Saturday, October 13, 2012

20 of Our Favorite Coming of Age Movies (Part I)

We're looking forward to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I've heard nothing about good things about both the novel and film -- and the blogs I follow, including Film Actually, have been praising this movie. Once we shrug off some lingering prejudice against Logan Lerman for his role in the disappointing adaptation of The Lightning Thief -- I hear he's actually a very good actor -- and stop expecting Ezra Miller to come out with a crossbow and a menacing expression, I'm sure we'll enjoy the film. :-)

On this note, I've compiled a list of 20 of our favorite coming of age movies. In no particular order:

1. Sweet Sixteen (2002) directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty

This is a bleak, realistic film -- y'know, what you'd expect from Ken Loach. Liam (Martin Compston) is a Scottish teen from a rough background. Underneath his veneer of toughness, he has a tremendous place in his heart for his mother, even as she involves him in drug dealing schemes from her prison cell. He eagerly anticipates her release from prison, making plans for their future together. He hopes to save her from her boyfriend, who is a nasty drug dealer, and his hateful grandfather, and he has plans to create a home for them.

To make his scheme work, he agrees to work with his mother's boyfriend in the heroin trade. He tries to find his footing -- and not lose sight of his dream -- while navigating this slippery slope. Meanwhile Liam's sister, who is working hard to create a normal, healthy life for her own baby, tries to save him.

Martin Compston was incredibly compelling in this role. Actually, the whole cast was amazing. This is a gut wrenching movie, yet I couldn't look away, and it somehow manages to be hopeful as well as relentlessly grim.

Memorable Quote: If she stays with Stan, she may as well get a season ticket for where she is.

2. An Education (2009) directed by Lone Scherfig and written by Nick Hornby based on a memoir by Lynn Barber 

This wonderful film brought young Carey Mulligan into the spotlight and earned her an Oscar nomination. (I thought she was a stronger contender than Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side, but ... whatever.) Jenny Mellor is a sheltered fifteen-year-old, dedicated student, and musician. Disappointed in his own life, her father pushes her to achieve. Nevertheless, Jenny finds space in her life for her own passions, including her love of France, and she longs for freedom, adventure, and romance.

An alluring older man manages to charm both her and her parents. This is a terrific movie about youth, naivety, and yearning, as well as a memorable coming of age story about a bright young woman. I love the way it captured that restlessness and longing, that somehow defines adolescence, which I remember so well.

Memorable Quote: "I don't want to lose my virginity to a piece of fruit." (Well seriously, who would? :-))

3. Billy Elliott (2000) directed by Stephen Daldry and written by Lee Hall

No matter how many times I see this movie, I never get tired of it -- I wish I'd had the opportunity to see it on stage. It's sad, funny, upbeat and joyful, all at the same time.

Growing up in a struggling working class family in Northern England, young Billy discovers he has a love of and gift for ballet. Meanwhile, his father and brother work in the mines and participate in strikes, which lead to violent clashes with police. To pursue his dream, Billy must break away from their world, a grueling life of dangerous work and political struggle, and overcome his family's and community's narrow definition of what it is to be male. This is a multi-layered story that touches on growing up, finding one's purpose and passion, gender identity, parental love, and the impact of socioeconomic differences.

Memorable Quote: Dad: Listen, have you noticed anything weird about our Billy lately? Tony: What are you after like, a list?

4. Juno (2007) directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody

Juno is a precocious teen whose smart mouth and edgy wit camouflage her aching vulnerability. When faced with an accidental pregnancy, she seeks the perfect adoptive parents for her unborn child. I love this movie, and I can watch it again and again. It's funny, quirky, and has a lot of heart.

Memorable Quote: Well, honey, doctors are sadists who like to play God and watch lesser people scream...

5. Pariah (2011) written and directed by Dee Rees -- reviewed here

Alike is a successful student and aspiring writer. She hides her homosexuality from her schoolmates -- even as she watches them closely, she keeps her distance. She also stays closeted from her parents. Both parents clearly sense the truth but don't want to face it, so everyone is stumbling around the elephant in the room.

In the midst of this struggle, she deals with first love, planning her future, and breaking away from her family to pursue her own dreams. I loved this movie -- it was definitely one of my favorites among the films I've seen this year.

Memorable Quote: Heartbreak opens onto the sunrise for even breaking is opening and I am broken, I am open. Broken into the new life without pushing in, open to the possibilities within, pushing out. See the love shine in through my cracks? See the light shine out through me? I am broken, I am open, I am broken open. See the love light shining through me, shining through my cracks, through the gaps. My spirit takes journey, my spirit takes flight, could not have risen otherwise and I am not running, I am choosing. Running is not a choice from the breaking. Breaking is freeing, broken is freedom. I am not broken, I am free.

6. Fish Tank (2009) written and directed by Andrea Arnold

Fifteen-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives in a housing project in Essex, has a distant relationship with her mom -- the struggling single mother of two girls -- and is estranged from her peers. Her tough facade thinly veils her vulnerability, loneliness, and compassion, which surfaces when she comes across an ailing horse.

Mia forms a bond with her mother's charming, attractive boyfriend, Conner (Michael Fassbender), who takes an interest in her and encourages her dream of becoming a dancer. However, it quickly becomes clear to the viewer that Conner's boundaries with Mia aren't what they should be. This painfully real yet somewhat dreamy film does a beautiful job of capturing life through Mia's eyes.

Memorable Quote: Don't forget to text me! Say hello to the Welsh for me!

7. Ma Vie en Rose (English title My Life in Pink) (1997) directed by Alain Berliner and written by Alain Berliner & Chris Vander Stappen

This Belgian film has stuck with me tenaciously since I saw it years ago, largely because I found it so heart-wrenching. Ludovic is a transgendered child whose parents face increasing pressure to force him to "be a boy." This is a beautiful film, but I'll never watch it again. I found his parents' and community's inability to accept and honor Ludovic for who he really is -- and the effect this had on the child -- too painful.

This isn't, strictly speaking, a coming of age movie, since Ludovic is still quite young at the end. However, given the difficult journey he takes in the movie, which probably ages him beyond his years, I feel it qualifies.

Memorable Quote: To make a baby, parents play tic-tac-toe. When one wins, God sends Xs and Ys. XX for a girl, and XY for a boy. But my X for a girl fell in the trash, and I got a Y instead. See? A scientific error! But God will fix it and send me an X and make me a girl and then we'll get married, okay?

8. Shine (1996) directed by Scott Hicks and written by Jan Sardi and Scott Hicks

I loved this movie, based on the life of troubled pianist David Helfgott. The first half of the film can be considered a coming of age film, as we see young David (Noah Taylor) grow up and battle for his independence. Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar for his role as the older David, but Noah Taylor was just as good -- his performance tore my heart out.

Memorable Quote: America. You know, land of the free, home of the brave. You know, Mickey Mouse.

9. The Chosen (1981) directed by Jeremy Kagan and written by Edwin Gordon, based on the novel by Chaim Potok 

It's been many years since I saw this film and read the novel from which it's adapted, but the story, and its themes of faith, conflicting values, loyalty, and friendship, will always stick with me. Two adolescent boys -- one an orthodox Jew and the other a reformed Jew -- bond during a pick-up baseball game in 1940's New York. The rift between their worlds becomes increasingly apparent, threatening their friendship, especially when their fathers are on opposite sides of the debate over the creation of the state of Israel. If you haven't seen or read this already, I highly recommend it.

Memorable Quote: There is a story in the Talmud about a king who had a son who went astray. The son was told, 'Return to your father.' The son replied that he could not. The king then sent a messenger to the son with the message... 'Come back to me as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way.

10. This Boy's Life (1993) directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Robert Getchell, based on the book by Tobias Wolff

This film is based on the memoir of writer and literature professor Tobias Wolff -- I really liked both the book and the film. Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) finds his life changed when his mother (Ellen Barkin) is charmed into marrying Dwight Hansen (Robert DeNiro). Dwight makes it his personal mission to make both his wife and stepson submit to his will and reform the rebellious boy. DeNiro is chilling as the domineering stepfather ("Kill or cure!") and young DiCaprio really shines here.

Memorable Quotes: Yeah, you pull that hot shot stuff around me, and I'll break every bone in your goddamn body. You understand me? Yeah, you're in for a change, mister, a whole 'nother ball game.

Go To Part 2


  1. Great list. I've been meaning to watch Sweet Sixteen for ages, so I'll have to do that soon.

    Loved The Perks of Being a Wallflower by the way. Logan Lerman was great in it. I might even nominate him for Best Actor on my personal ballot at year's end.

    1. Although Sweet Sixteen is pretty painful to watch -- well, yknow -- Ken Loach's brand of social realism :-) -- I hope you will see it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. I also thought Martin Compston was great in The Disappearance of Alice Creed -- I'll never forget that naked ninja move. :-D

      Have you seen the other "coming of age" movies on the list?

      I've only seen Logan Lerman in The Lightning Thief -- my kids and I thought it sucked. I can't wait to see him in a role where he shines.

    2. I've seen An Education, Fish Tank, Billy Elliot, Juno, and Shine. Like the last 3, but love An Education and Fish Tank.

      Also, I've seen some of This Boy's Life (and liked what I saw), and Pariah is one that I plan to watch soon.

      Don't know if you'll include them in Part 2, but The Graduate and Adventureland would definitely make my list.

    3. Good suggestions, Josh! I know this is serious cinematic heresy, but I'm not a big fan of The Graduate, though it definitely fits the genre. I've watched it twice and didn't like it much -- I'm not sure why.

      I hope you like Pariah. I was very impressed with it.

  2. This is a very cool list! Fish Tank and Juno are two of my favourites, but An Education is a film that is very close to my heart. Not sure why, though, but I'm very similar to Jenny (apart from meeting a man like David, haha). Plus, every time I see that film, I always want to do lots of schoolwork. That's always a plus!

    1. Hi Stevee, It's cool that we have some of the same favorites. I can understand your relating to Jenny, and I'm glad you never met a guy like David. ;-) In some ways I related to her too, because I had many of the same feelings -- and some similar interests -- as a teen.

      In many ways I identified with the protagonists in all 3 of these films, though I was never a pregnant teen and my adolescence wasn't nearly as difficult as Mia's.

    2. I forgot to ask, Stevee. Have you seen any of the other movies on this list?

  3. Nice list! The only one I've seen here is This Boy's Life. I've been wanting to watch Juno forever, I just never got around to it.

    1. If you watch Juno, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It's one of my favorites.

  4. I'm not a fan of Juno but I loved An Education - it's a great movie and Rosamund Pike is very underrrated in it. Billy Elliot is a very charming film too.

    1. I agree -- An Education was terrific, and Rosamund Pike was very good in her supporting role.

  5. Love Sweet Sixteen, Juno and Fish Tank. Haven't seen most of the rest but must check out an Education and This Boy's Life some day. Hope Dazed and Confused makes it into part 2.

    1. I haven't seen Dazed and Confused ... I probably should. :)

  6. Fantastic post! There's a lot of really great movies here. I enjoyed reading it.

  7. Great List! I always struggle to identify which ones qualify as 'Coming of Age' films and which ones don't and I haven't seen most of the movies in the list but those I have(Juno and An Education) are really great. Love them both. I really mean to check out Fish Tank, Pariah and Shine soon.

    1. I interpret "Coming of Age" in a fairly broad way. Stories people fit into that genre tend to focus on adolescents, but sometimes younger children have to do more "growing up" that most folks do in their teens and twenties. :-)

      I'm glad you liked Juno and An Education. And if you watch Fish Tank, Pariah, and Shine, I'd love to see what you think.


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