Tropes: The Coming-of-Age Film
Lisette Reed, Print Comment Editor, tracks the evolution of the beloved Coming-of-Age genre.
“When I grow up, I want to drive in a tunnel, with my best friends, listening to Heroes by David Bowie and feel ‘infinite’”, said 14-year-old Lisette straight after watching The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Like many others, the Coming-of-Age film shaped my adolescence and how I wanted my teen years to be. However, in recent years, it has become clear that the Coming-of-Age movie has evolved into something that presents the young people of today and their agendas in a realistic, though sometimes stark, light. At heart, the Coming-of-Age film has always been about wanting to fit in. Prior to the 2010s, adolescent films were focused on being popular and liked in school. Likewise, movies of the 2010s and onwards focus on this urge for belonging but instead of being liked by others, it appears to be more about liking yourself and creating your own community, instead of depending on popularity ranks in school.
It is clear that often, the Coming-of-Age movie has become the genre for those who experienced gifted-child burnout, those who were a “pleasure to teach”, and those who struggle with mental health issues. The Coming-of-Age genre is for Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski listeners, and the characters within these films align with all these factors. Post-2010s adolescent films don’t have the glamour and unrealistic standards of school- no one bursts out singing about summertime and how it’s going to be “the summer to remember”. Instead, characters are explored in true depth, and we can analyse their choices and, in many cases, relate to them. The likes of Lady Bird from Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film of the same name, or Nadine from The Edge of Seventeen are miles more relatable than the likes of Regina George of Mean Girls.
Parental relationships are not presented as the easy, “I’m not a regular mum, I’m a cool mum” dynamics of early 2000s Coming-of-Age films. Instead, protagonists must overcome obstacles from both school lives, with friendships and classwork, as well as life at home. In many of these films, there isn’t a straight-up solution to these familial problems- no one forgives each other as soon as the words “I’m sorry” are uttered. In fact, the majority don’t end up with a happy ending with their family- there’s almost a cliffhanger on those relationships at the end of the movie. Though this doesn’t conform to the happy ending many would want to see, it does portray realistic relationships with both families and friends. The most well-known example of this is the final sequence of Lady Bird. Within the scene, Lady Bird is being dropped off at the airport to go away to college. As they pull into the airport, Lady Bird asks, “You’re not coming?… Yeah, but, I’m going to college”. Her mother responds, “Dad will walk you to security, parking is too expensive here” and she drives away. The heartbreak and betrayal within this scene encapsulate the new take on the Coming-of-Age film. Yes, by the end of the film, Lady Bird has created her own community and has taken control of her life as a typical adolescent film would. But there’s still the bittersweet feeling at the end because her relationship with her mother still isn’t healed.
The new Coming-of-Age film doesn’t hide away from the grit of youth, and trauma isn’t something that’s just swept under the rug. Relationships and characters are explored to create meaningful and relatable stories, ones which represent real people. I believe that pre 2010s Coming-of-Age films are more difficult to connect with; similar to how we view celebrities, the characters of these films don’t feel like people you could actually know, or how you see yourself. Although they are entertaining and nostalgic to watch, there’s a distancing between characters and audiences because they feel fictional.
The new Coming-of-Age film doesn’t hide away from the grit of youth, and trauma isn’t something that’s just swept under the rug.
This new era of the Coming-of-Age film is one I hope will remain relevant, with universal experiences being told for current generations, and those to come, to connect with.