Why Coming-of-Age Movies are the Best

On Monday, I saw “The Way, Way Back” at the Zurich Film Festival. The well-made and entertaining movie reminded me once again of why the genre of “Coming-of-Age” movies is my favorite.

According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, the term “Coming of Age” can refer to a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. This places the main protagonists of these movies in the age bracket between 15 and 25. In today’s post I’d like to highlight some of my favorite movies in the genre and show why I love this particular group of films.

A focus on the struggles and joys of growing up can be found in a diverse range of movies: “Donnie Darko” is a fascinating thriller starring a troubled teenager. “Superbad” is a buddy movie. “Kick-Ass” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” are superhero films. But they all feature characters struggling with themselves and trying to find their place in the world.

What makes coming-of-age movies truly special is their ability to be sad, hilarious and awkward at the same time. Real Life is similar. The good movies are able to convey this realness to the audience and can make them feel spoken to. The character’s vulnerability and insecurity makes viewers relive their own experiences or learn something new.

Because of their young lead characters and often independent financing, they’re perfect vehicles for up-and-coming actors and actresses to show their talent. Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were brilliant in “10 Things I hate about you”. Emma Stone caught audience’s attention in “Superbad” and was hilarious in “Easy A”. Of course, it doesn’t always work out. Lindsay Lohan was magnificent in “Mean Girls” and hasn’t lived up to her role in that cult comedy since then.

There are a number of great movies starring teenagers and featuring unlikely friendships. “The Breakfast Club” is outstanding and has an extremely positive message. “Ferris Bueller’ Day Off” shows the value of having fun and cutting loose for a day. John Hughes movies in general are timeless. Other movies rather focus on figuring out what the future holds: “Adventureland” or “Garden State” come to mind.

The latter is my favorite movie. The directional debut of Zach Braff features a stunning Natalie Portman as the manic pixie dream girl and a wonderful Peter Sarsgaard as the stoner best friend. Mr. Braff stars as a twenty-something, failed actor coming back to his hometown for the funeral of his mother. This sets a chain of events in motion which makes him finally feel alive.

What strikes me most about the movie is the subtle melancholy which seeps through every frame. Thanks to a fantastic soundtrack (the Shins!), the atmosphere and details of the movie left me thinking about it long after I saw it.

The Way, Way Back, which I saw on Monday, was great. Liam James plays an extremely awkward teenager who starts being tutored by the gregarious lifeguard (played by Sam Rockwell) of the nearby waterpark. The movie has hilarious scenes, painfully awkward and cringeworthy ones as well. AnnaSophia Robb is wonderful as the love interest, even though her screen time is limited. All in all, it was exactly what I expected from it

I’m extremely excited to see “The Spectacular Now” tomorrow. The reviews have been stellar and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. But I’ll let you know more on my Twitter feed tomorrow.

Back Friday with Chapter 20 of “An Elusive Hero”!

Sincerely yours,

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