Just like anything primarily aimed at teenagers, films marketed as ‘coming-of-age’ are treated as juvenile, silly, and lacking in depth. Maybe this is because they tend to have young protagonists. However, there’s much more to them than high school hijinks, puppy love, and self-absorbed teens. They are brushed aside as a genre in favour of more ‘serious’ films when it comes to awards, but they still have a lot to offer as they show universal experiences of change and growth at pivotal moments in our lives. Much like the bonding that takes place recapping after a messy night at Hive, shared experiences can bring us closer together, and even help temporarily overcome the deepest of feuds between warring flat mates.
A tale as old as time, coming-of-age high school movies are part of a wider genre of Bildungsroman, stories which include an inner journey. For example Clueless, which might seem like a typical flippant teen romcom about materialistic rich kids, is based on the classic Austen novel, Emma, a Bildungsroman about the emotive journeys of Harriet and Emma. Why then, when the story is put into a light-hearted and accessible style, it is suddenly not worth serious consideration?
These films are something that can be enjoyed by anyone because they show a universal experience of the struggles of entering adulthood. The teen protagonist is actually the perfect every-man. They’re flawed and a bit naïve, but this is good, because through their visible flaws we can laugh at ourselves, and their experiences reflect rites of passage we’ve all gone through, from first sexual experiences to first forays into the sordid world of university. Empathy is a central thing in coming-of-age films, more so than in other genres, because they tend to focus on one character and what’s going on in their head. Heck, this possibly could even teach straight white men how to consider someone else’s perspective (a girl can dream).
So don’t trash coming of age films! They’re good, and a useful style to communicate a common experience. Also, what’s wrong with something being fun, light and silly anyway? There’s always room for things that make people happy in my book, regardless of meaning and impact, and the world can definitely do with a few more laughs at the moment.
You’re still here? The article is over. Go home! [Chicka-Chicka]