The best thing about coming of age films is that they make us feel something. These films tap into the most memorable parts of growing up; trial and error, first love, and finding out who we are. There is something universal about that experience. From the hilarious moments to the sad and awkward, these films highlight the range of emotions we feel as we are trying to find who we truly are. When you are a teenager you feel everything so intensely and deeply, and these 10 movies capture this spectrum of emotion.
1. Mean Girls (2004)
This iconic film perfectly sums up the pressures of being a teen girl. Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) is fresh on the block after being uprooted from her life in the African wilderness and slotted into American suburbia. Where sex appeal and trendy clothes are highly valued over intelligence, we watch her transformation from a shy and freaked-out sheep of a girl to one that blossoms into a genuine and loyal friend. Mean Girls is iconic, hilarious, quotable and, overall, sums up the complexities of the "girl world”. This film perfectly explains that it's OK to not fit into a specific clique, and you don't have to shun your interests, just so people like you. I love this movie because it shows the growth of not just Cady, but the whole cast, which is unique.
2. To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018)
Based on an awesome novel you definitely should read it before watching this, Lara Jean's (Lana Condor) love life explodes from imaginary to reality overnight. Lara Jean is just your average teenager navigating high school, although, unlike most other teens, she writes love letters to her crushes - from her first-ever crush to a spin-the-bottle momentary love. The letters get sent out in a very rom-com way and Lara has to navigate the intricacies of having a fake relationship with Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo). This film is all about high school relationships and the complexities of love. I enjoyed this film because it also addresses the most mundane aspects of being a teenager, like learning to drive, in an interesting and real way.
3. Booksmart (2019)
Follows the story of two very studious and academically focused best friends, Molly (Kaitlyn Dever) and Amy (Beanie Feldstein). They dedicated their whole high school careers to making sure they got into their dream colleges by having their heads in books rather than on the party scene. They later figure out on graduation that the rest of their peers got into good colleges as well, while maintaining a social presence. On their last day ever of high school, they decided to have the full high school experience and party hard. This film is hilarious but also shows the drama surrounding crushes, heartbreak and youth culture. I enjoyed this movie because it showcases the beautiful reality of friendship and trying to live in the moment.
4. Spider-man Homecoming (2017)
This movie is based around a young high school-aged Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Although he is a superhero, he still struggles with crushes (MJ is played by Zendaya...do I need to go on?), bullies and maths. Peter encapsulates all aspects of being a teenager in a wholesome and realistic way which is refreshing to the brooding loner trope in the previous Spiderman movies. I enjoyed this movie because Peter isn't trying to live up to his own internalised idea of heroism; he is confused by the challenges of teen existence but works through them with a great group of friends that support him endlessly. If you are after a feel-good, exciting and genuinely funny film, this is a go-to.
5. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
As if being in high school isn't awkward and embarrassing enough, Nadia (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers her best friend is dating her popular and spunky older brother. She feels alone and dreads being stuck with herself forever. This film dabbles in teenage depression and caring for mental health. This is a very nuanced and new approach, but I liked how, as a viewer, you can see the highs and lows that she goes through. I think that this provides a real and honest perspective on mental health during high school. Nadine is feeling so many emotions so intensely during her whirlwind of frustration, being torn between feeling betrayed or happy for her friend but also jilted. During the film, things start to pick up when she forms an unexpected yet sweet friendship with a classmate. This film is clever and awkwardly funny and has an interesting soundtrack.
6. She's the Man (2006)
Personally, I believe this movie is incredibly underrated and definitely engages with the pursuit of dreams and gender identity. Viola (Amanda Bynes) has a burning passion for football (or soccer) and after the women's team at her high school is disbanded, she is enraged. Viola dresses as her twin brother Sebastian (James Kirk), donning a bad wig, fake sideburns and a 'manly voice'. She passes and plays on her brother's team while he is touring with his band. This film delivers a complex and nuanced but yet comedic performance of gender facades change and shift. Viola's love interest is Duke (Channing Tatum) ...... I mean, what else is there to say? Other than this, the film is comedic, lighthearted and extremely enjoyable and is worth watching this weekend.
7. The Hate U Give (2018)
I would 100% recommend this adaptation of one of my favourite novels, which discusses perception - of Starr herself, her community and Kahlil (Anglee Smith). Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) switches between 2 worlds; the poor neighbourhood she lives in with her family with a strong sense of community, and the fancy, academically decorated suburban prep school she attends. She is 2 completely different people, depending on her environment. This uneasy balance is shattered when she witnesses the tragic shooting of her childhood friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. This film pulls at your heart strings but makes you reflect on prejudice and injustices. I enjoyed how this movie dealt with grief, the Black Lives Matter movement and also belonging. This film is fearlessly honest and heartbreakingly human.
Side note: If you are interested in the BLM and want to support the movement, click here for more information.
8. Easy A (2010)
This film offers an intriguing middle ground to absolute sexual abstinence. Olive (Emma Stone) comes to a crossroads after a scandalous rumor that she has lost her virginity. Instead of correcting this rumor, Olive leans into her new image, sewing a crimson red 'A' onto the breast of her new wardrobe. The transition from the girl next door to the infamous "fallen woman" is beautifully done and shows how rumors will spread. It's all about what you do with that information. Olive doesn't let her new reputation get under her skin, which is an important lesson I know I had to learn in high school. This film provides a new take on salacious rumors and self-presentation. I love this movie because it is smart, empowering and has a plethora of literary allusions.
9. Clueless (1995)
Also another pop culture classic. Cher Horowitz (Alicia Sliverstone) is a wealthy L.A teen who lives in a world of glitz and glamour. Cher devotes endless hours to self-image and can be seen as selfish. We go on a journey with Cher as she navigates gossip and the drama of high school. She finds purpose in helping fellow student Tai (Brittany Murphy) to achieve popularity and helps her teachers find love (yes, it was to improve her grades, but still sweet). We follow her on her rollercoaster of trial and error of finding out who she is and what she truly stands for. Cher is very oblivious to others around her at the beginning, but we see her mature and grow into a caring and kind individual. I enjoy this film because of its memorable fashion and also its message about not getting lost in your own world and helping others.
10. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
No era was more prolific for high school movies than the late 90's. The moral behind this film is to stay true to yourself and speak your truth. Enter Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), an individual with a very strong moral compass and full to the brim with angst. Kat's younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is the queen bee and only focuses on popularity and guys, but Bianca is not allowed to date until Kat does, due to their strict father. This movie encompasses the struggle between family dynamics, finding a genuine connection and individuality. Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) and Kat have the most unlikely friendship that later blooms into a beautiful partnership (he was getting paid by Bianca's love interest to soften Kat up but he totally makes up for it in the end) after the truth is revealed. This film is moving, endlessly watchable, witty and conveys themes that all teenagers grapple with in high school.
This list of movies will most certainly help you get through the dreaded decision of what to watch, and if there was something I missed out on, that is an iconic coming of age story or just a good all-round movie to watch, let me know on my Instagram. Happy viewing!!!