Here are all the great movies tackling the area between adolesence and adulthood that may have flown under your radar this year
One thing before we get started. You might have clicked and expected to find three specific movies nestled among this bunch – I’m talking about three of the year’s best: Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project. And let me tell you now: you won’t find them below and it’s no “grave injustice” so hold your horses. The thing is, whether you’ve seen those movies or not, you’ve already heard how objectively 10/10 awesome they are. Meaning, without wanting to further feed the hype machine – or just repeat ourselves – we’ve been thinking about this year’s coming-of-agers that flew under the radar, ones that definitely deserve a few more column inches. In no particular order (for rankings head here), let’s get started.
It’s hard to think of another documentary that nails the coming-of-age experience: romantic rejection, banal chats in messy bedrooms, fading friendships as adulthood rears its unwelcome head. Everything here is filmed in intimate close-up, leaving you with the impression that you know these teens IRL. And there’s a good reason. Shot over a three-year period, with a group of real teenage girls growing up in Brooklyn, this is real girlhood, captured via the true-to-life lens of filmmaker Jenny Gage.
First, a heads up: Don’t eat meat before watching this movie. In fact, don’t eat anything. Raw is about a 16-year-old girl in her first year of vet school. She’s vegetarian but, as part of a hazing ritual, she reluctantly pops some raw rabbit kidneys in her mouth. That peer pressure moment triggers some very gross and very gory habits, chiefly her new taste for human flesh. I’m still not 100% sure what I found more shocking: the sight of a human being chowing down on another human being’s flesh, or the fact that veterinarians party so damn hard. Who knew?!
The titular student here is a different kind of misfit. He preaches from the bible while his classmates go skinny-dipping. He’s confused and confusing. One minute he’s refusing to strip down for swim class, the next he’s butt-naked during a sex-ed class, protesting condoms and sex before marriage. You can tell this isn’t gonna end well. Director Kirill Serebrennikov weaves an unnerving coming-of-age tale, laced with sexual repression, religious fanaticism, and violence.
An anime that touches on bullying, depression, and even suicide? I know, right, sounds like it’d fall flat on its two-dimensional face. But A Silent Voice – adapted from the wildly popular manga by Yoshitoki Oima – proves you don’t need three dimensions to convey what it’s like to be so anxious that you’re unable to look people directly in the eye. Not many anime movies zero in on bullying from both sides – what it’s like to be bullied, to bully, and how to deal with it. But yeah, the point is: this is a different kind of anime.
This overlooked and beguiling coming-of-age tale follows an 11-year-old girl at her local gym. She becomes entranced by the all-girl dance troupe, whose members are fainting and vomiting one by one. No one knows why. One girl says it’s the water; another thinks it’s “some kind of boyfriend disease”. The intrigue builds through the eyes of the young girl, with jaw-dropping moments of magical realism sprinkled over its climactic scenes. It’s equal parts mysterious and beautiful.
Okay, so this one is less overlooked, but it does deserve a second look. If you look closely, Stephen King’s spine-chiller is basically a coming-of-ager wrapped in a supernatural horror. It’s Stand By Me meets Nightmare on Elm Street. Strip away all the clowning around and consider the ingredients: small-town mates, always one with giant dork glasses, maybe a token chubster, old-school bikes, lake-swimming, trudging along train tracks without a care in the world. And – as if that wasn’t enough – enter stage right: Finn Wolfhard, Stranger Things’s poster boy with coming-of-age credentials to boot.
The genesis of Mike Mills’s latest movie was his roots in the SoCal punk scene, his relationship with his mum, and his memories of being called an ‘art fag’ for liking Talking Heads. The film, set in late 70s Santa Barbara, follows 15-year-old Jamie (basically playing Mills), a suburban skater raised by his mum (Annette Bening), his crush (Elle Fanning), and his mum’s lodger (Greta Gerwig). All women, all strong, and yes, all 20th century – there’s that title for you.