Blog Coming of Age Films

Posted July 20, 2018

By Nicole Klein, Special Events Coordinator

With the release of Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, an achingly authentic film that perfectly captures what it feels like to be 13-years-old (the tears, the cringes!), here are some other coming-of-age tales that are well worth checking out:


  1. MOONLIGHT (2016, dir. Barry Jenkins)

Would this be a coming-of-age film list without Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning masterpiece at the top of the list? Absolutely not. Exquisitely shot and beautifully written, Moonlight flawlessly embodies the grueling experience of growing up as a gay, black man in Miami. With powerhouse performances by Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, and Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevonte Rhodes as the three iterations of Little, Chiron, and Black, it’s impossible to resist the immense beauty and heartbreak in this transcendent work of art. Oh, is that too much gushing for you??? Try telling me otherwise after you see it.


  1. LADY BIRD (2017, dir. Greta Gerwig)

Another recent essential in the art of growing up. Greta Gerwig’s nostalgic portrait of Sacramento in the ‘90s follows Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (boldly played by Saoirse Ronan) in her last year of high school, as she desperately wants to leave for a more cultured, worldly life. Her relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalfe, delivering looks that will break your damn heart) is distraught, but their often failed attempts to understand one another slowly evolve into something else. One of Timothée Chalamet’s two breakout performances in 2017*.


*Please refer to #10.


  1. BOY (2010, dir. Taika Waititi)

You probably know Taika Waititi at this point as hilarious director of Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and wearer of truly fantastic onesies (the purple pineapple one, a personal favorite). You might’ve even seen his hit vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, or his heartwarming wilderness adventure Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And then there’s Boy, his second feature film set in New Zealand in 1984, where an 11-year old named Boy gets to know his absentee criminal father, played by Taika himself. Bonus points for their devout Michael Jackson fandom and dance number at the end.


  1. Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN (2001, dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Part road-trip film, part coming-of-age with unforgettable performances by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, as two young friends who embark on a trip across Mexico with an older woman (Maribel Verdú). The rising tensions are as hot as the Mexican sun (gorgeously shot by Emmanuel Lubezki in natural light) as the trio learns more about themselves and each other. Important note: this is one of the sexiest movies you’ll ever see.


  1. AN EDUCATION (2009, dir. Lone Scherfig)

It’s almost ten years later and I’m STILL bitter that Carey Mulligan didn’t win a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Jenny, a 16-year-old girl in 1960s London who falls for a man nearly twice her age, played by the deviously handsome and subtly creepy Peter Sarsgaard. The costumes are gorgeous, the romantic trip to Paris breathtaking. The vulnerable in-between of adolescence and adulthood, the young and relentless desire to be seen as mature and sophisticated, is on full display in every careful expression on Carey Mulligan’s face (seriously, where was this Oscar??!).


  1. FISH TANK (2009, dir. Andrea Arnold)

One of my all-time favorite movies directed by Andrea Arnold, a cinematic gift to us all. Widely acclaimed for its authentic portrayal of the gritty London suburbs, foul-mouthed 15-year-old Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis in a captivating performance) is an out-of-school aspiring dancer living with her hard-partying mom and younger sister. When her mom brings home a new boyfriend, played by the deceptively charming Michael Fassbender, they form an uneasy friendship which devolves into a disturbing mess. This thoughtful yet engrossing film will not just pull, but will tear at your heart-strings. It’s been almost ten years since I’ve seen this, and I still think about Mia and hope she’s OK.


  1. CRY-BABY (1990, dir. John Waters)

You might not think of this as a coming-of-age film, but John Waters’ spin on high school love is nothing short of refreshing. Taking place in 1950s Baltimore, buttoned-up “good girl” Allison (Amy Locane) falls for the local bad boy with a heart of gold (Johnny Depp, back when he was a heartthrob with a killer jawline and not an allegedly-abusive Hollywood Vampire). With the help of a tried and true Motley crew, including Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Kim McGuire, and Iggy Pop (yes, that Iggy Pop!), Allison loosens those buttons, defies her strict mother, and ignites her true sense of self.


  1. SAVED! (2004, dir. Brian Dannelly)

A dark comedy set in a super Christian high school. Jena Malone as a pregnant teenager, Patrick Fugit as the sweet and decent love interest (and Pastor’s son), Macaulay Culkin and Eva Amurri as bitingly sarcastic friends, Mary Louise Parker as a spiritual single mom, and Mandy Moore as a truly spectacular popular-girl villain. What’s not to love here?? When Mary (Malone) becomes pregnant and her boyfriend is sent to a gay “conversion therapy” center, she’s ostracized and demonized at school. This heartwarming, poignant film is a divine meditation on love, religion, and friendship.


  1. SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961, dir. Elia Kazan)

Since all of the other films on the list were made in the 1990s-today, I’m throwing it back to one of my favorite Hollywood classics. Kazan’s most popular coming-of-age film might be James Dean’s angsty East of Eden, but I’m partial to this later work, starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty (in his first feature film). Wood and Beatty play Wilma and Bud, two young teens who are hopelessly in love and sexually repressed. Exploring the class and gender dynamics at play between them and their families, we see their romance turn to heartbreak and madness. Natalie Wood’s performance (at one point yelling in a bathtub) will stay with me forever.


  1. CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017, dir. Luca Guadagnino)

Ah, the perfect way to round out this list. One of the most sensual cinematic experiences you’ll ever have. If not THE most. Set in a gorgeous villa somewhere in Northern Italy in 1983, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet, another Oscar loss I’m still morbidly bitter about) falls deeply in love with his father’s summer research assistant 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer). The apricot juice, the sound of the wind pounding the heavy doors, the PEACH. The air is ripe with tension. The subtly of glances, the micro-gestures. This film is full of beautiful things to look at and feel. Topped off by a monologue delivered by Elio’s father (the enchanting Michael Stuhlbarg, who looks phenomenal in white linens) that has the potential to change your life, this is a must-must-see.

Eighth Grade is now open at the JBFC! Get your tickets here.

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