entries to an unnamed “friend,” it provides an easy read after finishing a stressful test, despite its deeper themes. So, you can imagine watching the film adaptation is even better.

Even though I was only nine years old when The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released, in my mind, it has such a “you had to be there” motif.

The all-star cast was reflective of the 2010s era: Logan Lerman, internet darling of Percy Jackson fame; Emma Watson, making a new name for herself fresh off the heels of the Harry Potter series; and Ezra Miller, who brought the hilarious Patrick to life in a way that inspired many Tumblr posts for years to come.

The movie, based in the early 1990s, follows Charlie, a freshman in high school who is trying his best to “participate” at the advice of his English teacher, played by Paul Rudd. He meets the seniors Sam and Patrick, who are stepsiblings with excellent taste in music. They bring Charlie into their world and we watch the schoolyear progress with these “indie” kids.

The way the film depicts Charlie’s friends going through the final throes of high school and realizing the reality that hangs with graduating makes you feel like you’re right there with them, watching them grow up and go away.

For finals season, this film will hit especially close to home for soon-to-be grads, as well as those losing school friends to the real world. Also, the school-centered narrative story provides a relatable diegesis to fall into and project your finals-based anxiety onto.

I find it important to mention that though this film is beautiful. It does explore some very bleak and potentially triggering aspects of the human experience, so watch at your own risk.

The Graduate (1967)

The final shot of the movie, The Graduate, where Ben and Elaine ride away on a bus. She is in a wedding dress. They both look shocked for the future.
Elaine and Ben, The Graduate. Credit: Youtube/@Andys Chest.

You may be asking, “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to get me to watch a movie?” Okay, yeah, that wasn’t a good joke. If you’ve seen the movie, maybe you’ll laugh at that reference, maybe not.

When I first watched Mike Nichols’ The Graduate, I kept thinking, “Well, God forbid a guy have anxiety.” What is more characteristic of the last few weeks of school than a general nervousness hanging in the air, potentially the fear that you don’t know what to do with your life.

I suggest you watch Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) experience these worries while everyone around him ignores what he has to say for himself.

The Graduate depicts Ben, an all-star student, in the summer following his graduation from college. His parents and their friends are constantly hounding him about what he plans to do with his life or when he will seek out graduate school, until he interacts with the older Mrs. Robinson.

An affair sparks up between the two of them, and his parents become restless with his “laziness” throughout the summer. Things become further complicated when Ben has to take out Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine, and he finds himself falling for her.

What better way to get through exams than to watch all of that pressure being put onto another person? What better way to calm yourself than to hear the harmonious, acoustic sounds of Simon & Garfunkel for an hour and a half? And, what better way to prepare for summer than to watch Dustin Hoffman spend hours lounging by the pool and driving around the eternal summer that is Los Angeles?

The Hangover (2009)

Alan, Stu, and Phil from the Hangover look at something in confusion.
Alan, Stu, and Phil, The Hangover. Credit: Youtube/@Warner Bros.

I won’t feign naivety about what happens during finals to relieve some stress beyond watching these movies. If you like to party in your off time, the comedy of The Hangover is exactly what you need to recuperate for those papers.

Growing up in the 2000s, you have likely heard some quotes or seen some images from this now-iconic trilogy, but nothing beats the original Hangover.

On their very first night in Vegas, Phil, Stu, and Alan get so drunk that they wake up to a completely trashed hotel room, a tiger in their midst, and a missing groom (Doug) from their party. They spend the rest of the film piecing back the night they have forgotten and trying to find Doug before his wedding.

If you’ve ever taken it too far on a night out, The Hangover provides a hilarious exaggeration of what you could be going through the next morning. Also, the deadline faced by the heroes of this hilarious misadventure may remind you of the struggle of finishing those pesky papers and tests you have coming up.

An image of the graduating class in Booksmart. We are looking at the crowd from the perspective of the student behind the podium.
Booksmart. Credit: Youtube/@Monk madani pictures

So, if you need a study break, I suggest watching at least one of these wonderful movies. Good luck during these last weeks; as these movies tell us, you’re going to be fine.

Written By

Sophomore studying English and Film Studies at Appalachian State University.

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