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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Change is a horrifying thing to face, but we can’t escape it. This is why many of us find comfort in coming-of-age movies and shows, where the characters are going through similar experiences of the hurdles that come with growing up. The coming-of-age genre originally stemmed from teen movies about growth and self-discovery, but it’s also expanded to young adults because new development can happen at any age, and we will always continue growing. These are a few of my favorite coming-of-age movies.

‘Candy Jar’ (2018) 

Lona and Bennet are the only two members of their school’s debate team, which fans the flames of their rivalry. They compete for president to add one more achievement to their college applications, only to be named co-presidents by their overwhelmed principal. Subsequently, they’re named co-champions of their next debate tournament but are unable to advance to the state championships. Kathy, their guidance counselor, suggests they work together to tackle another competition. It takes nudging from both sides, but Lona and Bennet agree to finally be a team. They dominate to reach the final competition, then receive news that they’ve been rejected from their dream colleges. After initially pushing each other away, their failures give them common ground to bond together further and even fall in love while preparing for their final round together. 

This has been a major comfort movie since high school for a multitude of reasons. First, I was a lot like Lona and Bennet back then, and still see remnants of them in me today. In the movie, Bennet comments that something they had in common was that they had never felt like the classic young and dumb high schoolers they’d known from the movies and amongst their peers. They were so focused on what was ahead of them that they refused to enjoy what was in the present. And ultimately, all that work didn’t lead them where they wanted. However, they ended up somewhere else and life went on. This movie gave me a lot of hope when I was rejected from my dream school, and I can gladly attest that I’ve grown past it like they had. 

’20th Century Girl’ (2022) 

In 1999, Bora urges her best friend Yeondu to go to the United States for heart surgery. Yeondu suddenly refuses because she’s fallen for a boy from their school, whom she knows as Hyunjin. Bora promises that she’ll dedicate their time apart to following Hyunjin around and learning everything about him so Yeondu can go to the U.S. in peace. After Yeondu leaves, through different shenanigans, Bora is determined to see her mission through but keeps running into a tall, handsome obstacle: Woonho, Hyunjin’s best friend. Bora determines that getting close to Woonho can help her find out more about Hyunjin, but they also end up developing feelings for each other. When the fall semester begins, Yeondu returns and Bora isn’t ready for how this makes things spiral out of control. She battles with being honest to Yeondu, Woonho, and most importantly, herself. But the new century approaching teaches her that nothing is permanent. 

The story takes the characters through the seasons to mark a timeline for Bora and Woonho’s relationship. New buds are planted in the spring, and by summer, they’re in full bloom. After all, Bora thought that ripe plums were better than their flowers. The careful, saturated cinematography in the flashbacks creates a dangerously dreamy feeling that sometimes makes you forget about how these experiences weigh on Bora until the very end. Simultaneously navigating first loves and how complex loyalty lies in friendships is harrowing because change is inevitable. In two hours, “20th Century Girl” took me from giggling and kicking my feet to burying my face in my pillow in shock. This movie reminded me that nostalgia is addictive, and ultimately, devastating. 

‘The Half of It’ (2020)

In the small, religious town of Squahamish, Ellie mostly blends into the backdrop of her school, but makes some extra money by writing papers for her peers. One day, she’s pursued by Paul, a football player, to write a love letter to his crush Aster. Initially, Ellie refuses, but discovers the electricity in her house could be shut down if a payment isn’t made. As the only other person supporting her widower father, she changes her mind. Aster already has a boyfriend, but Ellie bonds with her over literature and art, even though Aster believes she’s talking with Paul through letters and text messages. Soon enough, Ellie develops a genuine friendship with Paul and starts falling for Aster. Still, she fears these connections are fragile, as she thinks her true feelings will make her out as a fraud. Or worse, a sinner. 

Although it doesn’t have the classic rom-com ending, I appreciate it for being realistic yet hopeful. Ellie’s relationships with Paul and Aster are different but both are fundamentally built on a level of admiration that’s new to Ellie. This is especially evident in Ellie and Paul’s friendship: Paul learns to be more introspective and that inspires Ellie to be more candid. The intersection between the characters’ race, religion, sexuality, and more is intriguing because they understand how delicate those relationships can be while navigating through life to discover their dreams and desires. Squahamish reflects the lethargic ambiance of the Pacific Northwest and of youth itself. While it can be passionate and fervent, many build themselves up surely and slowly, like fog seeping into the air. 

‘Queen’ (2013)

Rani, a young woman from New Delhi, India, is beyond excited about her wedding to Vijay, her first love. However, after living abroad, Vijay changes his mind and decides that their lifestyles no longer fit each other. Rani is devastated by the news and rediscovers their former honeymoon plans: a trip to Paris and Amsterdam. Surrounded by boxes of sweets with no recipients, she refuses to let more go to waste and embarks on the journey herself. She experiences a series of hurdles that almost send her back to India, but new friendships help her see the trip to the end. Rani finds that independence isn’t as terrifying as she thought. She relishes it. Meanwhile, Vijay travels to chase after Rani and win her back, despite their past issues. Rani’s discovered that the world is bigger than she could’ve imagined, which has her questioning whether she can return to her old life. 

What I adore about this movie is that it shows a very realistic adjustment to independence, which is terrifying in the beginning. Rani has quite a few typical breakdowns, but she still manages to get back up. Another thing I appreciated about this film was the emphasis on platonic love, and how you don’t always need new romance to pull you out of heartbreak. The people Rani meets during her travels are from a multitude of countries and she gains a new understanding of how life is different for others around the world. Coming-of-age encompasses self-discovery and development, and I am a firm believer that this can occur at any age. The world didn’t end at 17, or in Rani’s case, at 24. 

Coming-of-age is one of my favorite genres of film because I’ll curl up on my couch to experience something that will make me laugh, cry, then laugh again. It takes us through the ups and downs of life with little to no filter. Life is both exhilarating and exhausting. Change is scary because it’s inevitable. But we’ll make it to the other side, and we’ll be okay.

Saumya Johri is an undergrad studying Social Relations and Policy at Michigan State University. Along with her passion for writing, she also loves reading, art, music, and thai tea boba.