Best 21st Century Coming-of-Age Movies
They taught us Millenials and Gen-Zers everything we need to know
In Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, the 2017 comedy-drama tells the story of Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson. A high school senior, her strained relationship with her mother and rollercoaster social status at her Catholic school keep her from moving to the East Coast to attend her dream college. Acclaimed Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) plays the perfect depiction of a teen struggling in the disorder of adolescence, supported by Timothee Chalomet (Call Me By Your Name, Beautiful Boy) and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising, Booksmart). Fresh, insightful and ambitious, it's so much more than the regular teen-comedy flick, being chosen as one of the best films of 2017 by the National Board of Review, American Film Institute and Time Magazine. You can watch Lady Bird on Netflix.
The Edge of Seventeen
American Triple-threat Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Pitch Perfect franchise) stars as high school junior, Nadine Franklin. Struggling to make a connection with her overbearing mother and popular older brother since her father died, she finds solace and companionship in her best friend Krista. The pair are inseparable until their friendship becomes strained when Krista begins a relationship with Nadine's brother. Thus begins a downward spiral where Nadine strives to find someone to fill Krista's place: whether it be a prospective boyfriend or even the high school history teacher. The film explores how grief can impact a family's dynamic, as well as the usual excitement of young love. The partnership between Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson (Cheers, Hunger Games franchise) is particularly special, working effectively to find the film's resolution during its climax. You can watch The Edge of Seventeen on Netflix.
Booksmart features the debut of another fantastic female director, Olivia Wilde. It stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher, Unbelievable) as two overachieving high school graduates who decide to use their last day of classes to finally break the rules and party hard after years of missing out. Facing alcohol, drugs, sex and drama, the pair experience it all during their one night of endless antics. Boasting an incredible ensemble cast of Lisa Kudrow, Billie Lourd, Will Forte and more, each character brings their own iconic flair to the fast-paced and smart narrative (Lourd is a stand-out star in particular). It's refreshingly original, exploring love, friendship, sexuality and stereotypes in a way that any viewer is able to relate to in some shape or format. You can watch Booksmart on Amazon Prime Video.
This 2018 American rom-com is adapted from the novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli) and follows Simon Spier, a closeted, gay high school student who tries to balance his family and social life while trying to find the anonymous classmate he has fallen in love with online. Identified as the first film by a major Hollywood studio to focus on a gay teenage romance, Love Simon is warm-hearted and enriching, displaying a level of normalcy and a landmark moment of inclusion that hasn't been seen in film before. The diverse cast is completely charming and Nick Robinson (Melissa and Joey, Jurassic World) shines in a role that is honest and relevant. The film was so successful that it spurred a sequel television series, Love Victor, which is currently available on Hulu.
It feels like a lifetime ago since Juno was released but it remains timeless despite being 13 years old. Starring a young Ellen Page (Inception, The Umbrella Academy) as Juno Macguff, the independent teen deals with an unplanned pregnancy and how it catapults her into adult life. The film discusses abortion, teenage pregnancy and adoption in a fashion that is bright and unique. The ensemble cast (Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Allison Janney!), the writing, the music...it's just excellent. Juno will have been a feature-film at many teen sleepovers during the late noughties and 2010s (I remember watching it at a friend's house when I was 10) and was one of the first coming-of-age movies presenting a 21st-century twist that is germane and beautifully outspoken.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
You're asking "how is an animated superhero flick a coming-of-age movie?" Well, it's the story of Miles Morales, a teenager living in New York City who struggles to live up to the expectations of his dad but becomes his own person and at one with himself when he's thrown into the role of Spider-Man. Isn't that the basic blueprint for any coming-of-age story? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse destroyed the boundaries of the animated film genre in a bold and striking way, being nominated for almost every award that it could be nominated for. The combination of fantastic storytelling, effective use of sound and music, and out-of-this-world animation turned this superhero animation into something so much bigger. It evolved and developed the coming-of-age genre in terms of creativity, inspiration and flair.
City of God
City of God (or Cidade de Deus in its native language) is a must-watch. This Brazilian crime drama depicts the growth and development of organised crime in the favelas of Rio De Janeiro during the 1960s and 1980s through the eyes of Buscapé (or 'Rocket' in English). An aspiring photographer who manages to avoid the corruption of gang culture in his home, the film follows his life as he grows up surrounded by the danger and risk of drugs and violence that evolves just as he does. City of God doesn't stray away from showing the terrifying reality of Brazil's history, brutally featuring its ferocity and vehemence in a breathtaking and powerful way. Yes, it's in Portuguese, but that alone and following subtitles should not hold you back. City of God is a stand-out story within the crime film genre.
We've all had Pocketful of Sunshine stuck in our heads after watching Easy A. Emma Stone's big break came thanks to the success of this 2010 comedy. She stars as Olive Penderghast, a quirky and witty high school student who uses the old-fashioned routine of rumours to increase her social and financial status. This is a film all about the stigma of sex during your late-teens, something that comes back to bite Olive when she enjoys her new-found popularity and admiration a bit too much. Olive's personality and wit resemble characters seen in early COA movies of the 80s and 90s which is what makes it so exceptional. Not only does the flick display Stone as the star that she is, but the duo of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's parents are irresistibly charming with their humour and sarcasm. You can watch Easy A on Netflix.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Edgar Wright (probably my favourite director and auteur) demonstrates his love for anime and comic books in the adaptation of the graphic novel series of the same name. It stars Michael Cera as the titular character. An aspiring musician, he dreams of getting a record deal with his band Sex Bob-Omb and also earning the love of the mysterious Ramona Flowers. The only catch? He must battle and defeat Ramona's seven evil exes in order to truly win her heart. The combination of video game and comic book imagery make Scott Pilgrim a truly extraordinary watch. It also features huge stars in their years of early fame like Chris Evans, Brie Larson and Anna Kendrick. Even though it was a box office bomb (I think it was created and released before it's time), it's a cult classic that is just as epic as its tagline says.