During this summer season in which bombastic blockbusters about superheroes, zombies and giant robots abound, a few smaller movies of note have attempted to counterprogram against the cacophony. Two of the most acclaimed of these, ‘The Kings of Summer’ and ‘The Way, Way Back’, are coming-of-age stories about young teenagers trying to find their place in the world. This puts us in mind of some of our other favorite examples of the popular coming-of-age genre. Share your picks with us in today’s Roundtable.
Most coming-of-age films don’t appeal to me. All too often, they’re full of clichés. Very little of what happens to the youngster central characters is interesting to me. That’s why I love Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical approach to the dramatic sub-genre. ‘Almost Famous‘ features everything that I wish other coming-of-age films had: comedy, original characters (how awesome are the band members, not to mention William’s mom?), teenage angst (we’ve all had a Penny Lane in our lives at some point, right?), great music (both original and existing), memorable moments (does it get any greater than the “Tiny Dancer” or airport scenes?), a solid story (you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t want to tour with your favorite band), a fantastic screenplay (which earned an Academy Award), and perfect directing. There’s not a single Cameron Crowe film that I don’t love, but ‘Almost Famous’ carries an extra dose of greatness. Even better is Crowe’s “Untitled” Director’s Cut. If you haven’t seen or own that, I highly recommend it.
I believe McSweeney’s kills writers. That smug press encourages authors to produce twee little books that make me sick to my stomach. Worse yet, they occasionally do this with previously terrific writers. Nick Hornby is the perfect example. After he broke out with the memoir ‘Fever Pitch‘, he quickly followed that success with two of the most sublimely perfect novels ever: ‘High Fidelity‘ and ‘About a Boy‘. (Seriously, even if you’ve seen the movies, read the books. They’re the most refreshing bits of writing you’ll ever come across.) Unfortunately, Hornby then started churning out some truly abysmal garbage, the majority of it released by McSweeney’s. I think it’s pretty telling that the books mentioned above have all resulted in movies, while nothing he’s written since has been adapted for the screen.
The British ‘Fever Pitch’ was OK. ‘High Fidelity’ was brought to America yet retained every bit of its magic. And then there’s ‘About a Boy‘, which is just about the most perfect coming-of-age movie around. It’s witty, funny and dark. (A failed suicide attempt is a major turning point.) Better yet, this is really two coming-of-age stories, as it’s about both a young boy learning to stand on his own in the world, and a grown man finally realizing that it’s high time he acted liked a man. Hugh Grant has never been better. If you haven’t seen it, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Go watch it, please.
Whenever I hear the term “coming-of-age,” something in the back of my mind always whispers softly, “Do you want to go see a dead body?” That is then followed by, “I dropped… the comb.” Rob Reiner’s ‘Stand by Me‘, based on Stephen King’s novella ‘The Body’, will always be the epitome of coming-of-age movies for me. The story takes place during the 1950s and is about four teenage boys who set out on a journey to find and recover the remains of one of their peers. Their little walkabout, however, will end up changing them forever, and when they eventually return back home to Castle Rock, part of their childhoods will be left behind. Powerful, emotional and exceptionally funny, ‘Stand by Me’ is a fantastic film and one of the few that gets better with every viewing.
M. Enois Duarte
To this day, my favorite coming-of-age movie is John Hughes’ ‘The Breakfast Club‘, which remains one of the best films about kids facing difficult challenges. I love that Hughes treats the fictional teens with respect rather than as stereotypical caricatures. The story is easily relatable to a wide audience because each kid represents that weird, mostly ridiculous social structure of your typical high school, and each is allowed a unique voice to express him- or herself to the world. The film has stood the test of time, and its success is proven by how it remains a popular watch among teens to this day.
Due to its still-provocative dynamics, ‘The Graduate‘ can be difficult to discuss. So often, the film is described in terms of the Mrs. Robinson character, which really robs the story of all its depth. Specifically, the movie is striking in its portrayal of Benjamin Braddock as a 21-year-old essentially becoming unstuck and directionless after obtaining one college degree. Even as he bounces around from one surreal situation to another, the entire plot remains grounded, funny and dramatic. Ultimately, however, while the plot reaches a resolution, several important institutions that are typical to growing-up or coming-of-age in the U.S. are called into question with an uncertainty that hits the characters in the last scene and sticks with viewers long after the film is finished.
We’re a bunch of male writers on this blog, so I suppose it stands to reason that most of our picks would focus on movies about boys coming of age. But there are plenty of movies about girls in this genre too, from ‘My Girl’ to ‘Clueless’ to ‘Juno’ and more. I guess that I’ll do what I can to break up this sausage-fest by highlighting director Todd Solondz’s breakthrough feature, the jet-black comedy ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse‘. This is one of those movies that can make me almost physically uncomfortable to watch, as its poor protagonist, the profoundly uncool Dawn “Wiener Dog” Wiener, suffers an ever-escalating series of personal humiliations at the hands of a cruel, godless world determined to beat her down. Yet for all the movie’s comic and satirical exaggeration, it gets to a real truth about the pre-teen psyche, which distorts every trauma, no matter how small, into a life-changing tragedy that will forever be seared into memory.
Some honorable mentions in no particular order: ‘Ghost World’, ‘Rushmore’, ‘An Education’, ‘The Professional’, ‘Donnie Darko’, ‘Amarcord’, ‘My Life as a Dog’, ‘A Bronx Tale’, ‘Son of Rambow’, ‘Let the Right One In’ and its equally-good American remake ‘Let Me In’.
Whatever your gender, tell us about your favorite coming-of-age movies in the Comments.