What Are This Generation’s Awkward Coming-of-Age Movies?

Chris Tilly

It’s been more than 30 years since the heyday of the teen movie, when Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Matthew Broderick and their acting contemporaries shared growing pains with the world via the likes of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Sixteen Candles. All involved awkward characters and awkward moments.

But ‘coming-of-age’ movies didn’t disappear with the death of the genre’s godfather, John Hughes. In fact, the teen movie remains as popular as ever, with more recent efforts proving to be progressive, inclusive, innovative, and at times pretty challenging. The following are a few of the best from the last decade.

Submarine (2010)

The protagonist in a coming-of-age comedy or drama is often awkward. And they don’t come much more awkward than Oliver Tate, a lonely, self-absorbed 15-year-old with delusions of grandeur, lofty celluloid ambitions, and an infatuation with classmate Jordana. As played by Craig Roberts, Tate is a mess of contradictions, his insecurities obscured by an arrogance and self-confidence that’s ultimately his undoing. And makes for some hilariously awkward moments.

Easy A (2010)

Emma Stone in Easy A.

If you’re going to crib, pilfer from the best. Which is exactly what screenwriter Bert V Royal did with Easy A, loosely basing his script on Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter. Emma Stone plays Olive, a teen who decides to take inspiration from said tome when her classmates think she’s sleeping around. But when increasingly outlandish rumours start destroying her reputation, Olive takes matters into her own hands, turning the tables on the gossips. Stone delivers a star-making turn, while Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are on scene-stealing form as her eccentric parents.

The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)

The silliest film on this list is also the funniest. And the most successful, grossing $88m from a budget of just $5m. A spin-off from the British sitcom of the same name, the film follows school-friends Will, Simon, Jay and Neil to Malia on holiday. Where they spend most of their time trying, and failing, to get laid. Instead, the quartet lose their clothes, get attacked by ants, are run over by a quad bike, and nearly drown. If the rest of the teens learn lessons over the course of the movies on this list, these fools very much do not, making the same mistakes all over again in the Australia-set sequel.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller in Perks.

John Hughes liked Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower so much he attempted an adaptation. But when that didn’t come to fruition, Chbosky wrote the screenplay himself, and went on to direct the resulting film. Making this tale of a depressed, anxious teen navigating High School very much his vision. Logan Lerman plays said protagonist, while Ezra Miller and Emma Watson shine as the allies he picks up along the way. Raw, honest and at times hilarious, Perks nevertheless journeys to some pretty dark places.

Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Bel Powley in Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Speaking of going to dark places, Diary of a Teenage Girl is a period piece that tackles similarly disturbing material. But as with Perks, the serious stuff is handled with maturity and sensitivity. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film is set in 1976 San Francisco, and stars Bel Powley as a 15-year-old who embarks on a relationship with the much-older boyfriend of her mother. One that sends her into a tail-spin, and tears the family apart. At times an uncomfortable watch, Diary of a Teenage Girl tackles morally complex issues head-on, yet never passes judgement on its characters.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Olivia Cooke and Thomas Mann in Me and Earl.

More serious stuff, this time in the shape of a film that mixes romance and comedy with pretty heavy drama. The ‘Me’ is Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) whose mother forces him to spend time with a former childhood friend suffering from Leukaemia. The two initially clash, but slowly — and somewhat predictably — fall for each other. Though while that might sound deeply depressing, Me and Earl is actually inspiring, uplifting, and as funny as it is sad. And much better than the similarly-themed The Fault in Our Stars.

Dope (2015)

Kiersey Clemons, Shameik Moore and Tony Revolori in Dope.

Dope has more plot than the average coming-of-age flick, adding crime to the teenage angst. Shameik Moore plays High School senior Malcolm, who is obsessed with 1990s hip-hop culture, and has ambitions to go to Harvard. But when a drug deal goes wrong at a party he’s attending, Malcolm finds himself with a gun and a bag full of ecstasy. What follows is a blast of adrenaline-fuelled fun that involves hacking, punk rock, an overdose, and Bitcoins.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Hailee Steinfeld takes centre stage in this terrific coming-of-age flick that is so filled with recognisable archetypes that it could have been made in the 1980s. She’s the likably dorky lead trying to fit in. Blake Jenner is her hunky jock brother. Haley Lu Richardson plays the best friend, who falls for said brother, causing their friendship to falter. Kyra Sedgwick is her mum with problems of her own. Hayden Szeto is the geeky friend for whom she develops feelings. And Woody Harrelson is the lovably cranky teacher, dispensing both wisdom and one-liners. But in spite of those many cliches, Edge of Seventeen manages to be both sweet and perceptive, making it a worthy addition to the genre.

Sing Street (2016)

Sing Street might be the least seen movie on this list. Which is a crime as it’s also very possibly the best. It’s 1980s Dublin, and young Conor Lawlor is being bullied at his new Christian Brothers school, while at home his parents are arguing 24/7. But an awkward encounter with aspiring model Raphina inspires Conor to start a band, and what follows is a delightful tale of young love, big dreams, and great music. Danny Wilson frontman Gary Clark writes the tunes, which are spot on ’80s pastiches, while Conor’s band is so good you’ll be wishing they were real.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name.

Call me By Your Name is a small, intimate, understated film that had a pretty big impact, earning multiple Oscar nominations, grossing more than $40m worldwide, and making a star of young lead Timothée Chalamet. He plays a 17-year-old living with his parents in Northern Italy in the early 1980s, spending the summer drinking, flirting, swimming, smoking and dancing. But the arrival of a much older student — played by Armie Hammer — has a profound affect on the youngster, stirring unexpected feelings, which precipitate a passionate affair. A beautiful film in every way, shape and form, Call Me By Your Name is first love done right onscreen.

Lady Bird (2017)

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird.

2017 was a big year for coming-of-age dramas that starred Timothée Chalamet and were popular with the Academy. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, this one film brings something fresh and vital to the genre, telling the tale of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), via a series of brief exchanges and speedy vignettes that focus on the teen’s complicated relationships with her mother, her best friend, and two very different boys. While mixed in with those dramas are ruminations on religion, rebellion, and the rituals that make being a teen so tough.

Love, Simon (2018)

Based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, this romantic comedy revolves around 17-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), who is hiding the fact that he’s gay from everyone, aside from the mystery boy he’s flirting with over email. Which would be fine were it not for the fact that another student knows Simon’s secret, and is threatening to tell all. What follows is a fine film that subverts the rom-com formula at every turn.

Eighth Grade (2018)

Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade.

Bo Burnham’s directorial debut — from his own script — captures the agony of being a teen in the digital age. With Kayla Day (played by the precociously talented Elsie Fisher) endeavouring to survive the last week of eighth grade before making the move to High School. During which time she’s judged, pressured and sometimes bullied via Tweets, Snaps and YouTube videos. But while there are moments of sadness strewn throughout the movie, Eighth Grade is also the uplifting celebration of a delightful young lady slowly but surely finding her place in the world. Making it pretty much the perfect coming-of-age flick.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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