A genre for and about the youth, coming of age is defined by the struggles of young people and their ways of overcoming them in order to mature, to ‘come of age’. The movies usually present a transitional period in the protagonist’s life in a vulnerable and relatable way. If you want to see your troubles represented, to have an understanding of others’ or to see unique, unprecedented situations, here is a list of movies loved by fans and critics alike.
Lady Bird (2017)
Set in the 2000s in Sacramento, California, the movie tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a senior of a Catholic high school. The plot focuses on her difficult relationship with her mother, but the girl’s struggles don’t stop here, since she faces a precarious financial situation, failed romantic relationships and an identity crisis. Beautifully written and directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet, popular Hollywood duo, the story manages to keep you engaged and make you empathize with the characters.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Ecranisation of the 1999 novel of the same name and directed by the novel’s author, Stephen Chbosky, the movie follows Charlie in his first year of high school. He’s a shy individual struggling with clinical depression and PTSD, making navigating school life quite challenging, but he manages to befriend two seniors who become crucial to his development. Notable about this movie are not only its complex themes and characters, but also the fitting soundtrack, featuring musical acts such as Sonic Youth, The Smiths, David Bowie and New Order.
A day before graduation, best friends Amy and Molly realize they haven’t enjoyed their high school years due to their focus on their studies, so they decide to go to a classmate’s graduation party and experience all they have missed. With themes such as exploring one’s sexuality and self-discovery, Booksmart is a story for everyone who feels like they didn’t experience adolescence to the fullest. It is also worth noting that the movie has LGBTQ+ representation, with Amy being a lesbian and openly being attracted to a girl.
Sing Street (2016)
As the name suggests, one of the focal themes in the movie is music. Set in 1980’s Ireland, Sing Street tells the story of 15 year old Connor who decides to form a band with a few of his classmates in order to impress a girl, Raphina. Showing the process of composing music, filming music videos and taking inspiration from the rock bands of the time, while also dealing with issues such as poor financial situation, parental divorce and strict school rules, the atmosphere that results is quite unique and engaging. The soundtrack evidently plays a vital role, featuring songs both original and from bands such as The Cure, U2 and The Jam.
With three Oscar nominations and one Oscar win for Best Original Screenplay, Juno is one of the most popular and well-received coming of age movies, but it is not free from criticism. The epicenter of the plot is 16 year old Juno’s pregnancy and the couple she decides to give the baby up for adoption to. Although it may seem like a heavy topic, Juno is a comedy-drama with a quirky lead and love interest. One critique I and other people have is how pregnancy is portrayed as an easy matter to deal with, since the physical, scarring effects it can have aren’t discussed and presented, so keep this in mind while going into this movie.
20th Century Women (2016)
A 1970’s story set in South California, this film deals with a plethora of issues. Centering 15 year old Jamie Fileds, we are presented with a boy’s growth being helped by three women: Dorothea, his mother, Abbie, one of their family’s tenants, and Julie, Jamie’s best friend. Showcasing explorations of sexuality, womanhood and family, 20TH Century Women creates a distinctive storyline with memorable characters.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Finally, my personal favorite off the list, The Edge of Seventeen is an outstanding story about a high school junior struggling in several areas of her life. The protagonist, Nadine Franklin, has an unfavorable social and familial situation, after losing her father in a car accident and her best friend after she started dating her brother. She is introverted, has a lot of internal anger and angst, so she finds it difficult to deal with life after her support system has broken. What is notable about this movie is how well the characters are written, with Nadine being beautifully individualized, but also the brutally honest way the issues are dealt with and their heart-warming resolve.
Coming of age is truly an outstanding genre which deserves the praise it gets, since young people need good, relatable representation, but it can also serve as a nostalgic view for more mature audiences. I believe it to be among the best movie genres due to its diverse themes, characters and the comfort it is able to bring.