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Why “Donnie Darko” had to be set in the ’80s.

Why “Donnie Darko” had to be set in the ’80s. (photo)

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While we’re on the subject of ’80s movies: the other day a twentysomething friend confessed he’d never seen “Donnie Darko,” which I found flabbergasting. Despite (or because of?) its well-known trajectory from Sundance failure to midnight hit to DVD staple, “Donnie Darko” is the closest thing to “The Breakfast Club” the Naughts had to offer.

For all its wormholes and freaky rabbits, “Donnie Darko” is about subjects that are very simple and tangible — teen angst, suburban malaise and navigating the high-school hierarchy. It takes them on in ways that are direct and honest, placing them in stark contrast to the particularly wish-fulfillment-type teen movies of the ’90s, a time when someone with no discernible personality like Freddie Prinze Jr. was somehow our national go-to guy for checking in with high schools.

Most of these movies are pretty straight-up wretched, failing as reality or comedy: archetypal representative “She’s All That” was bad enough, but try watching something like “Drive Me Crazy,” in which future “Entourage” star Adrien Grenier pretends to be an “alternative” bad-ass.

03312010_drive.jpg“Donnie Darko” connected with so many people not just as the weird, cultish item it is — or as a pretty terrific movie, which it is as well — but as one of the rare honest films about teen angst. And that’s a big part of why Richard Kelly had to set it during the 1980s. It was the last frame of reference for teen movies that at least attempted to be emotionally honest. He grew up then as well, which helps.

Critics fixated on the cheapest shots the movie takes from its ’80s setting: Patrick Swayze playing the sleazy self-help guru, the Dukakis references. And yet none of that stuff matters. What matters is watching teenagers who might quite possibly be fixating on John Hughes act out their own emotional problems at a time when that was just starting to be a part of the on-screen conversation — and then would shortly thereafter go away and die for a while.

Here’s the dinner scene, in which the conversation goes from politics to “want to tell mom and dad why you stopped taking your medication?” to adorable underage profanity:

[Photos: “Donnie Darko,” 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001; “Drive Me Crazy,” 20th Century Fox, 1999]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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