Five Favorite Coming-of-Age Films

This week The Spectacular Now may or may not come to your local art house. Wait, it’s not? Oh, right only four theaters (let me guess LA & NY?): No worries! Here are five coming-of-age films that are readily available for you to watch on home video or the internet.

While three weeks ago we discussed young adults in ‘arrested development‘, coming-of-age films are just as popular sub-genre, but they’re actually about young people ‘successfully’ transitioning into adulthood. Why is the genre so popular? Well, Hollywood knows their target audience’s age (bravo!) and so they’ll make movies that speak to them. Also these movies are about “firsts”, mostly focussing on first sexual experiences, because let’s face it that’s what’s interesting.

Most of you might be familiar with the American coming-of-age films and there are a ton of films about the subject. Wikipedia reports more than two-hundred movies, plus hundreds of teenage movies exploring the subject one way or another. Now, not to be a snob, because I love US cinema, but to encourage you to look for a different spin on things let me recommend you four foreign films and only one American. These also happen to be some of my favorite films, so again, not trying to be a snob here.

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5. Amarcord (1973, Federico Fellini)
Some say this is Fellini’s most personal film. Looking through his book of dreams (his diary, original title: il libro dei sogni) this summer I found many images he drew that feel like they could fit in the same universe as this film. This film is a glimpse inside his mind and where he grew up. In fact the small town in Emilia-Romagna becomes a character itself. Amarcord means, translated from the local dialect, “mi ricordo”: I remember. Memories tend to be fuzzy, they tend to have a dream-like quality, and we can all agree that films are like dreams. This film got a lot of critical acclaim, but you should watch it because it’s also funny (in typical Fellini fashion) and melancholic and if you’re a Fellini fan: This is one of his best films and he has one of the most impressive filmographies I know of.

4. Show Me Love (1998, Lukas Moodysson)
Fucking Åmål (original Swedish title) is the story of two teenage girls and their romantic relationship. The film is set in a small town in Sweden and Moodysson shows just what it’s like to be a teenager in school, the relationship with your parents and your peers. Living in the German-speaking part Switzerland I found that a lot of the things I experienced or felt were the same as in this film. When I watch American films it feels distant, I can still connect, but this actually felt as if it was about my youth, even though I never was a Swedish teenage girl. This film is honest, it perfectly captures the time and place, it’s sweet and romantic and everything I love about Moodysson. It’s about wanting to get away from home, and feeling trapped in a small town and I certainly knew that feeling growing up.

3. The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola)
Who hasn’t thought about suicide at least once in their life? Certainly growing up you think about it a lot. Sofia Coppola’s début feature film is already a beautiful, tender film, but a very depressing one. Tonally, it’s unlike anything she has directed since. Every time I watch it it makes me sad and I totally feel like the Lisbon girls, although I don’t kill myself at the end. Even at this early stage of Sofia’s career she’s great at directing young actors, capturing the 1970s essence and drawing you into the film with great music and spectacular cinematography. I don’t know if I’d recommend this film to depressed people, but it’s certainly the best American coming-of-age film I know, because Sofia doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable subject matter and is not afraid to show what it truly feels like to be a teenager. There is also a mystery element to the film which gives it an aura of weird sadness.

2. Fat Girl (2001, Catherine Breillat
À ma sœur! (literally: to my sister) is a film about two sisters competing with each other. One is beautiful, but very naïve when it comes to sex, the other is, well fat and unattractive, but a bit more street smart. Both are on summer vacation and the film is about their first sexual experiences and how that changes the dynamic between them. It’s also about depression and apathetic parents. Like most of Breillat films it shows you explicit sex scenes that aren’t sexy. It’s raw, but always loving even when it’s uncomfortable to watch. The beauty of it is that Breillat doesn’t judge its characters, in fact this film is partly autobiographical. I haven’t seen all of her films yet, but I think this is without a doubt her masterpiece. I have to re-watch it because it’s been a while, but it’s definitely in my top 100 and the ending is just jarring. If someone says they saw it coming, they’re lying!

1. Turn Me On, Dammit! (2011, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen)
This was one of my favorite films of 2011, and that was a great year for film, but Få meg på, for faen made the top 10. From the first scene of the film, which is Helene Bergsholm masturbating on the floor, I knew this was going to be a great one and it was. Much like Show Me Love this is about a teenage girl who wants out of her small town in Norway. She has these weird sex fantasies that lead to her getting a “bad” reputation, you know how quick that can happen in small towns. It’s a funny film, it’s very ‘girly’ sometimes, which makes it cute and ‘innocent’ even if it does treat some adult themes. I also like the look of this film and the costumes (sounds weird to say I know), I look forward to checking out more films by Jacobsen. As I always say: We need more women directing!

That’s it for this week. The films were in chronological order, not order of preference, because I don’t have the heart to do that. I realize the sub-genre is vast and these five films barely scratch the surface so I’ll go ahead and recommend the films of John Hughes for those of you that want something more American and mainstream and Gregg Araki if you’re more on the indie side. If you feel that there were films that I left out that absolutely need to be mentioned, please leave a comment and let me know!

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