We’re back with a guest this week as Alex Hayler returns to help count down our Top 5 Coming of Age films. I wanted to release this two weeks ago to coincide with the release of Raw, a very unusual example of the genre, but big events like the new Fast and Furious film and Doctor Who Season 10 got in the way. Regardless of that its time to start looking at one of my favourite genres, the coming of age tale, including some of the classic comedy dramas, and some more varied examples. A few of my personal favourites that didn’t quite make the list include Garden State, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Good Will Hunting, and Mean Girls. But without further hesitation lets get into Alex and my Top 5 Coming-of-Age films.
- Shuggie: The Edge of Seventeen – The Edge of Seventeen was a throw back to the classic John Hughes films, but made in 2016. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig it perfectly captures the spirit of those classic Coming of Age tales, but manages to update it for a modern audience. The central performance from Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine is utterly brilliant. Without her Nadine could easily have come across as a very unlikable figure and distance herself from the audience, but Steinfeld is so charming, funny, and likeable that she makes you root for Nadine, even when she’s acting terribly. The comedic turn from Woody Harrelson as her teacher is brilliant as well. If you’re looking for a new classic in the coming of age comedy drama genre then look no further than The Edge of Seventeen.
- Alex: Mean Girls – A classic noughties comedy, Mean Girls follows Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan at the height of her career) as she transforms from a kind, homeschooled nerd into a popular plastic bitch, and back again. Written by comedy superstar Tina Fey, the script crackles with witty and quotable dialogue, and captures the cliquey feel of high school better than the majority of films in the genre. Lohan plays her part well, but perhaps the standout performance comes from Rachel McAdams as Regina George, the leader of the group of popular girls who rule the high school roost. George is the perfect villain: bitchy enough to be hateable, but with a sympathetic side to her character as well. Overall, a fantastic story about the perils of popularity and one of the greatest American high school movies of all time.
- Shuggie: Pan’s Labyrinth – This is a stranger film to include on this list, but as well as being a brilliant Fantasy and War film Pan’s Labyrinth is brilliant coming of age story for the central character Ofelia. Her journey throughout the film is one to become the young woman who is willing to stand up to Captain Vidal, and sacrifice herself for her baby brother, not to mention facing all manner of fantastical horrors. Setting her coming of age tale to the background of the Spanish Civil War and dark fantasy horror is a masterstroke from Guillermo Del Toro. When you throw in the beautifully realised creature design it’s hard not love Pan’s Labyrinth. The only reason that it’s not higher on this list? It’s not a classically pure Coming Of Age drama.
- Alex: Superbad – As I write this entry, I sit wearing a Superbad jumper (possibly still available in Primark, roughly £12), so I may be slightly biased as to the quality of the movie. When I saw this film in my mid teens, it spoke to me. Two hapless, geeky young men on the cusp of adulthood go on a quest to acquire illegal alcohol for a house party, hoping to attract some women in the process. As a red-blooded 15-year-old male, this was basically my life condensed into a 90-minute plotline. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill lead a hilarious cast that also includes Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Emma Stone. Whilst watching the film, I promptly fell in love with the Emma, and have never really recovered. The dynamics between the characters are perhaps what makes this movie great, from Seth’s bullying and cajoling of Evan and their even more pathetic friend Fogel, to the buddy cop duo of Officer Slater and Officer Michaels. Worth a watch.
- Shuggie: Moonlight – An entry from this year, Moonlight was the shock winner of the most recent Oscars, and in my mind it absolutely deserved it. Telling the story of Chiron, a young gay man from a poor African American community, and his struggle to find acceptance in this community. Told in three parts of Chiron’s life, in which three different actors play him, Moonlight is an absolutely stunning work. Brilliant acted, masterfully directed, beautifully shot, and with a great score. This is one of the most powerful Coming of Age dramas I’ve ever seen, and despite being an incredibly new film it absolutely deserves a high place on this list.
- Alex: Dead Poet’s Society – The first Robin Williams film on this list, but not the last, Dead Poet’s Society is a wonderfully human film about a school teacher that is willing to go the extra mile to help his students, even if the stuffy 1950’s administration doesn’t like it. As with most of the films he is in, Williams is the stand out character here, dominating the screen with his presence and raw charisma. It is easy to see how the boys (lead by Ethan Hawke in his breakout role) are captivated by this fascinating man, and why they seek to emulate him by restarting the titular club in his honour. The main message of this film is that being true to yourself is the most important thing of all, and you can’t live your life by somebody else’s rulebook. An important idea to be sure, and one that Williams and co deliver in a poignant but beautiful way.
- Shuggie: Dazed and Confused – Richard Linklater has made some great films, and a lot of them Coming of Age films, but in my mind none better than Dazed and Confused. A film about the last day of school where nothing really happens doesn’t sound like it should be one of my favourite films, but it absolutely is. A film like this is made on the character’s interactions, and their growth throughout the film, and thanks to Linklater’s brilliant dialogue, and some brilliant performances it works brilliantly. It features a huge ensemble cast, including many actors who have gone on to bigger things; Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and more. Dazed and Confused is funny, full of great characters, and a great soundtrack. One of the great Coming of Age films.
- Alex: Good Will Hunting – Some may argue that Good Will Hunting isn’t a coming of age film, since all the characters are adults. However, Matt Damon’s Will certainly does ‘come of age’, perhaps not in the same way as some of the other characters on this list, but instead in a more mental sense. Good Will Hunting is about a genius (the titular Will, played by Matt Damon, who also wrote the film with Ben Affleck) who is wasting his potential working as a janitor and committing petty crimes with his delinquent friends from South Boston. Having been charged with assault, Will avoids jail by unwillingly going into therapy, which he thinks he is above. After several failed attempts with various therapists, Will is finally pitted against Sean (played by Robin Williams, who once again steals the film) who helps him to work out his unresolved childhood issues. Good Will Hunting is one of those few films that I can just watch again and again. The type of film that you wish you could erase from your mind so you could watch it for the first time again. Every aspect of the film is brilliant, from the script to the casting and performances, with Williams the stand out in his Oscar-winning turn. Good Will Hunting is probably the best film on the list, but in a list of coming of age movies, there could only be one film coming out on top…
- Shuggie: The Breakfast Club – The Breakfast Club is probably the definitive Coming of Age film, and as a result it had to top my list. John Hughes ruled the 80s, the high point of Coming of Age dramas, with films like Sixteen Candles, but it’s The Breakfast Club that truly stands apart as the greatest ever. The story of 5 very different kids from different cliques stuck in detention on a Saturday, The Breakfast Club is one of the most perfect explorations of awkward teenage life. Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Michael Anthony Hall, and Ally Sheedy embody these 5 different personalities, but also manage to show that they are more than just the stereotypes you see on the surface. It’s such a powerful drama, and it has defined the genre, still to this day.
- Alex: Stand By Me – A simple story, Stand By Me follows four friends as they head out into the woods in search of the body of a boy that is rumoured to be there. Such a basic premise, and yet Stand By Me is in my eyes the quintessential coming of age movie. It defines the genre, in that it is about a group of young people who undergo an experience that changes them permanently, not in any fantastical sense, but in a real, grounded way. The boys begin the film as kids on a carefree adventure, and end it as young men, aware of their own mortality and able to better comprehend their place in the world. In that sense, the film perfectly captures the transition that we all undergo, that is the adjustment from childlike wonder at the world, a belief that everything will always be ok, to skeptical cynicism, an acceptance that we have little control over our reality. The setting of the movie, a sleepy 1950’s American town, perfectly represents this, as the boys understand more and more about themselves the further they move away from their idyllic, comforting home. One of many brilliant Stephen King adaptations, and well worth the time of any film lover, Stand By Me is a true classic.
So those are our favourite Coming of Age films. I would love to hear what you think of our choices in the comments, and what films you would include.