Coming of age flicks mark life’s milestones

Preston Barta // Film Critic

[dropcap]G[/dropcap]rowing up is not an easy task, particularly for college students of the Peter Pan generation, leaving campus for a real world they don’t always want to enter. The transition is a confusing, heartbreaking yet invigorating experience. As kids, juggling all these emotions hardly made sense. So we looked for any type of guidance to navigate these turbulent waters. Mentors, peers, books and the subject of this piece: movies.

Coming-of-age stories captivate us for a reason. It’s a timeless genre, frequently touching, powerful and remarkably true to our lives. They share important lessons and help shape who we become.

With so many of us set to walk the Mean Green stage in the upcoming weeks, NT Daily thought it would be an appropriate time to look back over the most important coming-of-age movies that remind us of youth and how it was growing up. We’ll share why these films hold such a dear place in the cinema vault as well as in our hearts.

standbyme“Stand by Me” (1986) – How death affects us

I think it’s safe to say that all who have seen this film will agree that we know people much like the characters depicted in this movie. Most of us have met the boy down the road who had a parent with an alcohol problem, the abusive military father and the overweight kid, constantly picked on and ridiculed. This is why many consider “Stand by Me” to be the utmost example of a coming-of-age tale; it shows that growing up is hardly easy.

The movie also elicits fascinating thoughts about how death affects us. In the film, there’s the death of the main character’s brother, the dead body they venture down the tracks to go see and the death of a friend at the film’s end. While director Rob Reiner gave the film a more appropriate title, I often wonder how the film would have been received if it kept the name of Stephen King’s novel in which it is based on —  “The Body.”

Every boy out there likes to think of himself as invincible, until his first brush with death. “Stand by Me” is about that moment.

dazedandconfused“Dazed and Confused” (1993) – Leaving high school

The entirety of our lives beforehand pales in comparison to that final stretch of high school. Will you go to college, or straight into a career? What choices will you make with your diploma, what people will you meet or lose? Who will you be on your own? No filmmaker understands this more than writer-director Richard Linklater. His imagination and grasp of adolescence is flawless, and his understanding spills onto the screen with practiced ease.

“Dazed and Confused,” the story about high school students on the last day of school in 1976, is not your typical teenage flick. While nowadays our coming-of-age movies entail vampires or dystopian deathmatches, “Dazed and Confused” presents teenagers on the verge of graduation, muddling their way through their hopes and fears of the future. Some want to go to college, and others want to drop everything, “dance” and go to Aerosmith concerts.

With all its overlapping stories, status games and existential angst about the future, “Dazed and Confused” is an authentic slice of life that lays bare many key insights of being a soon-to-be high school graduate deciding what you should do with your life.

The-Lion-King“The Lion King” (1994) – Remembering who you are

“The Lion King” may seem like a childish choice at first, but even an animated film can give us important life lessons and direction. Besides emphasizing the unbreakable bond between family, fathers and sons, the greatest lesson within the film is accepting who you are.

In the film, Simba learns to accept his greatness and “stop running from the past.” Feeling responsible for his father’s demise, he had consciously avoided his destiny as king. But Simba’s realization of that destiny makes everything fall into place.

“The Lion King” taught us to be ourselves and not let circumstances and mistakes keep us from achieving our goals. You are at UNT to be great and do astonishing things in your life. There will be challenges thrown at you to steer you off track, but everything you need is already inside of you. While this may sound like something read at the bottom of a sappy Hallmark card, it’s a vital lesson in our upbringing.

11-mean-girls“Mean Girls” (2004) – Individuality and being a friend

In addition to being the source of half the GIFs on the Internet, “Mean Girls” was a movie that thoroughly dealt with the trials and tribulations of surviving the merciless jungle known as high school, while also finding out who your true friends are.

This coming-of-age story showed us what being a true friend means, and the importance of deciding your own path. Friendship is based on trust and compromise.

The film revealed how some friends boss people around for their own self-gain. So no matter how formidable someone may seem, especially in high school or college, if that person is taking advantage of you or causing you to feel uneasy about being yourself, do it “Mean Girl” style and kick those Plastics to the curb.

Boyhood“Boyhood” (2014) – Growing up in Texas

This film, another of writer-director Linklater’s masterpieces, may not be out for audiences to see yet (due out July 11), but it’s a monumental achievement in displaying the passage of time and how it changes people in the most profound ways.

Following a six-year-old boy as he walks through the next 12 years of his life, “Boyhood” is essential viewing, as we don’t get many films about growing up in Texas. Linklater holds our attention with a film that anyone can identify with. It covers all the bases: parental divorce, dealing with alcoholism, political ideology, first loves, discovering what kind of person you want to be and deciding what you want to do with your life. “Boyhood” is a package deal that I believe to be the ultimate coming-of-age tale.

While all the aforementioned films above are individually significant and came out while we were growing up, “Boyhood” is a greatest hits record that will bring up fond memories of the past and will have you thinking about all the choices you made in your lifetime.

Feature photo: Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke play father and son in “Boyhood.” Photo courtesy of IFC Films

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