8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
The epistolary novel told from the perspective of abused and hurting Charlie spoke to so many readers, an adaption was evident. Originally a comeback project for John Hughes, the book’s writer Stephen Chbosky eventually took the role of screenwriter and director, carefully aiding the loveable leads through a dead on screen version. Here, we have Logan Lerman perfectly wide eyed and shy as he makes friends with High School seniors that are wrapped up in sex, drugs, and the looming threat of college.
Emma Watson, in her first non Harry Potter role, steals the show as the sweet love interest with heavenly music tastes. Then there’s Ezra Miller, the fun flamboyant best friend who brings light to every scene he appears in. A straight forward yet dark and unsettling story on friendship and moving past the past – very few films can make you squirm, laugh, and cry all in the same scene like this one.
7. The Kings of Summer (2013)
We all get a little tired of parents trying to control are lives don’t we? Even if it’s Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman reinforcing lawn duties and intercepting phone calls! That’s just what three buds think as the school year comes to a close – no more chores, no more punishments, and certainly no more embarrassment. So they hike deep into the woods where they try and set up a home away from home and live off the land.
Simple and reminiscent of Stand By Me, the major difference here is the boys stop and make camp where they learn cooking, hunting, and basic survival skills. Soon the overbearing parents all come looking but these boys don’t want to be found – and we certainly don’t want them to either.
Their conversations are relevant and real – one’s everyone’s all had with their friends before. Silly and sweet – the boys mature and realize the difference between friends and family (but the journey is so fun we could almost care less if they learn a lesson).
6. The Way, Way Back (2013)
Originally set in the 1980’s, the director chose to bump it up to present day for budgetary reasons but left all the eighties quirks in the script. Lucky for us the stereotypes and jokes work perfectly as a teenager spends a summer working at a down and out water park. Duncan, our film’s main teen, experiences all the things you’d normally expect in a teen film like this – crappy working conditions, first loves, and pushy parents (most notably played by a very different Steve Carell).
What sets it apart is the single performance by Sam Rockwell, the goofy and somewhat unstable mentor at the water park that introduces girls, drugs, booze, and slacker mentalities to Duncan.
The more time he spends there, the more flack he gets from Carell’s pushy step father character. While the laughs are constant, so is the heart. Summer job stories are relatable – and hopefully they are as fun and influential as the one seen here. Much of Rockwell’s advice is cringe worthy but he also makes a poignant point or two about life.
5. The Spectacular Now (2013)
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have become forces to be reckoned with when it comes to teen cinema today. From Sci-Fi adventures like Divergent to the smash hit drama Whiplash, they seem to show acting chops in each choice they make while keeping their stories grounded in teen reality. Here, they get their start by showcasing a simple summer romance. Loss of virginity and typical elements ensue, but half way through the relationship runs its course.
Unexpectedly, it takes a wicked turn and dives further and further into messy breakup territory that might even cost the lead characters their life. But what we learn from this indie gem is whether the couple makes it or not, they are in the moment which is etched into life forever.
Though seemingly hard, Woodley’s character boasts that they should often just take a look around to appreciate the time. Not nearly as overdramatic as it could have been, Spectacular Now explores the effects of flings and friends like no other has in recent years.
4. Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
As controversial and lengthy as they come, this French film explores coming of age through lesbian affairs and sexual awakenings. We meet two girls Adele and Emma who slog through high school, dating boys and trying to plan out their future. But when they meet, true desires show for the first time. In a strenuous and truly shocking eight minute love scene – audiences are directly shown same sex intercourse with nowhere to hide.
What is truly remarkable about the film is both lead’s performances that journey into dark depths of confusion and experimentation. The film could not have been made in any other decade – it is a testament to LGBT rights movements, confronting bullies and tackling these relationships with delicacy and truth.
Through the relationship and affair, the girls both learn what they want and who they are. Filled with precious moments, anyone curious about their own sexuality (or rooted in only one firm belief) should watch it just to take in young love at its 21st century finest.
3. Boyhood (2014)
A masterpiece in experimental cinema, director Richard Linklater began the project way back in 2002 and proceeded to shoot for one week a year for ten straight. He explored the effects of divorce, the stress of high school graduation, the competition between siblings, first loves, new friends, and just about anything you’d find in a typical boy’s life.
To complete the beautiful project, he used songs from each year and made a time capsule of sorts – showcasing the changes and events in the past decade. While the plot may not be entirely gripping or revolutionary – the idea certainly is.
No actor was changed or replaced; we see Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and the star Ellar Coltrane actually grow up and age in essentially real time. For many millennials, it may just be like looking into a mirror. We get to see how our world has changed and remember some tiny moments that may have been forgotten from giant Apple computer monitors to Will Ferrell’s Landlord video.
2. Inside Out (2015)
Again, Pixar uses coming of age themes but this time as the creative forefront. Here, we get a glimpse of a place we’d never been before in cinema – a young girl’s mind. We learn what is important to her through fun characters based on each emotion she has. But when Sadness gets a little too out of control, the other emotions make it their mission to silence her.
This leads to an extravagant adventure through the mind and how it changes during adolescence. It sounds complicated, but Pixar does an amazing job keeping it fun, simple, and emotional when needed. We learn that sadness is a necessary part of life that we should simply let ourselves feel.
The film in fact feels like more of a grounding reminder or childhood for adults (some of the jokes and themes may go over younger viewer’s heads). With color, humor, and pure creative genius, the memorable emotions hit the nail on the head with pitch perfect parodies that link to the onset of puberty.
1. Everybody Wants Some (2016)
Richard Linklater was responsible for one of the most beloved coming of age movies Dazed and Confused. This nineties comedy was a love letter to the seventies, exploring and following one night amongst a group of teens heading to a bush party. Over twenty years later, he revisited the idea and gave us the spiritual sequel that explores college in the eighties.
No past characters make an appearance but a hit soundtrack keeps the seemingly aimless story on track, much like its predecessor. We watch a group of college boys play and talk baseball while chasing girls and partying in their very messy dorm. On the surface it’s quite superficial but it actually explores competition and male drive with great subtle accuracy.
Many will relate to the testosterone filled set pieces but Linklater here dares to ask why. There might now be an answer or a real set up to the questions to begin with, but we are taken on a beer filled ride that leaves us somehow perplexed and concerned with the male psyche. Plus the actors seem genuine which is what every coming of age moving seemingly needs to succeed.