From John Hughes to Greta Gerwig, every generation gets their fair share of coming of age films. But why do we keep making them? Why are we so obsessed with reliving the years that are filled with cringe or regret or nostalgia? Also, aren't we always coming of age? Aren't we always coming to terms with who we are and learning and growing?
Your typical coming of age film involves a teen, usually in high school, who throughout the film learns something new about themselves or about the world around them and grows from that experience. They also typically deal with either their family, friendships and/or love interests. Typically any film that has to do with teenagers or is geared toward a teen audience has been claimed as a "coming of age" film. Obviously, teens are going through "changes" and puberty and growing up but aren't we always growing up? Their growing up is just all the more heightened because they're physically changing as well and teens are just stamped as being moody or rebellious because of their changing bodies and minds. Obviously puberty is a huge time and being young is a ginormous time to learn and grow but pretty much everyone can relate to a coming of age film simply because we are all always coming of age!
There is nostalgia, of course. We love to reminisce and remember what it was like to be young. Even while I was in high school, I loved high school films because I would compare it to my experience and either relate or dream about what my high school life could be like. Movies can alter perspectives on reality and can leave us fantasizing about what life could be like if we were Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles or Alicia Silverstone in Clueless. Typically, those portrayals aren't all that realistic. Coming of age films shouldn't always be perfect and ideal. Yes, those are fun and entertaining but if a film is trying to be a coming of age film it should show every emotion a human can go through, the ugly and the beautiful. We aren't perfect and life is not perfect but we can always learn, grow and move on. That is the epitome of coming of age. Watching somebody like you, a real, imperfect and damaged human, making mistakes and going through life while still learning and making the most of their mistakes and issues.
I love to watch these type of raw films because I can see so much of myself in the character or relate to what they are going through. Even if I do not completely relate there are always thoughts or actions that I can understand. No matter your age, "coming of age" films can cater to you.
Bo Burnham, comedian and director of the lovely film Eighth Grade, said...
I think if people are honest with themselves it's more truthful then just an eighth grade girls experience. They're in a certain position where they can just be more outwardly honest about that but who are you kidding 50 year old man walking to his business meeting... aren't we all just a little scared... the feeling is the story. Her feelings and her heart rate are the plot of this movie.
Bo's film, Eighth Grade, is one of the greatest examples of a "coming of age" film. He portrayed Kayla in a way that shows she is human and she is struggling and she just happens to be in eighth grade. Bo was reflecting his current self and his current anxieties and nerves into an eighth grade girl living and growing up in 2018. Just because you may not be in eighth grade (or in high school for most coming of age films sake) or you may not be a female does not mean that the story can't relate to you. Coming of age films are about a feeling and about the "heart rate", much like Bo stated.
I am a huge fan of coming of age films and here are some that mean a lot to me:
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Dir. Kelly Fremon Craig
This movie! This MOVIE... is so very special to me. Something about Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) was so unique and understandable and just hit so close to home for me. She had trouble making friends, she felt like she didn't belong... these are traits that are common in teenagers but also so extremely common for those who are no longer in high school. I saw this when I was out of high school and I still felt so connected to the story. Of course, I had just gotten out of high school so I still remembered it very well but this story to this day continues to mean so much to me. This story about a 17 year old girl can still be relatable to many and even so is a very entertaining and beautifully written story. I love Nadine so much.
Eighth Grade (2018)
Dir. Bo Burnham
Of course! This movie is also very special and important to me! Kayla also struggled with making friends and obtaining confidence which aren't just particular to eighth graders/high schoolers. This movie shows how Kayla is constantly performing and attempting to fit in especially through social media. Social media is a constant performance, we post what we want other people to see and hear from us. Social media is all about other people. Whenever you post anywhere somebody is going to see it and in your head you know that, so you put your best self online whether that self is true or not. This film explores that and even explores that concept within real life scenarios. Life is a performance! I love this film with my entire heart.
Stand By Me (1986)
Dir. Rob Reiner
Of course one of my favorite films in the world had to be on this list! Even though they don't physically go to middle school in the movie (like in most coming of age films), this is still definitely a coming of age film. Stand By Me is about these four boys traveling through the forest to find a dead body. The premise is basically all about these four boys and how they are growing up and learning from this experience. Throughout this little adventure they open up and examine their lives and their relationships and it is such a beautiful experience. This film will forever mean the world to me and these characters are so very unique and inspiring no matter what their age is.
Lady Bird (2017)
Dir. Greta Gerwig
Lady Bird is the ultimate coming of age film. This story is so beautifully written and portrayed. Lady Bird is not only a story about a female high school senior who is growing and learning but a story about a place and about a time and how special those both can be. Greta Gerwig, the director and writer, spoke a lot about how this film was a love story to Sacramento, where she grew up. No matter how much we may think we want to leave our home town, it will forever be our home and be a huge part of who we are. Lady Bird so badly wanted to escape her home and grow up and I am assuming Greta Gerwig made Lady Bird a high school senior to heighten this feeling but we all can relate to this feeling. This film is very special and so beautiful.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Wow do I love this film. It took me a little to warm up to but wow will it grab you and never leave your brain ever again. I absolutely adore the characters in this film. They are so genuinely written, they feel like real people. I could feel the awkwardness and the goofiness. I related and felt so hard for Greg. He was a movie obsessed teen who had little to zero confidence and decided it was best to go through life without making any close relationships, just small acquaintances. All of that begins to diminish more as he meets the lovely and amazing, "dying girl", Rachel. She is real and kind and I especially liked that this did not end up being an over the top, unrealistic love story. This all felt real and WOW! I loved it. I think about the ending all the time. What a beautiful story.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Dir. Stephen Chbosky
Fun fact: This is one of the only films to make me cry! This film will definitely get the emotions flowing. I think Charlie is one of the best and most well written characters ever, especially in the coming of age genre. This film is all about how Charlie, a quiet and nervous freshman, meets two passionate and "spunky" seniors who change his world and helps him gain confidence and happiness. Charlie will break your heart and mend it at the same time. All of the characters are so special and this is one meaningful story that will stick with you. All of their lives are shown with so much respect and vulnerability, you'll fall in love with all the characters.
To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
Dir. Susan Johnson
This movie was so adorable. I could not believe how much this film tug at my heart strings. Not only is this a beautiful and wonderful love story but also an accurate coming of age film. Lara Jean is an introverted and quiet teen who loves to read about love and fantasize about love but is scared of love in reality. I completely adored this character and related to her in so many ways. Not only was she such a well written character but she is also an amazing representation for Asian-Americans in a rom-com/coming of age film. I adored this film and can rave about it forever.
Love, Simon (2018)
Dir. Greg Berlanti
Yay! An LGBTQ coming of age film! Hopefully one of many, many more to come!
Love, Simon is all about Simon trying to be happy with who he is while still being scared and uneasy to be honest with everyone around him. You obviously do not have to be a gay teen boy to relate and care about this story. All gay teen boys and girls have been watching coming of age and rom-com films about heterosexual couples and people, they've been relating to those films all their lives. Now they can finally feel visible and see themselves on the big screen. But we all can relate to being scared to be who we really are even if we aren't doing something as extraordinary as coming out. We are all scared to be accepted and scared of rejection. Coming out is a unique and sometimes very scary process but everyone's coming out story is special and deserves to be heard. Love, Simon is just the start of many more coming out stories and LGBTQ stories to be told and cared about.
Dir. Barry Jenkins
Not all coming of age films have to be geared toward a young audience. Moonlight is one of the most vulnerable and the most stunning films every made. This film dives deep into what makes Chiron who he is. We see him through three important stages in his life and in each stage you see him gradually learning and understanding who he is and coming to terms with the world around him. This story is so gorgeous and heartbreaking and another LGBTQ story that is just the beginning to many more.
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (2008)
Dir. Gurinder Chadha
This one is a bit silly, yes, but this film still has many redeeming qualities that made it very relatable and an underrated coming of age film. Throughout the whole film Georgia is trying to live up to the standards she believes that boys like by changing her hair or attempting to tan her legs but nothing ever works out. Of course she learns that a boy likes her for who she is and she doesn't have to change for him. Again, like in Eighth Grade, Georgia is performing and trying to be accepted and wanted by her peers. I can assume that most people can relate to that.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
Dir. James Ponsoldt
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley. That's all I need to say. This is such a sweet and wonderful story. This love story is shown with so much authenticity and care that it will just melt your heart. This story, as many teen love stories seem to do, plays with troupe that shy, "nerdy" girl dates bad, party boy but these characters are so much more than their stereotypes. We dive deep into who Miles Teller's character is and what he is going through. This film is more than just a cute young love story.
Dir. Rob Reiner
This was one of my favorite movies growing up. Again, this is another sweet love story but it was about these two kids in middle school who begin to learn more about not only each other but about who they want to be. Juli and Bryce had been living next to each other for a very long time and Juli always had a crush on Bryce while Bryce thought she was just plain annoying. The film spends it's time flipping from Juli's perspective to Bryce's perspective so we really could understand and care about each character. Bryce let other people's opinions of Juli mask his own and ultimately he began to like her once he started to get to know her. He realized he shouldn't let other people decide who he can and cannot like. Bryce was such a sweet and lovable character and Juli was so caring and intelligent. I adore the hell out of this film and these two.