Being a teenager is hard work. Growing up, and all the tribulations that come along with it, have been the subject of a great many films. The coming of age movie is tricky and, unfortunately, we recently lost John Hughes, one of the men who perfected the art of holding up a mirror to our growing pains. This month marks the DVD and Blu-ray release of one of the best coming of age films in recent memory: Adventureland. It’s so good that I absolutely refuse to summarize the plot in hopes that you’ll watch it. To be honest, I’ve always had two guilty pleasure genres: horror and coming of age. I appreciate the best (American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused) as well as the worst (I Love You Beth Cooper and any American Pie sequel). In the spirit of things, here are five coming of age films you might have missed and some that you might have seen. Either way, whether it’s Cusack hoisting a boombox over his head or McConaughey waxing poetic about high school girls, growing up will always be prime plot material for some of the movies I love most.
1. Lymelife (2009)
This under the radar indie tells the story of two families breaking apart in 1970s Long Island. The film features one of the best on-screen pairings of the year. Kieran Culkin, as a disenfranchised son recently home from military service, brings his absolute A-game during all the scenes he shares with his disaffected father, played by Alec Baldwin. Kieran’s young brother, Rory Culkin anchors the film. Rory plays a teenager trying to find his way amidst his parent’s very adult problems. Perhaps the finest performance out of the whole lot comes from Emma Roberts. She comes into her own and steals every scene she’s in. Lymelife is a very rewarding indie coming of age drama and I certainly hope it finds its audience when it is released on DVD.
2. The Hollywood Knights (1980)
I will always believe that The Hollywood Knights is extremely under appreciated. The film tells the story of Halloween night, 1965. The Hollywood Knights, a group of rowdy local teenagers led by Tony Danza and Robert Wuhl, are spending their final hours at their favorite drive-in that the town planning board has slated for demolition. The film is surprisingly raunchy but manages to find the perfect blend of slapstick humor and sentimental heart. Look for performances by a very young Fran Drescher and Michelle Pfeiffer. Robert Wuhl is at the top of his game and The Hollywood Knights makes for a excellent coming of age film.
3. Rocket Science (2007)
Rocket Science is another indie gem that seemed to have a very fleeting theatrical release. Reece Thompson plays a stuttering teenager duped into joining the debate team by his diabolical love interest-turned-nemesis, Ginny Ryerson (a brilliant Anna Kendrick). The film manages to find its heart in the very competitive and intense world of high school debate. Thanks to excellent narration by Dan Cashman and young actors showing extraordinary range, Rocket Science is worth a look.
4. Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)
Although not very under the radar and not an indie, Can’t Hardly Wait is hands down one of the best coming of age films of the 1990s. The story is fairly simply: Nerdy guy Preston (Ethan Embry) has been waiting until the last day of high school to declare his love, via letter, to popular Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt). The only thing that stands in his way is Amanda’s ex, Mike Dexter (an underrated Peter Facinelli). Thanks to a riotous musical number set to the Guns N’ Roses’ classic “Paradise City,” a clever script and an amazing soundtrack (featuring Blink-182 and Third Eye Blind) Can’t Hardly Wait takes its place as an important coming of age film. I’ll have a love burger, well done.
5. Angus (1995)
Angus is the story of an overweight boy with the misfortune of being named Angus. Charlie Talbert plays the title character and the humiliation he endures (including the jocks running his boxers up the flagpole) makes my high school years seem like a cakewalk. James Van Der Beek plays the menacing jock Rick Sanford but it’s Chris Owen as Angus’ only friend, Troy Wedberg, who really steals the show. Veteren George C. Scott also turns in a memorable performance as Angus’ grandpa. The film revisits the themes of awkward high school dances and chasing your dream girl. Angus rounds out my list of essential coming of age stories.
The coming of age movie will always have a special place in this heart of mine. From The 400 Blows right up to Adventureland, young people will always be growing up in front of the cameras. There’s something about teenage angst and cinema. I guess they just fit together.