Movies that made growing up a little bit easier

An exploration of the timeless value of coming-of-age movies in the film industry and what they can do for adolescents

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Movies that made growing up a little bit easier

By Saliha Bayrak, Collegian Correspondent

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From “The Breakfast Club” to “Boyhood”, coming-of-age movies have been a critical part of the film industry and a large influence on popular culture. The continual relevance of coming-of-age movies show the importance of having young people depicted in films in an accurate and understanding way.

Adolescence is a time of uncertainty and confusion and coming-of-age movies, if done correctly, can offer a glimmer of clarity and comfort. There are a few movies that perfectly capture the essence of being young and feeling a million emotions at once, that they have remained with me for years after I have watched them. These films are so memorable and valuable as they accurately represent the trials and tribulations of growing up and exemplify the enduring importance of coming-of-age movies.

“Lady Bird” depicts a stubborn but determined 17-year-old girl navigating through life in 2002 Sacramento. This film shows the difficulties of growing up from many different angles and through the lens of director, Greta Gerwig, consequently becomes a film that can resonate with young girls, and everyone else too.

This film captures the uncomfortable emotions and difficult times of adolescence, but also the bittersweet and beautiful moments. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is an extremely opinionated girl who was initially, to me, an unlikeable character, until she asks her mom “what if this is the best version [of me]?” In that moment, I too realized I was once a version of myself that felt inadequate and unlikable.

Although addressing many growing pain issues, the center of the film is a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship that perfectly reflected the relationship I have with my own mother — full of passionate arguments followed by equally warm displays of love. Lady Bird and her mother show the audience that love can be so strong that it can be ugly and that a relationship doesn’t have to be full of tender moments to be a loving one.

This movie also portrays the bittersweet transition from high school to college that I myself was going through when watching it. Many teenagers spend their high school years waiting for it to be over and constantly looking forward to the next phase of their life.

But when that moment suddenly comes, they realize all the beautiful moments they forgot to appreciate. In the final scene, during a phone call with her mother, Lady Bird asks her mom “Did you feel emotional the first time that you drove in Sacramento?”

As images of both Lady Bird and her mother driving and bits of her hometown are shown on the screen — she reflects upon the unparalleled beauty of home and the nostalgia attached to the scenery one grow ups around.

Lady Bird hadn’t realized the value of what she already had until she was removed and put into her romanticized dream environment. It’s then she realizes that it isn’t much better than what she already had. The film is a reminder to value the people and places around you, no matter how mundane they may seem and to always value the moment you are in.

“Dazed and Confused” follows a group of teens in 1976 Texas on their last day of high school. Without an organized plot, the movie breaks the structures and clichés that many coming-of-age movies commonly follow and rather focuses on a collection of moments and a great selection of character.

Making the most of high school within the inevitable boundaries put on teenagers by parents and school is one of the essential themes of this film. Throughout the film, one of the protagonists, Pink (Jason London), contemplates signing a no drug policy agreement for his football team, a representation of the many restrictions that surround young adults while growing up.

Still, the teenagers in the film, find ways to have fun and make the most of the moment they are in, as they are frustrated about worrying about the future and desire“…to stop thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.”

Throughout the movie the audience is introduced to a diverse array of characters and groups that together form a community of high schoolers. Like a majority of the coming-of-age movies, there is a pattern of compartmentalizing characters into clichés – the jocks, the outcasts, the nerds and pinning them against each other. While “Dazed and Confused” still presents these identities and groups, it doesn’t restrict them into these black and white categories, but rather depicts complex and multifaceted characters. They all also seem to have a sense of camaraderie between each other—they share moments and emotions, and all come together for an end of the year party. This is a much more accurate representation of the high school experience and highlights the common desires and fears that all teenagers have.

This film also depicts moments that many teenagers can attest to experiencing themselves, like staying out too late and coming home to your mother waiting up. Within the film, there is a connection created between each watcher and in this case, it brings together past and present teenagers under common experiences. The film also focuses on the good times of growing up rather than only the difficult times. The lighthearted and playful tone, with the underlying universal themes and a depiction of everyday events, makes this movie a classic and essential for every teenager to watch.

Stephen Chbosky’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower”, strives to tell its audience about the importance of finding the friends that make you feel like you belong, making the most of the moment you are in and learning to participate in life.

Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a freshman in high school struggling with his mental health and confidence. He spends much of his time in high school as a wallflower, observing others’ lives from afar, until he meets Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). Through their friendship, Charlie gains an appreciation for the small moments which makes him feel like he belongs to something greater. It shows the desire and importance of finding the right people that give the feeling of community and belonging.

Throughout the film Charlie begins to come out of his comfort zone and participate in all the simple activities that make life great. Whether that be dancing with friends at a school dance or standing out of a car as he passes through a tunnel.

Much of the movie takes place in typical high school settings such as the school, football games, a friend’s house, the local diner and in the car. These were places where every high schooler spends much of their time and these are settings of some of my best memories.  As the three friends drive through a tunnel into the city, Charlie poignantly says “and I know these will all be stories someday…But right now these moments are not stories…and in this moment I swear we are infinite.” As the viewer sees Charlie’s year in the movie, they are reminded of the moments that they themselves felt “infinite,” and the ordinary beauty of the present moment.

Although each of these films are unique and tell their own story, they seem to have a common theme at hand; They all strive to tell their audience to appreciate the moment they are in and not to waste years of being young wishing for what’s next. Coming-of-age movies are a way to eternalize and personify moments that everyone will experience at some point. Everyone has to grow up, which makes all of these films universal. Everyone can relate to growing up.

It is important to have films that speak to the watcher with images of real life and real emotions, especially for young people who often feel alone in their struggles. These films remind us that we are not alone, it will get better and that our lives are not insignificant.

Saliha Bayrak is a Collegian Correspondent and can be reached at [email protected]