“Coming of Age” in 2013 and Beyond

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For all of its mainstream disappointments, 2013 was a great year for small, intimate, independent cinema. Amidst all the comic book dreck (oh Zack Snyder, what were you thinking?) there were some beautiful little films that fought back valiantly against an all but unstoppable tide of mediocrity. Woody Allen was back on form (again…), Michael Douglas was a revelation as Liberace and Ryan Gosling continued to brood his way through some brilliant dramas, while Denis Villeneuve proved that the thriller genre can still pack a serious emotional punch.

However, for me, 2013 will always be the year that the “coming-of-age” film made its triumphant comeback. Not since the eighties, when John Hughes was at his peak, has the genre been so fresh, so exciting and so gloriously entertaining. After years of subpar gross-out comedies, interspersed with the occasional pretentious art-house film about the emptiness of suburban, middle-class existence (poor me, poor me, pour me a drink), the genre finally rediscovered the anarchic sense of fun and nostalgia that it had been lacking for oh-so-very-long.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to… except last year, when they totally did!

Coming-of-age cinema is timeless because it taps into both our nostalgia for the past and our experience of the here and now with equal vigour, and 2013 proved that it still resonates with audiences just as much as it once did. It is a genre that can tackle love and heartache (Blue is the Warmest Colour), the harsh realities of childhood in Britain (The Selfish Giant) or the simple frustrations of a terrible family holiday (The Way, Way Back), with humour, drama and honesty, yet one that never labours its point or leaves its audience feeling frustrated. Coming-of-age cinema is so popular because it speaks to its audience, rather than speaking down to them, and last year it was a genre full of gems. Here are just three of my favourites from 2013;

The Kings of Summer

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring Nick Robinson (no, not that Nick Robinson but this Nick Robinson. Yeah, I know… the BBC’s political editor is hot!) The Kings of Summer is the genre gone right back to its roots. It’s warm, witty and full of wistful charm for the days when we all just wanted to run away and start afresh with our best friends, away from the judgemental glare of our parents. With its Stand by Me sensibilities, this is a film with absolutely no pretentions that tells a simple but heartfelt story about three boys searching for meaning in the world. It’s a wonderful film that is both dramatic and side-splittingly funny, and one that truly does make its audience “feel good”.

Frances Ha

Not all coming-of-age films have to be about teenagers, as Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha proves so deliciously. Starring Greta Gerwig as Frances Halliday – a 27 year old New York dancer who wanders through life without a care until her friends start to mature without her – this is a film for those people who often feel lost, out of place or a little bit behind the rest of the world. Fair enough, it’s insular and self-obsessed (and unashamedly so) but there’s something about it that’s just, for lack of a better word, “lovely”.

Mud

The renaissance of Matthew McConaughey (known colloquially as the McConausance) continued into 2013 with this beautiful but dark tale of two young boys (played brilliantly by newcomers Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who become embroiled in the dangerous life of a man on the run. It is a film rich in mesmerising cinematography that, though ultimately heart-warming, tells a relentlessly gritty story. There’s a rawness to Mud that the other two films lack, yet it’s still brimming with warmth and nostalgia for a bygone era, set as it is in this post-masculine World.

 

Ok, so those are all great films but where will the genre take us in 2014? Was the coming-of-age resurgence a “flash in the pan” event or is the genre back on a sustainable high after over a decade in the American Pie-esque, gross-out wilderness? Well, if the next few months are anything to go by then it still has a lot to offer, not least in contrast to the countless derivative blockbuster sequels (I believe it’s Marvel’s turn to bore us again this year?) that we must endure. Here are just a few of the films I’m most looking forward to;

Labor Day
Indie darling Jason Reitman directs Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin and Dylan Minnette in this adaptation of the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, which combines coming-of-age sensibilities with a not-so-traditional claustrophobic thriller story. In keeping with the genre’s new-found bravery, Reitman’s film looks set to offer a unique twist on the age-old story of teenage self-discovery, and I for one can’t wait to see what he does with the material.

The Spectacular Now
A traditional “boy meets girl” teenage love story, The Spectacular Now opened to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival almost a year ago so it’s a crime that it still hasn’t come out in the UK, but such are the perils of independent cinema. Directed by James Ponsoldt and starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now seems to have a vibe similar to that of 10 Things I Hate About You which means I’ll no doubt love it to pieces.

The Fault in Our Stars
Also starring Shailene Woodley – and based on John Green’s novel about a terminal teenage cancer patient who falls in love – The Fault in Our Stars will either be a harsh but beautiful look at death, set against the backdrop of a traditional coming-of-age romance, or it’ll be mawkish, sentimental trash. I loathe films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I’m not sure I’ll like this one but if the tagline – “one sick love story” – is anything to go by, we might be in for a surprisingly solid dark comedy…

That Awkward Moment
Does this one even need explaining..?

So then, what about you? Were you as impressed with the genre as I was last year and, if so, which particular film was your favourite? Are you a Kings of Summer fan or is The Selfish Giant more your thing? Comment below or just harass me on Twitter and let me know!

About James Gallagher

James is a film addict, a bitter misanthrope and a graduate from the University of Sheffield. Raised in Birkenhead, he is like a (very) poor man's Paul O'Grady. He has lots of opinions – almost all of which are wrong – and can normally be found reading, writing and drinking whisky. @theugliestfraud