Crash course: Movies and music for real-life college prep

Return to these favorites to be ready for the fall

orientation-issue

The best way to prep for a major life change is to take advice from a random assortment of pop culture products. 

Robin Schwartzkopf | Modified images courtesy Steve Baker, Patrick Lovell, Gage Skidmore

It’s July in Virginia. The air is thick with humidity and young people everywhere are deep in the trenches of summer, living in blissful ignorance of upcoming classes in the fall. Incoming first years bravely trek the aisles of Bed Bath and Beyond, searching for the perfect mattress cover and wondering if the special shower shoes are worth $19.99 when you can just buy $2 flip flops at Old Navy (they aren’t). But college prep is more than buying various home goods and worrying about not getting to take Spanish — in order to be ready for the first semester of college, incoming first years should take note of these cultural touchstones and the lessons that can be learned before starting a new phase of life. Start the media consumption now, before arriving on Grounds in August.    

Watch “Lady Bird”

Greta Gerwig’s 2017 coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in Sacramento mostly takes place during the titular character’s last year of high school. The film follows Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) — a nickname she chose for herself instead of her given name, Christine — as she navigates school, relationships and the restless love she has for her hometown. Newly college-bound watchers can sympathize with her first loves and feel weirdly positive feelings about “Crash Into Me” by the Dave Matthews Band (which will be particularly relevant for U.Va. students). The most poignant part of the film, however, is the ending. Gerwig packs a massive punch of “call your mom” energy into the third act, a welcome addendum after heavy mother-daughter squabbling fueled by economic anxiety and teen angst. When in doubt, call your mom.  

Experience “Whack World” in one sitting 

Tierra Whack’s 2018 debut album, made up of 15 songs, each one minute long, is well-suited for a person on the cusp of adulthood. It’s groovy, experimental and ambitious. Whack also released a short film to accompany the album, which has a visually intriguing style as it follows Whack through various postmodern scenes for each track. 2018 was a breakout year for female rappers and “Whack World” was one of the highlights. This isn’t me saying if you want to be hip in college all you have to do is listen to emerging female rappers, but it couldn’t hurt and your tastes will definitely expand because of it. “Whack World” is a great place to start and an artful, expansive piece to cleanse your summer palette from all the beachy pop and country — not that there’s anything wrong with the songs of summer! — and get you ready for some real gritty liberal arts learning.  

Watch “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” back to back 

Watching the original and the sequel will be critical in this stage of preparation. Best consumed with a group of friends, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (2005) and it’s 2008 sequel, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2,” have both aged a good deal since their early aughts releases. This doesn’t decrease the worth of the films, however — in fact, it makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience as a retrospective while still presenting a pro-female-friendship narrative. You can make fun of the irreverent dialogue and baffling outfits — these shorts — and critique Blake Lively’s character’s storyline, which involves a very not-okay relationship with an older man (Mike Vogel) who also has bad hair.

The second installment has more drama, Jesse Williams and everyone in Greece. So the movie night with friends will be better suited with both — marathons come with a sense of accomplishment, plus, you’ll feel ready to move on once all the members of the sisterhood have as well. 

Listen to all of “Tapestry”  

Carole King’s 1971 masterpiece is a full course meal of feelings, which is exactly what a young person needs when they’re about to begin the next phase of life. Each song on the 12-track release is easy to hum and ideal for travel and reflection. King is mournful and reflective on songs like “Home Again” and “So Far Away,” which could prompt the kind of necessary emotional release before leaving parents and home to go to college. But “Tapestry” also has tracks like “I Feel the Earth Move” and “Beautiful” — songs filled with headstrong motivation to accompany anxious contemplation.  

Watch “Mad Max: Fury Road” 

Two points of emphasis here: adrenaline and artful chaos. George Miller’s 2015 installment (sequel? soft reboot? remake?) in the Mad Max franchise has thematic and metatextual advice to convey. Watching the movie is a high-speed ride from start to finish, complete with a weird guy called Coma-Doof Warrior playing a flame-throwing electric guitar. If you’re going to make it through your first semester of college, the best way is probably to power through it with the strength of a massive, pimped-out, post-apocalyptic war rig. I mean take care of your health and your body and do mindfulness and stuff. That’s like the part of “Fury Road” where the old lady collects little plants. But also the first thing. 

On a more meta level, “Fury Road” is the only Mad Max movie without Mel Gibson, which is a major plus, because it will be better for your outlook on your college experience if you begin with the determination to limit any contact with racist, sexist, anti-semitic d-bags.      

Indulge in “ARTPOP” 

Picture this. It’s 2013. You’re eating fro-yo after a showing of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” It was a little better than the first one but you can tell the steering wheel is about to whiff out the window for that franchise. You decide to listen to Lady Gaga’s new album, which came out earlier in November. But wait — what the hell is this album? It’s very weird, and a little off-putting. Lady Gaga is taking risks and saying “take me to your planet” a whole bunch, plus she’s doing a Thanksgiving special with the muppets. You’re not in the mood, so you shrug it off and decide to listen to “Midnight Memories” instead, which also just came out and is perfect in an uncomplicated way and filled with classic One Direction bops. 

But now it’s 2019. “ARTPOP" has long since faded into the background of eyebrow-raising Lady Gaga choices, resting comfortably between “Cheek to Cheek” — her 2014 collab with, of all people, Tony Bennett — and “A Star is Born” on the scale of successful risk-taking moments in her career. The album deserves a re-listen, especially if you’re a person on the verge of a new stage of life. The obvious reason is because it’s secretly filled with bangers, but also it’s a metaphor, because of course it is. When given the opportunity to branch out and try new things, think to yourself — what would Mother Monster do? Probably make a song called “Sexxx Dreams” but also get nominated for an Oscar. 

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