The coming-of-age story is one shared by everyone, but it can manifest itself in an infinite number of ways. Here are six coming-of-age films that helped me put my formative years into perspective and gave me a framework with which to look towards the future.
Coming-of-age movies have seen a resurgence in recent years. Call it a byproduct of doomsday headlines, the shadow cast by social media or something in between, but teenage angst has never been a more popular subject- and Hollywood has never failed to capitalize on this fact. Some people find the transition easy, slipping into adulthood as if it were a well-worn sweater. Others have more difficulty, and each day can feel like a flurry of the chaos of confusion. But regardless of which camp you fall into, we all emerge from those decisive years with a new outlook on life and the distinct feeling that something important has changed.
The Outsiders (1983)
S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is the only book I remember from my seventh grade English class, and the first coming-of-age story I ever consumed. Adapted to film in 1983 by director Francis Ford Cappola, The Outsiders is told from the perspective of Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell), a “greaser” living in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 60s as he navigates growing up in a town divided by socioeconomic inequality. While the movie fails to capture its source material in all its gritty glory, The Outsiders is a charming tale with a star-studded cast featuring the likes of Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and more. It’s a classic reminder that despite what it may seem, we are not so different after all- a theme my middle-school self latched onto within those awkward years defined by cliques.
The Florida Project (2017)
I spoke about The Florida Project at length in my first article for Revenir, which you can read here. The film follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) as they eke out a meager existence in a motel off the U.S. 192 in Kissimmee, Florida. With acclaimed actor William Dafoe playing Bobby, the manager of the motel where the two are staying, director Sean Baker masterfully depicts a family on the fringe of society in a location that rarely gets any screen time. Bolstered by raw talent and beautiful cinematography, The Florida Project made me learn to love my hometown at a time where I didn’t see it accurately represented in popular media.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
I watched The Diary of a Teenage Girl squished atop my friend’s twin-sized bed on a cold Friday night in Boston. She shared my love for coming-of-age movies and had been singing the film’s praises for as long as I’d known her- and it did not disappoint. The movie tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie’s (Bel Powley) sexual awakening, one that begins with a messy relationship with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). The story is shocking and infallibly honest, but what makes screenwriter and director Marielle Heller’s vision of growing up so bewitching is her dedication to authenticity; she captures Minnie’s experiences with a lack of judgment that is typically only reserved for boys. In a film that easily could have gone south, Heller carefully asserts that coming-of-age is rarely as clean-cut as the movies make it out to be.
Lady Bird (2017)
I watched Lady Bird in the spring of my senior year of high-school with my mother. The theater was empty save for an elderly couple a few rows in front of us- usually not a good sign- but I can’t remember the last time I walked out of a theater as in awe of a movie as I did with Lady Bird. The directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, the film follows Christine McPherson, who has dubbed herself “Lady Bird,” as she tackles her senior year of high school marked by a turbulent relationship with her mother and the desperation to leave her hometown of San Francisco. Lady Bird’s story mirrored mine in a way I hadn’t ever seen in cinema; like Ronan’s character, I was desperate to “go where culture is” and approached life with the same headstrong naivety (which I have yet to completely shake). The film suggests a number of different lessons, but for me, it asserts you can never truly escape your roots; when you grow up, you might even realize that you took them for granted.
The Graduate (1967)
As someone slowly approaching the end of their college years, Mike Nichols’ The Graduate hits close to home in a number of ways. The film follows Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college graduate who moves back in with his parents and must confront the question that is quick to send all students into an existential crisis: what do you plan on doing with your life? For Braddock, his only plans include pursuing an affair with family-friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a relationship that becomes all the more complicated when he is pushed by his parents to go out with her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross), who he ends up falling in love with. The Graduate is a classic and ever-relevant film that deftly captures the hilarity, panic, and weariness inherent in the leap from adolescence to true adulthood, reminding audiences that it’s important to keep moving forward no matter how tempting it is to look back. We’ll file this one away for future reference.
Frances Ha (2012)
Before Greta Gerwig was garnering critical acclaim for her directorial debut Lady Bird and her upcoming Little Women, she was a masterful actress that found her niche in a number of warm, character-driven indie flicks. Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha was arguably her best film thereof, where she plays the titular protagonist. An endearing 27-year-old dancer struggling to become a successful modern dancer in New York City- an improbable goal that she pursues with endless enthusiasm but a lack of actual talent- Frances Halladay navigates life in the aftermath of her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) moving out of their shared apartment, fueling her fears that she is lagging behind her peers. A charming comedy told in black-and-white, the film asserts that success doesn’t look the same for everyone and that growing up is a life-long process.