Coming of age films often bring back a feeling of nostalgia from when we were just on the verge of adulthood, an eye-opening moment or series of experiences that make us who we are. The most personal and vulnerable moments of our youth can be captured almost perfectly in a film. Coming of age films portray the feeling of growing up and moving from one part of your life to the next that every audience can relate to. Even in the most obscure film set in another country or time in history, the audience can still reflect upon their own experiences in relation to the characters. There is usually a point in a film in which the protagonist is forced to grow up. This can be the most emotional or hard-hitting point of the film as the viewer sees themselves in the character's position. Coming of age films either show us something we are going through or something we have been through.
Here are some suggestions of some of my favourite coming of age films:
LADY BIRD – Available on Netflix
Lady Bird (directed by Greta Gerwig) is a beautifully written and original coming of age story. Gerwig creates an incredibly nostalgic atmosphere as the main protagonist ‘Lady Bird’ tries to get into college in New York whilst struggling to maintain the various relationships in her life. What I enjoy the most about this film is Lady Bird’s confidence and determination throughout the film, whilst many coming of age films portray the main protagonist as lost or misguided. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother is almost sisterly. In one scene the pair are passive aggressively arguing in a shop only to be abruptly stopped by Lady Bird’s mother showing her a dress to which she responds ‘Oh it’s perfect!’. These moments make the audience identify with the characters more. The film gives each character their own individuality rather than focusing on just the main character. This, I think, makes the film relatable to any audience.
SUBMARINE – Available to rent or buy on Google Play
Submarine (directed by Richard Ayoade) is an alternative Wes Anderson like coming of age story with stylistic elements to add to the deadpan humour in the film. The comedic and alternative style is what first drew me to this film. It perfectly captures the feeling of first love and the awkwardness of adolescent life and romantic encounters. I think Submarine perfectly portrays the feeling of your whole world collapsing when a (maybe not very important) relationship ends, leaving you to feel helpless. The film’s protagonist Oliver Tate is unapologetically over romantic, sometimes overconfident towards his love interest, adding to the film’s quirkiness and truthfulness about growing up.
FRANCES HA - Available to rent or buy on BFI Player
Frances Ha (directed by Noah Baumbach) may not necessarily be considered just a coming of age film but I believe it is one of the key elements of the film. Frances Ha tells the story of a struggling artist and her unbalanced relationships with her friends as she struggles to live in New York. Her best friend Sophie appears to be moving on from their close friendship to move in with her boyfriend and start her life elsewhere whilst Frances is left to her own devices. The film presents everyday life in a French new wave-like style that doesn’t coat the film in an over romantic glaze in a way that many modern films about struggling artists do, but instead makes the film stand out. The film doesn’t focus on a love interest and instead is almost a character study whilst also showing the strong friendship between Frances and Sophie despite their differences and eventual growing apart throughout the film.
MOONLIGHT - Available to rent or buy on Google Play
Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins) is a beautiful coming of age story told through three parts of the protagonist’s life. Moonlight portrays the life of Chiron growing up in Miami questioning his identity. Chiron is a gay black man, who is often silenced or disregarded in both the film and in Hollywood. His story is told not in a tragic way like many Hollywood films can portray gay men but is instead the story is very personal and gives a deep insight into the characters life through three parts. Chiron finds reassurance and guidance from drug dealer Juan. Throughout the film Chiron seems to find temporary guidance from the characters around him; eventually reuniting with his first romantic partner, Kevin. The film portrays male vulnerability that I think is very important to be shown on screen after years of traditional masculinity being portrayed as the norm in mass media. The cinematography adds to the vulnerability and personal feeling of the film.
MARIE ANTIONETTE – Available to rent on Apple TV
Marie Antoinette (directed by Sofia Coppola) gives an interesting take on the coming of age genre from the perspective of the last French Queen, it has a wonderful modern soundtrack to contrast with the setting of Versailles. The use of an over-glamourized lifestyle insists that clothing is vital to a woman’s identity in the world. Coppola’s films often focus on women and identity, Marie’s isolation from everyone at Versailles is apparent throughout the film, she finds the routines in the palace ridiculous but soon adapts to the ridiculously glamorous lifestyle only for it to be her downfall, portraying Marie Antoinette not just as a misunderstood character but as an individual. The film relies heavily on visuals to capture Marie’s feelings with less dialogue however the feeling is perfectly captured. Marie’s one duty to fulfill as the Queen is to produce an heir and when she can’t, she is immediately blamed and isolated. Even in such a powerful position Marie struggles to have any control over her life. The whole film has a dreamlike quality however Marie’s moment of escapism is her affair with Count Axel Fersen giving the impression of a teenage fleeting romance. This is a beautifully intimate coming of age film.