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The Best Coming-of-Age Films

  I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for movies made to captivate teen audiences everywhere. You know the kind -- full of cliche love stories and juvenile jokes. I could spend almost a full day marathoning them… I almost did once. That’s why I decided to proclaim my love for them in this list of some of the greatest coming-of-age films. 

  1. 1. Perks of Being a Wallflower

      I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not only watched this movie, but also read the book. It’s probably, dare I say, one of the only movies that is comparable to its written counterpart. The casting is absolutely on-par and the characters feel truly authentic. Being a freshman in high school can be one of the most difficult experiences in adolescence, especially when you’re a reserved person like Charlie, the protagonist, who beautifully depicts the struggle of not only making friends, but doing so while being a “wallflower”-- someone who stays to themselves in large social settings  rather than seek the center of attention. While he himself also has his own mental struggles, it’s safe to say a lot of teenagers can relate to this film, whether it be in his personality of his friends’. In addition to the regular high-school tropes, the film also deals with rape, abuse, and anxiety, making it unusually light-hearted and deep — a combination that a lot of movies fail to pull off.

  2. 2. Edge of Seventeen

      I remember watching this movie when it first came out and falling in love with its authenticity. There’s no out-of-this-world love-story or unachievable dream; it’s just a girl trying to survive high school and family struggles. I also love Hailee Steinfeld’s acting. Her character was so relatable to the point where I almost thought I wasn’t even watching a movie. She has the same boy troubles as your average high schooler, friend troubles, family drama, etc. Not only that, but she isn’t just another girl wearing high heels and trying to date the high school jock. Her struggle with mental health issues can be understood by so many people, because what teenager doesn’t go through some version of Steinfield’s high school hell?

  3. 3. The Way He Looks

      Some people call this the “Brazilian Call Me By Your Name” and, sue me, but I find this to be more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, Call Me By Your Name was great and there’s a reason why it was nominated for an Oscar, but I can’t help but feel a little disconnected from the characters while watching it. The Way He Looks portrays a blind Brazilian teenager living his daily life with his best friend, all of which starts to change when a new boy comes to town. Sounds cliché, but trust me, it’s such a feel-good movie that in the end you’ll be rooting for every character. It’s different, too, because the main character is blind and a lot of what’s filmed is done so through his perspective.

  4. 4. Lady Bird

      Almost any list you look up of the best coming-of-age film will include this movie, and for good reason, of course. Lady Bird is not only one of the most notable films of the decade, but an Oscar-nominated coming-of-age legend that’s sure to live on through the generations. Simply put, the movie is a story about a girl who’s trying to make her social and family ends meet as she transitions from high school to college. It’s a heartfelt mother-daughter story that’ll cause debate about whose side you should be on. What’s refreshing is how the film handles social class, a concept teen movies rarely touch upon. If they do, the characters are generally white and upper-middle class so most of their worries stem from other issues.

  5. 5. Love, Simon

      Just as a side note, Nick Robinson is an absolute sweetheart and is officially (one of) my MCM. 

      At first glance, Love, Simon, seems like a typical mainstream-styled rom-com that utilizes every trope in the book. There's the nerdy Vice Principal, the frat-like high school parties, breaking of the fourth wall by the protagonist, public declarations of love in front of the whole school, and a soundtrack of contemporary pop songs. The catch? The story centers around a young, closeted gay kid's struggle with coming out and simultaneously finding love. I’m so happy to be in a time where movies like this exist as regular coming-of-age films, and not as something different or unpopular. 

  6. 6. 17 Again

      I remember never watching the movie as a kid but convincing myself I liked it because it was released on my birthday and starred Zac Efron. But now that I’ve watched it and am thinking back on it , I realize just how good it was. While it definitely embodies more of the late 90s-early 2000s tropes of slapstick comedies, it teaches a great lesson —  don’t take life for granted. It’s through Zac Efron’s portrayal of the main character that the audience realizes how scary it is that life can so quickly pass you by. While the second chance phenomenon is fantastical in this film (as Efron literally travels back in time), it shows how second chances could be the answer to changing your life. Even the way the movie handles self-respect and relationships with the daughter is someone rarely ever seen in teen movies in an era of John Tucker Must Die and Mean Girls (no shade to either of those movies, I love both, but the point must be made).

  7. 7. A Silent Voice

      If you don’t mind anime, I’d definitely give this movie a go. I can’t tell you how many times I cried while watching this, largely because it’s hard for me not to cry while watching anime. The film centers around a protagonist with crippling self-hatred who experiences a new view on life when he tries to make amends to a deaf girl he bullied in elementary school. Truth be told, this movie is nowhere near lighthearted, but the ending takes a heartfelt approach to a sad story. Plus, the animation in the film is absolutely gorgeous. I’d recommend Your Name too, but, seeing as most of the movie consisted of supernatural elements, this seemed to be more of a realistic fit.

  8. 8. 3 Idiots

      If there’s one Bollywood movie that’s sure to make you laugh, it’s this one. Think The 3 Stooges—only with actual morals and catchy musical numbers. This was one of the first Bollywood movies I watched growing up that I actually enjoyed, mainly because it appealed to everyone, not just people who were into rom-coms with the cliche, sappy endings. This movie says so much about growing up and being independent, which makes you feel even more for the characters. You love how funny they are but you also want them to grow up. The biggest take away from this movie is to do what you love and not what others tell you, which is a great argument against traditional Indian child rearing

  9. 9. Booksmart

      Last, but certainly not least, is one of my favorite movies of the past year — Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. This movie follows two academically gifted girls who decide to break free of their normal routines and live large on the day before their high school graduation. It’s the perfect buddy-cop meets sisterhood meets coming-of-age film. It says so much about expectations and pressure during adolescence to act a certain way, regardless of whether those actions are good or bad. The movie forces viewers to consider how shallow their perceptions of people can be, because generally everyone has more depth than our assumptions give them credit for. In a nostalgic way, Booksmart makes me want to redo my last day before high school graduation, and maybe even live it up a little more.