Film Review: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Written by: Allan Moyle
Music by: Cliff Martinez, various
Cast: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Scott Paulin, Ellen Greene, Mimi Kennedy, Ahmet Zappa, Seth Green

SC Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?” – Mark

Yes, Mark… I do.

Although, it’s infinitely more fucked up than it was in 1990 and that year seems like a much, much better time to be alive than 2021. However, I get the sentiment now, as I did back then and a lot of what was wrong then, gave birth to the extreme bullshit we have to live with now.

Wow! Jesus! I went on a tangent there. Let me stick to reviewing the film and not go too deeply down the dark, hopeless 2020s rabbit hole.

Pump Up the Volume was a favorite film of mine for a few years after it came out. Granted, I had just entered middle school in 1990 and wasn’t quite the age of a high schooler when this came out but it did have a fairly profound influence on me, as did many other coming-of-age Generation-X flicks of the era.

In 1990, we were exiting the opulent “everything is fine” 1980s and entering into the peak Gen-X decade, which brought grunge and a cultural edginess to the table where PC culture was vehemently shunned by the youth, unlike the complete 180 we’ve got in the 2020s. But there I go again, trashing this dumb decade.

Anyway, Christian Slater’s Mark was kind of a stand-in for the average person in this movie’s audience. He was awkward, unsure about himself, had a hard time expressing his thoughts face-to-face but discovered his voice through his creativity and anonymity. And what he expressed was a lot of the thoughts and sentiments of his generation, going into a seemingly bleak and potentially pointless future where what’s been mapped out for you might not be what’s best for you.

Most importantly, the film shows that teen angst and the insecurity about moving into adulthood isn’t just a generational issue. But hey, at least back then, the kids questioned the state and mainstream society’s narratives and attempts at control.

All that being said, this might be a difficult movie for new and modern fans to connect with. I think it defines my generation pretty well for its time but some of the movie may be seen as too farfetched or cheesy through modern eyes. And honestly, some of Mark’s rants may seem childish and immature but that doesn’t mean that they’re not genuine and a reflection of what kids were thinking at the time.

Pump Up the Volume is a weird time capsule into the minds of Gen-Xers being pushed into adulthood by their Baby Boomer parents who grew up with very different priorities and values. This encapsulates that generational clash quite well and I say that as someone who lived through these things and had similar issues with parents and authority. Despite their best interests, I knew that what was best for them was not necessarily what was best for me.

I’ll probably always love this movie because of all the points I just outlined, even if, yes, it does come off as a bit cheesy and dated in many regards. Still, its heart and soul comes across as pure and Christian Slater absolutely gives one of his best performances.

Side note: I still adore the hell out of Samantha Mathis in this.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other more serious coming of age movies from the Gen-X era.