Maybe it’s the romanticization of young adult life or my personal dream of having an aesthetic soundtrack behind me as I ride my bike into the sunset, but I’ve always loved coming–of–age movies. Growing up, I looked at them as a glimpse of what I thought my teenage years would be; obviously, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized they can be a bit unrealistic, but I still find them fun to watch. The nostalgic tone and relatable adolescent storylines just make these films so captivating.
But what actually makes a movie a “coming–of–age” film? The answer is a bit complicated. When we think about movies that belong to the genre, we can imagine ones as different as Mean Girls and The Edge of Seventeen –– two very different films with very different subjects. However, I would say that coming–of–age movies usually involve a teenager or young adult who’s trying to figure themselves out or navigate the confusing issues of adolescent life as they approach adulthood.
What’s so appealing about these movies is that they’re romanticized versions of the experiences we all go through. We’ve all been in a place where we’re not really sure who we are, and it can feel frustrating and isolating. In that sense, these movies allow us to connect with characters similar to ourselves and live vicariously through them. It’s fun to pretend you’re the main character sometimes!
To be clear, I’m not that old! I’m technically still a teenager, but my perspective on these films has changed over the years. For one, I’ve realized that high school is nothing like High School Musical. However, I’ve also found comfort in some of the conflicts these characters face. Regardless, I enjoy these movies, and I’ve decided to make a list of some of my favorites for people new to the genre or those just looking for something to watch who can enjoy them with me! Here are my top contenders.
Booksmart is a wonderful 2019 classic starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, directed by Olivia Wilde. The film centers around two best friends who have spent most of their high school years neglecting their social lives, only to realize that all the party animals in their grade were able to achieve the same goals despite lacking the same level of strict dedication. They decide to go wild on their last night as high school seniors, and the movie follows their adventures.
I love Booksmart because of the relationship between the two main characters; Feldstein and Dever portray a genuine female friendship with all of its ups and downs—and they’re clearly having a great time doing it. It’s a movie that simultaneously makes you burst out in laughter and tears.
- Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade is one of those movies that I’m glad I saw as a freshman in college instead of an actual eighth grader. Starring Elsie Fisher and directed by the extremely talented Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade is a movie about eighth grader Kayla Day, who’s quiet, shy, and, above all else, trying to navigate the struggles of middle school.
I love this movie because of how real it is. At times, I even felt my inner eighth–grade–self cringing because of how accurate it was, but the film was fun and wholesome to the end. It was a great way to reflect on past experiences and see how much I’ve grown.
- The Edge of Seventeen
The Edge of Seventeen is another great coming–of–age film, starring Hailee Steinfeld. I watched this when I was 15, then rewatched it as an adult—which really allowed me to appreciate how much my perspective had changed.
One of my favorite parts of this film is the relatability of its main character, Nadine. Nadine feels like the whole world is against her when her best friend starts dating her brother, and she doesn’t know how to deal. Just when she starts to feel completely alone, she befriends someone from one of her classes.
The movie is full of ups and downs, just like how it feels to be a teenager—but most importantly, it’s a story about growth (and a good one at that!)
- Easy A
My last and final recommendation is arguably more of a teen movie than a coming–of–age film—but I love it, so I’m going to include it. This modern take on The Scarlet Letter stars Emma Stone as Olive Pendergast, a girl whose accidental white lie unravels into a huge mess.
I won’t spoil it, but this movie is incredibly comedic; it’s full of little quips, and Olive’s quirky parents are probably my favorite characters. Even though it’s a comedy, Easy A still delivers a story of self–discovery that’s a fun watch for everyone.
If you want to watch any of these movies, you can find most of them on a variety of streaming services, including Amazon Video, YouTube, or Hulu. Happy watching!