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Whale Rider (2002)
Keisha Castle-Hughes received an Academy Award nomination for her role as the plucky Paikea, a young Maori girl struggling to come to terms with her patrilineal tribe.
Paikea, called Pai, is a direct descendant of the current chieftain. The only problem: she's a girl. To make matters worse, Pai had a twin stillborn brother. By tradition, her late brother should be chief. Pai's grandfather won't acknowledge her — until she rides the whale, that is.
Whale Rider succeeds by taking the harrowing process of growing up and transposing it onto the strict rules of tradition. In order to grow, Pai must subvert tradition. Breaking the boundaries of her tightly-wound society is Pai's coming-of-age ordeal, and every moment of this New Zealand film will have you on edge.
Boyhood is the coming-of-age film that literally came of age. Filmed over 12 years, the movie follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he traipses through adolescence. At the conclusion, Mason leaves for college, his "boyhood" coming to a close as the credits roll.
Richard Linklater's film is remarkable because it danced between fiction and reality. We are watching a fiction, but the actors — including Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Lorelei Linklater — are subject to the very real effects of time.
Nothing truly remarkable happens in the film, which lasts a generous 3 hours, but that's exactly the point. This bildungsroman is about the slow churn of self-discovery and the patience that it requires.
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. "
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.
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.