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10 Great Movies About The Pain of Growing Up

16 November 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Cara McWilliam-Richardson

6. This is England (2006)

This is England

It’s 1983, and 12-year-old Shaun has a lot to deal with. His father died in the Falklands War, people keep picking on him and his mother just doesn’t understand. One-day Shaun meets a gang of skinheads led by Woody. Woody invites him to hang out with the group, and they accept Shaun as a member. Trouble soon starts when violent racist Combo returns from a spell in prison, forcing the group to choose between him or Woody.

Falling in with the wrong crowd is a popular theme of growing up. And when you fall in with the wrong crowd, it doesn’t usually lead to anything good. At first Shaun’s new friends are a lifeline for him. They are an escape from his grief and loneliness, and a means in which to have carefree fun. Under the leadership of Woody, the gang adopt the skinhead dress sense and attitude, but they act apolitically. When Combo unexpectedly returns, this carefree lifestyle is ruined.

Combo has an agenda, and his agenda involves racist and English nationalist views which don’t sit comfortably with everyone in the gang. When Combo causes the gang to split, Shaun decides to side with him over Woody after being taken in by Combo’s strong beliefs. Shaun doesn’t know it, but this decision will catapult him from the innocence of childhood to the painful realisation of a more grown up world. A shocking act of violence later in the film finally causes Shaun to break away from Combo. But by then, the damage has been done.

This is England works incredibly well on a number of levels. At first glance, it is a gritty drama. Yet it is also very much a tale of nostalgia and a coming of age film. Before the serious drama kicks in, there is so much that is familiar to the audience from childhood. Dressing like your friends, listening to the same music and getting up to mischief, is mixed in with parents who don’t understand why you want Doc Martens and a new haircut.

The use of establishing shots to make full use of the inherently English locations, and then close up shots for much of the characters’ dialogue means that This is England is very effective in engaging the audience in Shaun’s story. The use of a linear but clear narrative also helps the film to feel gritty and real. This raw and realistic film captures the pain of growing up in a more adult way than many other films, but is worth the compromise of the harder to watch scenes to see the great performances and nostalgic elements.

 

7. Boyhood (2014)

Patricia Arquette as Olivia - Boyhood

Boyhood follows the difficulties and joys of the childhood and adolescence of Mason Evans Jr. from the age of six to the age of eighteen. Mason lives in Texas with his single mother Olivia and sister Samantha. He is coming to terms with his parents’ divorce and with growing up and everything that comes with it. Boyhood was filmed over twelve years, mirroring the ageing characters with the ageing actors.

Boyhood offers a strikingly unique perspective on growing up. By using the same actors filmed over a period of twelve years, the audience is given deeply personal snapshots into the way they grow and change. This means that we feel as though we know them and that we have gone on the journey with them as well.

Boyhood could be said to be ultimately uneventful. There are no explosions or action sequences, no massive dramatic scenes or shocking climaxes. However, Boyhood accurately represents what growing up and life often is – a series of moments that stick with you. Some are boring, some are upsetting, some are fun, some are cliched. But whether they are big moments or small moments, they are all what shapes the person you become.

Boyhood works from a lack from of plot, but the narrative is an audacious take on the coming of age genre. Again, this is an accurate representation of life. You cannot plan for what life will throw at you, you cannot assure that life will be exciting or everything that you want it to be. All you can do is undertake your own journey, wherever it may take you. Realistic and convincing performances from the central cast also make Boyhood incredibly watchable and engaging.

Boyhood is a faithful and absorptive film about growing up. Letting its audience observe a family throughout the years has never been so wonderfully captured in a way that relates to the pains, frustrations and discoveries of growing up.

 

8. The Ice Storm (1997)

The Ice Storm (1997)

Set during 1973, The Ice Storm follows a Connecticut family who are experimenting with escapism through sexual experimentation, adultery and alcohol. To an outsider, the family are wholesome and wealthy. But underneath that exterior, the family is falling into chaos. Husband Ben is frustrated with his job and embarks on an affair with the neighbourhood seductress, wife Elena shoplifts, daughter Wendy dabbles in sexual affairs with the local boys and son Paul experiments with alcohol at boarding school. Everything comes to a head over a fateful Thanksgiving weekend.

This quiet yet deftly observed drama from director Ang Lee often goes under the radar when thinking of films that capture the pains of growing up. But The Ice Storm is an apt study on how the experimentation that we try out as adolescents is not necessarily something that is unique to being a teenager.

Rather it may be that we observe those behaviours from our parents and mimic them. Or that we never really grow up completely, as in The Ice Storm the children are not the only ones who are taking risks and experimenting in a bid to make their lives more interesting. The Ice Storm epitomises the feeling and realisation that age and experience do not necessarily equate to fulfilment or personal identity in life.

The story unfolds through the perspective of sixteen-year-old son Paul, using the ice storm that occurs over the Thanksgiving weekend to frame the narrative. The ice storm in this case is both literal and figurative, a metaphor for the chaos that descends on the characters and the chilling results that follow.

There is an underscore of morbidity about The Ice Storm, there are moments of no return for the characters and this is certainly not a film which is looking at life through rose tinted spectacles. But there are also moments of humour. The Ice Storm is a sardonic, painfully realistic and slightly brutal glimpse into the American experience of being disengaged in the seventies. Not only looking at the pains of growing up but also the pains of being.

 

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

An adaptation of the novel of the same name, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about student Charlie who is starting his freshman year of high school. Charlie has recently been discharged from a mental health care institution, and is shy and lonely. He is often watching life from the sidelines, until two seniors befriend him. Carefree and free-spirited Sam and her stepbrother Patrick strike up a firm friendship with Charlie, and together they discover the joys of music, friendship and first love. However, Charlie still has issues to deal with and they threaten to shatter his newfound confidence and friendships.

Mental health issues, loneliness and fitting in are all issues that affect many people as they grow up. The Perks of Being a Wallflower commits to showing these truths that other films often brush over. Not only does it commit to showing them, it commits to showing the harsher and uglier side of them. Charlie’s struggles with his mental health, Sam’s struggles to find authentic love and Patrick’s struggles of acceptance are all struggles that will strike a chord in us. If we haven’t experienced them ourselves then it is almost certain that we will know someone that has.

But this doesn’t mean that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a melancholy film. Far from it, it is often euphoric and touching. Finding friends that love you and truly accept you for you are is a wondrous thing. Having friendships that take over your life and become the centre of your universe is something that frequently happens when you are growing up.

Suddenly your family blurs into the background as you explore these friendships. Discovering music that becomes the soundtrack to your burgeoning adulthood and experiencing the agony of love sometimes unrequited. All these aspects make The Perks of Being a Wallflower a touching and captivating tale of coming of age.

Using its honest voice that addresses important issues, whilst still celebrating those perfect moments of discovering yourself and coming to terms with who you are, means that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a film that should definitely be watched when considering films that explore the pain of growing up.

 

10. The Kid with a Bike (2011)

The-Kid-with-a-Bike

Abandoned by his father and left in the care of the state, a young boy named Cyril tries to track down his father who promised to return but never has. Cyril soon starts to act out in anger. After a random act of kindness by Samantha, a hairdresser who owns a local beauty shop, Cyril begins to take comfort in her. She offers to foster him on weekends, but with Cyril intent on driving Samantha away and falling in with the wrong crowd, she struggles to rein him in before he becomes unreachable.

Abandonment, the fear of rejection, and the need to be loved are all things which plague Cyril who is the central character in the Dardenne Brothers’ film, The Kid with a Bike. Cyril tries to track down the father who so callously left him, calling a disconnected number and even forcing his way into his father’s former apartment. These scenes are not overly dramatic but are quietly strained with a tense desperation. This desperation from Cyril shows how hard it is to grow up when you do not have the stability of a family home, or the unconditional love of a parent.

The film shows a strong empathy for kids who are alienated, and sometimes even left behind. When these kids act out, it is realistic and relatable. The drama in The Kid with a Bike is not over the top with ultimately dire consequences. The drama is in the straightforward small things that happen every day. Cyril is testing his boundaries and pushing others away whilst he searches for a place to belong.

Filmed in almost a documentary style, The Kid with a Bike is a raw and stripped back account of how growing up is often about the struggle to find acceptance and love, and how the search for those things can impact your behaviour and relationships. When all is said and done, the pain of growing up can be greatly abated when you find people who are willing to love you no matter what.

Author Bio: Cara McWilliam-Richardson is a writer with a passion for films and filmmaking. She has written several screenplays, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favourite genre to write is fantasy and science fiction.

 

 

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  • shane scott-travis

    A very nice list but where is the 400 Blows and the Florida Project?

  • Zwei

    Aparajito (1956)

  • Mortimer

    Good call for ‘The Ice Storm’. Underrated movie.

  • ArmitageX

    Good list, but a few suggestions:

    “Spirit of the Beehive”
    “The Butcher Boy”
    “Empire of the Sun”
    “The Reflecting Skin”
    “Flight of the Innocent”
    “I’m Not Scared”
    “The Devil’s Backbone”
    “King of the Hill” (Soderbergh)
    “Paperhouse”
    “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
    “The Fall”
    “Grave of the Fireflies”

    I also feel “Come and See” kinda fits into this category, as well.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Truffat’s 400 Blows should be here
    Its omission is unforgiven

    • colonelkurtz

      This list only concerns great movies, not the greatest.

  • bugajóskanemszépember

    Kes would be on my list.

  • SupernaturalCat

    Over The Edge (1979)
    River’s Edge (1986)
    The Reflecting Skin (1990)

  • moss

    the perks … is not a good movie, compared to the rest of your list.
    I would also add Jan Troell’s “here is my life” and Ken Loach’s “Kes”

  • TJ Järnström

    My Life as a Dog / Mitt liv som hund (1985). Brilliant.

  • Welcome to the dollhouse

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    Rushmore!