The ladies have been rather vocal these days. Whether it is calling out our catcallers or coming out of the closet as feminists, women are making their presence known in a way they haven’t before. But things have not always been as such.
Coming-of-age in general, though a beloved and fruitful subject can get a little hairy. Puberty is messy and people seem somewhat less ready to see their sweet girls going through its less glamorous details. The following is a group of films that not only tackle the experiences of a still often marginalized group but also a subject that occasionally ventures into the taboo.
20. Now and Then (1995) Dir. Lesli Linka Glatter
Now and Then was quite possibly the definitive coming of age film for girls growing up in the 1990’s. The cast was a powerhouse of rising female stars including Christina Ricci, Thora Birch and Gabby Hoffman as well as the high profile players Rosie O’Donnell, Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith and Rita Wilson who played their adult counterparts.
Told primarily through flashback, the film portrays the lives of four friends growing up in the suburbs during the early 1970s and the seminal summer that changed their lives. Now and Then covered all the basics of puberty; getting boobs, discovering sex, dabbling in the occult but it also dealt with the dissolution of childhood fantasies and the frightening realization about the inevitability of change.
The film often bordered on touchy feeling, but it offered some killer one-liners and a fantastic retro soundtrack. Most importantly though, Now and Then depicted female friendship with just the right amount of candor and tenderness to make it a truly timeless movie.
19. Carrie (1976) Dir. Brian de Palma
A horror film might seem a bit out of place on a list about girls blossoming into adulthood, but Brian de Palma’s 1976 classic Carrie has more than a right to be here.
The film is memorable for a number of scenes, but its crown jewel is its infamous opening sequence. The locker room scene is masterful in the sense that it throws our own fantasies in our faces. Initially, the scene is filled with steam and the glistening bodies of nubile teenage girls as they emerge from the showers before focusing on Carrie; nymph-like and possessing a surprisingly lovely figure that is revealed as she sensually rubs soap over her naked body.
But the fantasy is abruptly destroyed when streams of blood begin to trickle down Carrie’s inner thighs. Chaos ensues and Carrie’s hysterical arc of terror and desperation is conveyed with wrenching authenticity by the incomparable Sissy Spacek.
18. An Education (2009) Dir. Lone Scherfig
Lone Scherfig’s classy 2009 film put Carey Mulligan on the map (and nabbed her an Oscar nomination).
Mulligan plays Jenny, a somewhat precocious English schoolgirl who, though possessed with certain joie de vivre, is disenchanted with her circumstances. Enter David (Peter Sarsgaard), a charming 35 year-old businessman who seduces her, introduces her to culture and fine living. Eventually however, his class is stripped away and unpleasant realities come to light.
The film is largely about the loss of innocence. Not so much the physical (though David does eventually take her virginity) but more so in the sense that Jenny is forced to come to terms with the reality that the apparent spectacular life she had been promised was and illusion. Even so, despite these disappointments Jenny is able to move forward with a sense of empowerment.
17. Pariah (2011) Dir. Dee Rees
On the whole, Dee Rees’ 2011 film Pariah is about having the courage to embrace yourself even when you know it is bound to alienate others from you.
17 year-old Alike (Adepero Oduye) knows that she is gay. And though her sister is aware as well, Alike is deeply closeted to her parents. Though she is close to her father, her relationship with her mother is somewhat strained and continues to be more so as Alike becomes more confident in her identity. At the beginning of the film, she secretly spends her nights attending clubs with her out friend Laura.
On these nights, Alike adopts Laura’s butch, sort of “player” identity. However, its evident that this more machismo mentality is something Alike is not entirely comfortable with, and she often shyly hangs back. Before she goes home each night, Alike changes into clothes deemed more acceptable and less suspicious to her mother.
This is a film not only about a family falling apart because of taboos and unfortunate cultural restrictions, but also about Alike settling into her own identity as a gay African American woman.
16. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) Dir. Abdellatiff Kechiche
Abdellatiff Kechiche’s 3-hour-long, queer epic came under a lot of fire last year for its lengthy, graphic sex scenes. And while it could be argued that these scenes are indeed compromised by the presence of the male gaze, such speculation should not distract from the brilliance of this film, which won the Palm d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
The story will inevitably strike a chord with anyone who has ever loved and lost, regardless of sexual orientation. Throughout the three hours we see Adèle (newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos in a luminous performance) transition from a confused teenager to a dedicated, jubilant lover and partner then, finally, to a woman handling devastating heartbreak.
The acting is superb and Kechiche employs intense, almost dizzying close ups of the actresses faces so that no small nuance of emotion can me missed, further increasing the empathy experienced by the audience.
15. Electrick Children (2012) Dir. Rebecca Thomas
This is a beautiful film. Rebecca Thomas’ mastery of camerawork and lighting in particular are truly something spectacular to behold.
15 year-old Rachel McKnight is a member of a fundamentalist Mormon community in Utah. She has never ventured away from her home, never used a phone. In fact, electronics in general seem oddly revered but prohibited in her community.
One night, she sneaks to her basement and finds a blue tape and cassette player. There, she hears rock music for the first time (a cover of “Hanging on the Telephone” by Flowers Forever). Her brother catches her in the act and scolds her for tampering with the forbidden. A few months later, Rachel realizes she is pregnant by what he believes what was and Immaculate Conception initiated through the tape.
When word of her condition gets out, her brother, Mr. Will is blamed for impregnating her and a shotgun marriage is planned for Rachel. But before that can happen, Rachel steal’s the community car and set’s off to find and marry the man who sang the song on the tape. Eventually she ends up in Las Vegas where she joins up with a group of skaters.
The film is very original in its concept. Some of the details are left ambiguous, which seems appropriate in this film as it further engages the viewers.
Julia Garner, who plays Rachel, anchors the film with a fresh, unaffected innocence. Her performance is so earnest that she manages to bring an acute realism to a rather unbelievable character.