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5 Coming-of-Age Releases You’ll Love to Cringe Through

Culture

In a world dominated by the male gaze, earnest depictions of women and girls are cherished finds. It’s empowering to feel represented on the screen, and honest representations should include it all: the good, the bad, and the cringeworthy.

Here’s a list of various movies and TV shows, each told from the perspective of a young female protagonist, that strike the perfect balance between comedy and heartstring-tugging. So get ready to laugh, but also grab your tissues, just in case. They’ll make you want to give your younger self—or maybe even your current self—a big hug.

1. Eighth Grade (2018)

Stream it on Showtime now!

As Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, the film Eighth Grade follows the socially anxious Kayla in the week leading up to her middle school graduation. Despite her lack of confidence, Kayla longs for acceptance by her peers. At times, it becomes borderline painful to watch as she attempts to befriend disinterested popular girls. To cope, she publishes motivational YouTube vlogs to an audience of nearly zero, even as she struggles to take her own advice.

The film tackles serious themes like mental illness, sexuality, and consent with gut-wrenching realism, but we never fully abandon our sense of optimism for Kayla. Eighth Grade is a compassionate observation of the agony of being thirteen; it also doesn’t forget to laugh at itself along the way.

2. PEN15 (2019 - 2021)

Stream it on Hulu now!

Alongside a cast of actual 13 year olds, millennial comedians Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle take on versions of their middle school selves to fumble through life as teenage outcasts in this television series. Set in the year 2000, PEN15 flexes an impressive range: the show swings from moments of hilarious cringe-comedy, like sloppy first kisses or clunky chat-room flirtations, to moments of somber heartache, like spying from the top of the staircase on a marriage teetering toward divorce.

With its laughable Y2K aesthetics and awkward charm, PEN15 is not one to miss out on.

3. Lady Bird (2017)

Stream it on Netflix now!

Also set in the early 2000s, the film Lady Bird tells the story of Christine MacPherson, a sweet but headstrong high school senior who’s renamed herself Lady Bird. Despite her family’s financial struggles, she yearns to leave behind her hometown of Sacramento, California, for an East Coast college in a city with “culture.”

Admittedly, this film features much tamer forms of cringe, such as Lady Bird getting caught in a lie intended to impress a new popular friend. But the natural dialogue engrosses you as she navigates a turbulent relationship with her mother, budding romances, and the pains and joys of growing up.

4. Booksmart (2019)

Stream it on Hulu now!

In this coming-of-age comedy, best friends Amy and Molly have a realization just days before their high school graduation: for the past four years, they’ve been too busy being overachievers to have any fun. To make up for lost time, the pair jump from one wacky adventure to the next in just one chaotic night.

Amid raunchy jokes, Booksmart provides an authentic look into topics like lesbian teenage romance and complex friendships, all while shattering worn-out high school stereotypes.

5. Never Have I Ever (2020-)

Stream it on Netflix now!

After the traumatic loss of her father, 15-year-old Indian-American Devi is temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. This comedy-drama series begins when a newly-recovered Devi returns to school determined to improve her social status using a 10-step popularity plan. More often than not, her impulsivity derails this scheme and lands her in awkward situations, like blurting out to her crush that she wants to have sex with him.

Between these embarrassing instances, Devi grows into a refreshingly complex character as she grapples with her grief, Indian heritage, and family relationships. She may be a hot mess, but she’s a hot mess you’ll want to root for.

For viewers that are tired of watching under-developed caricatures of themselves, these releases use both emotional depth and comedy to portray young female protagonists genuinely. And who doesn't love media that can challenge conventions and entertain at the same time?

Kelly Mehorter

A recent college graduate, Kelly Mehorter is an aspiring writer. She also enjoys plants, hiking, and spending too much time on TikTok.