Film & TV Muse

When Coming Of Age Grows Up

Emily Harvie discusses the evolution of coming of age films and their longevity.

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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Various film genres tend to go in and out of fashion over the years, from the 60s Western film to the domination of the comic book superheroes in the 2010s. One genre often over looked but never ceasing in popularity or influence would be the ‘coming of age’ film. Films targeted towards the youth of a generation exhibit a longevity not to be overlooked in the market of cinema.

Arguably responsible for the explosion and ‘golden age’ of coming-of-age cinema, John Hughes may be the godfather of the ‘teen film’, directing what is widely known as some of the most influential teen films created such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club and many more. The continued relevance of his films likely reflects the tropes and stereotypes often found (and frequently mocked) in films of this genre that were popularised in the 80s. They discuss the lives of teens and young adults adjusting to the changing worlds around them and the changes they individually go through both mentally and physically.

Cameron’s meltdown in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off displays issues of mental health more honestly than commonly seen beforehand. However, Hughes still explores these topics within a framework of comedy and doesn’t give name to these issues, just presenting a visual of what is most likely Anxiety Disorder. Although some teen films are just idyllic examples of the geeky girl transforming to become the pretty and popular girl, some of the most influential films of the genre often subvert or make fun of these tropes, as highlighted by Mean Girls, a film I’m sure we’re all familiar with even if it’s hardly viewed as high-brow cinema.

Explorations of illicit activities, or mature topics such as drugs, drinking, and sex allow youths to understand that they are not weird for thinking something and allows each generation to find humour in the awkward periods of growing up. Yet as the decades move on, we also see the genre diversifying. We are moving away from the awkward geek meets hot rebel tropes and towards more open discussions of race and sexuality as exhibited by the critically acclaimed Moonlight.

Moonlight discusses not only sexuality, a topic only recently discussed with such realism, but also race, and being a gay, black male growing up in a deprived neighbourhood in Miami. Moonlight received an overwhelmingly positive reception, such as its Best Picture win at the 2017 Academy Awards. It highlights how coming of age cinema can move into complex and sensitive portrayals of life, rather than the displays of comedic tropes that we have become so familiarised within the genre.

We can see how the genre has transformed and adapted through time to reflect more openly, and discuss in greater depth, topics that should be displayed on screen. The emergence of films such as Moonlight, Ladybird, and more all received global critical acclaim. Through insights into contemporary social issues, they demonstrate a sense of realism rather than the dramatisation we so expect. These films started as commodities, dramatising teen lives. However, they have moved towards more open discussions of the thought processes teenagers frequently possess while growing up.

From explorations of mental health in the 80s to the more recent exploration of race and sexuality in the 10s, coming of age films at times can act as the Holy Books to youth in understanding that old and cringeworthy saying of ‘you are not alone’. They allow each generation to reflect and find the humour in their stresses. The ‘coming of age’ genre possesses a timelessness that is unparalleled.

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