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The Best Coming-Of-Age Movies

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    Photo: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.


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    Growing up is hard to do. Before "adulting" — that is, clumsily impersonating our role models and pretending we have our lives together — became a buzzword, we "came of age." The action is still the same: staying out too late and trying to "find ourselves," or building a new life in a strange city.

    The best thing about coming-of-age movies is that you can watch them and get a better understanding of yourself today. The awkwardness of getting older is more than acne and puberty, and more than the milestones of academic life. Growing up is about looking around and piecing together what you want and don't want, who is and isn't worth listening to, where you do and don't feel safe. Whether you're working through these internal dilemmas in someone else's house — in a family home or with a band on tour — or in your first apartment, it's all tough.

    These are the best coming-of-age movies we can think of. And while many such stories are about love, we've culled a list of films that have a little more to offer than a traditional romance, because you don't have to fall in love to find yourself. "Coming of age" isn't about meeting the person you're supposed to spend the rest of your life with, but deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life as.

    Keep checking back before your next movie night. We'll be adding new movies to this list regularly.

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    Almost Famous (2000)

    Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) said it best: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”

    William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is very, very uncool. So when the precocious teen gets a chance to profile an up and coming rock band for Rolling Stone, he jumps at it. There’s the obvious career boost, of course, but also the thrill of the road paired with the rock’s outlaw fantasy.

    Cross crossing the country, director Cameron Crowe’s protagonist gets a lesson in reporting — no one is ever a reliable source on their own life — but also in friendship. He’s quickly smitten with Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a young blonde fangirl who is low key sleeping with the band’s lead singer. Penny is troubled and flighty, and William is the only one who really cares about her. But even he tries to consume her free spirit. "I always tell the girls, never take it seriously," Penny explains once. "If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt, if you never get hurt, you always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends. "

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    The Fits (2016)

    Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an 11-year-old tomboy that doesn't know how to be a teenage girls. As girls her age have their first awkward crushes, she hangs out with her brother, watching him flirt with girls, laugh with his friends, and train to be a boxer. She's modeled her life after his, until now: Toni is transfixed by the cool girls, ones who seem unbothered by insecurities like her own.

    So Toni skips her brother's boxing lessons, and instead tries out for the local rec center's dance team. She watches them, and mimics their femininity. When an eerie sickness starts to spread other girls on the team, she hopes she's not affected by the same convulsions.

    There's a certain amount of suspense to this movie — what disease causes these girls to shake and shiver without warning? Where did it start, and how is it being transmitted? But its heart is in Toni's coming of age story as she begins to understand gender performance, and her place as a young woman in her community.

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    Brooklyn (2015)

    Brooklyn is a 1950s immigrant story that starts out simple enough: Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has just moved from Ireland to the borough (against her mother’s better judgement) for a better life. She leaves the ship that brought her to America’s shores, ready to find the American promise she’s heard so much about. In a strange city with rowdy Americans, she’s lonely enough to sob into her own sheets. She might not have left a full life beyond, but it was a satisfying one.

    Soon enough, she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a boyishly handsome Italian guy at a Catholic mixer. For a while, Brooklyn masquerades as a love story: The pair sweetly fall in love and plan a life together. Then a tragedy at home in Ireland requires Eilis to return to her sleepy hometown.

    And this is when Brooklyn gets really great: It takes meeting a boy at home (Domhnall Gleeson) to put in perspective how much Eilis has accomplished. She’s built herself a life in Brooklyn, through long days and lonely nights. The crux of the movie is the crossroads of coming of age: Looking in the mirror and deciding between the self you’ve grown out of and the self you’ve grown into.

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    Splendor In The Grass (1961)

    This classic, directed by Elia Kazan, is most famous for being the first American movie to feature French kissing onscreen. Outside of the Natalie Wood-Warren Beatty lip action, though, it’s a touching story of desire, resistance, and how jarring it is to realize your parents are imperfect — and maybe even deeply flawed.

    The story is set in 1920s Kansas, and Bud Stamper (Beatty) and Deanie Loomis (Wood) are in love. He’s the football hero, heir to an oil fortune; she’s a good girl, dutiful daughter to a humble grocery-owning family. There’s no way (or reason) to put it delicately: Kissing isn’t enough anymore. These high school seniors are ready to do the thing they’re taught good girls aren’t supposed to want and good boys aren’t supposed to ask for: have sex.

    The central conflict is that Deanie and Bud are trapped within puritanical conventions about sexuality and womanhood that no one can explain, but that are rigidly abided by. Some of what the movie has to say about sex isn’t as potent so many decades later. But the larger questions about parents who love you but can’t listen or raise or relate to you — and how we’re tasked with loving them through it — remain.