14. Frances Ha (2013) Dir. Noah Baumbach
It seems these days that society is filled with late bloomers. There are certainly enough obnoxious articles about the deficiencies of millenials to make a case for it.
When Frances Ha came out last year, a lot of critics were praising its cinematography. People compared it to Woody Allen’s Manhattan and French New Wave and hailed is as a seminal achievement for the mumblecore film movement.
All of these things are true, but what truly makes this movie spectacular is its story and its central character Frances (portrayed by Greta Gerwig who also co-wrote the script with Baumbach).
Frances is in a state of arrested development. Her life turns upside down when her best friend decides to move out of their shared apartment, disrupting her idyllic, comfortable lifestyle. What follows is a period of vague displacement. Without Sophie to ground her, Frances floats a bit adrift and the two grow apart. The character has a lot of trouble moving forward. She stubbornly hangs on to childish career ideals and frequently makes poor decisions. In fact, she falters so much it is often hard to watch.
Greta Gerwig is certainly an actress to keep an eye on as she is escalating quickly. Though certainly beautiful, she has a sort of dopy sincerity what makes her very endearing.
13. Wetlands (2013) Dir. Peter Wnendt
This film begins where Turn Me On, Dammit left off, and then takes it to a whole new level.
It’s safe to say that Peter Wnendt’s adaptation of Charlotte Roche’s novel boldly goes where no other film has dared go before.
19 year-old Helen (a lovely and joyous Carla Juri) is bold in her assertion towards sexuality and confidently rebellious against the cultural taboos that prohibit body positivity. One day, he injures herself in a rather intimate shaving incident and is sent to the hospital.
Throughout her stay, Helen charms the staff and even develops a romance with a handsome male nurse but perhaps more importantly, Helen comes to terms with some familial trauma that has long plagued her.
The film is frank to say the least and not for the squeamish. Yet part of its brilliance lies in the fact that it makes you examine the taboos created by our culture and why they cause you to be so squeamish.
12. Water Lillies (2006) Dir. Céline Sciamma
French director Celine Sciamma took French cinema by surprise with her unique voice and the uncompromised naturalism of her visual style.
It seems, from what her small but significant body of work has shown, that she chooses to focus specifically on girls, adolescence and particularly the fluidity of gender and developing sexuality. Water Lillies was her first full-length feature and the film that put her on the map.
Marie, Ann and Floriane are three teenagers living the Parisian suburbs. The film’s French name (Naissance de Pieuvres) translates to The Birth of Octopuses which is an apt phrase for the complexity of the emotions these girls experience as well as the nature of their relationships with each other.
11. Fish Tank (2009) Dir. Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold’s tumultuous, coming of age masterwork tells the story of Mia, a slight, working class 15 year old loner, who, like many teens, propels through life with a pugnacious demeanor. She is combative. She is aggressive. But she is also exceedingly vulnerable. Some of this energy she is able to exercise through her passion for hip-hop dance though her skills lean towards mediocre.
She lives in an East London Council Estate with her younger sister and mother, a woman who is quite young herself and expresses little interest in her children and more in partying with her friends. Things turn interesting when Mia’s mother brings a new boyfriend home (Michael Fassbender on his A-game) who is handsome, charming and infused with middle class gentility. His presence has a profound effect on each woman in the house, especially Mia.
One thing that sets Fish Tank apart from other films of the coming-of-age genre is its austerity. There is nothing glamorous about this film or this story, which is true of our own experiences. Everything from the acting to the cinematography is completely unfiltered to the point of being unrelenting.
10. My Girl (1991) Dir. Howard Zeiff
No list about girls growing up on film would be complete without the 90s classic My Girl.
Most of us know the story. Precocious, morbid adolescent Vada Sultenfuss lives with her widower father (Dan Aykroyd) in their family-owned funeral home. Her best friend is her neighbor Thomas Jay (as if anyone could ever forget Macaulay Culkin is this role) Apart from her grandmother; she’s pretty much the only lady around. That is until a young makeup artist Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis) comes on the scene and starts dating her father.
Though she’s still considerably young, the Vada at the start of the film is radically different than the Vada we see right before the credits roll. Much of it is thanks to her growing relationship with Shelly and, of course, the tragedy she is forced to endure at the climax of the film.
Both My Girl and its sequel My Girl 2 are fantastic examples of an unusual girl coming of age under unusual circumstances.
9. Ghost World (2001) Dir. Terry Zwigoff
Everyone has felt like an outsider at different points in their lives. Terry Zwigoff’s 2001 sardonic comedy, Ghost World, depicts the unlikely connection of two such misfits with irreverent humor and unexpected tenderness.
Enid (Thora Birch) and best friend Becky (Scarlett Johansson) have just graduated high school. They start of the summer with the adult aspirations to obtain part time jobs and find a shared apartment, the inseparable pair spend their days pulling childish pranks. Enter Seymour (Steve Buscemi); a timid, awkward loner who responds to one of their false misconnections.
As the film progresses, Becky falls into the background; she gets a job, make steady progress toward practical adulthood. Enid struggles, but also seems comfortable in her stagnation. Enid (Thora Birch) is trying to find herself. She ‘s the odd one in her duo. Becky attracts the attention of men whereas Enid seems to alienate them. She is constantly trying on new looks and new identities and despite her tough and wry exterior her struggle is transparent.
Seymour, in a lot of ways is the prototypical hipster; he collects records, old antiques and he has extensive knowledge of the obscure and as such, he exposes Enid to culture. Unbeknownst to him, he really opens her up and is a crucial part of her development into an artist (Which she doesn’t quite know she is yet).
The film is truthful in its depiction of the inevitability of friends growing apart and the difficulty of finding yourself. Also the film is realistic in the sense that Enid’s rocky path is not completed by the time of its conclusion.
8. Fat Girl (2001) Dir. Catherine Breillat
Since her first film A Real Young Girl in 1976 Catherine Breillat has established herself as an auteur of feminist cinema and the female gaze in particular.
Though she has made some lovely (nevertheless brilliant) forays into the whimsical with The Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard, most of her work can be rather hard to watch. Breillat is not afraid to steer away from the controversial.
To say that Breillat has an impressive body of work is and understatement. Even so, her best film might be her 2001 feature Fat Girl.
Two sisters; the beautiful Elena and the chubby, unattractive Anais vacation at the seaside with their family. Being teenagers, both girls are curious about sex and have frank discussions about losing their virginity. Elena romanticizes the prospect, while Anais views it as something to simply be gotten rid of. Both girls suffer a rather brutal enlightenment throughout the progress of the film.
Though the film touches on common coming-of-age themes such as the loss of innocence and sisterhood, perhaps more than anything else, it deals with body politics and the de-sexualization of overweight women. Though Anais claims to be ambivalent towards romance, it is clear from her more private behavior that she longs to be desired just like any other girl but feels that she is undeserving of tenderness.