The term “coming of age” refers to the transition from childhood to adulthood. Except that transition spans most of the teen years, and even beyond. In movies, “coming of age” seems to be more about a period of time that in some way defines a young person’s identity.
The coming of age theme is so popular in movies, has become a genre unto itself. We love stories of adolescence, and all that that period of life represents. Coming of age stories, though overlapping with “teen movies,” are essentially about identity, figuring out how the world works, and how you want to work within it. There is usually also some distance between the filmmaker’s point of view and the characters’, which can deepen the emotional resonance. We see that life is simple, but feels endlessly complicated. Highs are high and lows are low. There is a longing for freedom, while also seeking a cohort of peers with which to form an identity.
From 400 Blows in 1959 (or maybe Rebel without a Cause in 1955 – I’m not sure if I’m convinced this is a coming of age story), on through The Graduate (1967), Sixteen Candles (1984), Stand By Me (1986), Dead Poet’s Society (1989), Clueless (1995), Rushmore (1998), and Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), there are more good coming of age stories every year.
This year we’ve seen Frances Ha (a post-post college coming of age story), The Spectacular Now, From Up on Poppy Hill (just played this past weekend) and The Way Way Back (now playing at Images Cinema, through Thursday, 8/15).
The Way Way Back set’s itself up as a “classic” coming of age story. It’s nostalgic (the old station wagon in pristine condition, the 1980s era water park that will not be updated), it deals with parental conflict, feeling out of step with peers, potential romance, and mentorship. Considering how cookie cutter all of these elements might seem, the movie feels surprisingly fresh. It is laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally effecting (I certainly cried). This is a testament to the importance of execution over plot. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who also won an Oscar for their original screenplay for The Descendants), The Way Way Back strikes a great balance between new and old, realistic and stylized, real emotion and real comedy.
I think the trailer for the film sets it up as just another teen movie, but what I’m trying to get at in this very round about way is that it’s a really well made coming of age film, and I recommend it to teens and everyone who has at one time been a teen.
It’s playing at Images Cinema through Thursday, 8/15. Click here for the schedule.