Coming-of-age films are still gross (and that’s why we love them)
Coming-of-age films have never gone away, but the subgenre of teenage angst has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.
It’s easy to see why, as teenagers and young adults encompass the largest demographic of moviegoers, but it’s rare that the experience of growing up is showcased in a mainstream film. With Marvel’s slate of superheroes approaching fifty strong and YA dystopian drama finally getting its just desserts, teenagers are hungry for content that represents them.
In the last year alone, Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name both received a nomination for Best Picture at the last annual pat on the back for Hollywood. Films that posit the shocking hypothesis that teenagers who grow up female or LGBT feel the same feelings as four white dudes finding bodies in the woods were roaring successes, and opened the doors for new stories to be told.
With the coming-of-age film cultivating a narrative of “getting smart” in the last decade, many have turned to the John Hughes dominated teen films of the 80s. Following The Breakfast Club’s surprising induction into the Criterion Collection, Molly Ringwald elaborated on some retroactive problems with the film in light of Harvey Weinstein’s allegations and the #MeToo movement.
She makes a salient point that “the art we consume and sanction plays some part in reinforcing those same attitudes”, in reference to the questionable sexual advances by Ringwald’s love interest in the film, John Bender.
It’s gross. There’s no denying that certain moments of The Breakfast Club are a little hard to watch, but has any teen film ever not been? Teenagers are manipulative and horny, and it’s up to us to direct our critical discourse towards the attitudes of our futures best and brightest, rather than at the lens of the filmmakers commenting on it. Ferris Bueller is an awful little shit and treats his girlfriend like crap, but does the movie still rock? Hell yeah.
Columnist Hadley Freeman recently argued in favor of a number of coming-of-age films, highlighting Hughe’s less appreciated (at least in comparison to The Breakfast Club) Pretty in Pink.
She argues that they’re films that “encompass bigger issues, and have emotional hooks that grip into the soul”, and the occasionally iffy subject matter shouldn’t really touch that. It’s honest, and never proposes that the rituals of teenagers are the right way to behave.
In order to prove our point, let’s rundown a list of recent coming-of-age films featuring badly behaved teens and sexual deviancy that still totally rule.
Love, Simon (2018)
By the end of the year, Love, Simon will still be winning our award for the film that was destined to suck but somehow didn’t. Love, Simon is surprisingly empathetic, and subverts and deconstructs several tired rom-com cliches over the course of its narrative. It doesn’t stop that fact that, in true coming-of-age fashion, Simon is a bit of a dick who lies to his friends throughout the film and breaks the heart of his smitten best friend.
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
Elio’s underaged teen falls for Armie Hammer (who wouldn’t) playing a 24 year old grad student, whilst also straight up ghosting his potential girlfriend when he moves on to higher prospects. And it’s the most romantic and sensitive movie of the past few years.
Everything Sucks! (2018)
The series was brutally cancelled by Netflix after just one season, but Everything Sucks was a side-splitting parody of 90s teen culture set in the fictional Boring High School in Oregon. It’s still one of the most honest depictions of flourishing sexuality out there, with a nasty touch of 90s homophobia to fuel the conflict.
Lady Bird (2017)
Timothée Chalamet had his heart broken and broke some hearts of his own last year, including Saoirse Ronan’s in Greta Gerwig’s breakout debut, Lady Bird. His pretentious, technophobic, and faux-anarchic Kyle is a familiar douchey presence to anyone who was once a teenager, and his flippant lying and manipulation is cruel, yet we can’t really help but laugh.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
Four teenage boys run away from home and build a cabin in the woods, while their parents are left worried sick. If that’s not bad enough, two of them have the pissiest little falling out over a girl in coming-of-age history but, hey, the film is still great.
Your Name (2017)
A rare animated example, this body-switching anime has a fantastical barrier that most coming-of-age flicks don’t, but still manages to transcribe the teenage experience perfectly. It also gets some points for accurately depicting Japanese religion, cultures and lifestyles.
Things get a little spicier than Studio Ghibli fans are used to when teenage boy Taki wakes up in his new female body and immediately starts fondling himself. But let’s not kid ourselves – that’s exactly what a straight teenage guy would do in that situation.
Sing Street (2016)
A schoolkid growing up in 1980s Ireland straight up lies to a girl that he’s in a band to impress her, then works quickly to assemble his classmates and write some songs. With a stroke of luck, their band turns out to be amazing.
The Get Down (2016 – 2017)
Thankfully, the musical genre hasn’t just been limited to the big screen in recent years, and Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down is top of the list. A sleeper hit for Netflix, it sadly only ran for two seasons, but knocks other attempts at the ‘jukebox musical’ out of the running. Being set in the 1970s, crime, sex, drugs and bad behaved teens followed the series everywhere it went.
Stranger Things (2016 – )
Most of Stranger Things isn’t exactly about teenage drama, but the group of adventurous kids do spend much of the series staying out past curfew, infiltrating private property, and hiding a girl in their basement. Classic teenage antics, but with a sci-fi twist.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Low-key brilliance, and Hailee Steinfeld’s best role since True Grit, as well as launching the career of Haley Lu Richardson (Split), who features as Steinfeld’s best friend who sleeps with her brother. It’s catty and bratty, but so so real.
The Florida Project (2017)
Moves away from the teenage experience, but is still absolutely a coming-of-age film, presenting younger kids who are forced to grow up quicker than usual due to their impoverished surroundings. Brooklynn Prince’s Moonee is simultaneously detestable and adorable, and the last minutes reveal some shady actions from her mother that the film treats without a semblance of judgement.
On My Block (2018 – )
Netflix’s newest breakthrough series, On My Block was celebrated for its diverse cast and realistic insight into the lives of inner-city teens. It’s a pill that’s maybe hard to swallow, but teenagers join gangs, take drugs and get into fights, and this series deals with all this truthfully without casting a judgemental eye.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Bel Powley (Carrie Pilby) stars as an aspiring teenage artist growing up in the 1970s who happens to be having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend, Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies). It’s empowering, thoughtful and totally beat Lady Bird to the punch, but not nearly enough people saw it. There’s also some lovingly detailed pieces of animation that liven the familiar genre up a little.
Three high school kids get way in over their heads when they get involved with the LA drug scene and one night has the chance to destroy Malcolm’s college career. It’s a crime thriller wrapped into a coming-of-age comedy, and it’s full of foul mouths, underaged sex and drug misuse. How is it, you ask? Just look at the title.
The Beguiled (2017)
Proves that even good Catholic girls during the Civil War are powerless to the charms of a wounded Colin Farrell (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), and the bickering is electric.
American Vandal (2017-)
Scathingly detailed coverage on the hideous crimes that have befallen an innocent public high school, American Vandal explores the psychological torment experienced by teenagers on a daily basis, and the vandalism they use as an outlet for their distress. (Heavy sarcasm.)
20th Century Women (2016)
Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) takes Jamie, an underage teenager to a rock concert and gets him completely hammered. He then makes out with a girl who could be anywhere up to ten years older than him. Jamie’s relationship with Elle Fanning’s Julie is also intimate, selfish and bordering on manipulative, but the film encompasses teenage frustration and 1970’s feminine expression incredibly.