When coming-of-age film The Spectacular Now premiered on Friday, it made me think about how good coming-of-age stories aren't just about turning 21, but about self-realization. Some of the eight films listed below are older, and some more recent, but all do a great job of addressing the issues confronting most millennials.
1. Office Space
I selected Office Space for this list without hesitation, as it's an easy choice. Office Space's simple story about a guy who hates his job fulfills the work-related fantasy of every grown-up: quitting one's and just not paying any bills.
Everyone will have to work in a horrible, unimaginative, gray-cubicle office at some point in their lives, so Office Space is easy to connect with. Especially the part where the main character, Peter, escapes and doesn’t have to work there anymore.
The important takeaway from Office Space is that Peter only felt fulfilled once he realized that working in an office is just that, and discovered what he wanted to do with his life.
2. Winter's Bone
This independent film about a poverty-stricken community of meth cooks in the Ozarks and a young woman’s search for her father might seem out of place on this list, but Winter’s Bone is a powerful tale about finding the will to survive and the strength to do what needs to be done.
Winter’s Bone is stark and heart-wrenching, but it's also an incredible story about the communities and pockets of life that are tucked away all over the world, and the ways in which life goes on even with hardship, loss, and things not going according to plan.
The past five years have been banner ones for zombies in pop culture. The undead have had quite a few movies (Shaun of the Dead, Warm Bodies, World War Z), an award-winning TV show (The Walking Dead), and even a presence in the real world (or at least Florida) .
Zombieland isn’t really a movie about zombies, but a film about (mostly) young people who are participating in that most quintessential of all American activities, a road trip. The lost and lonely characters are looking for a place to be safe and happy, but, of course, they find that it’s not the place that matters, but the people you’re there with. As a result, Zombieland is a movie about finding and building a family and friendships, and the importance of having people who love and support you — and shoot zombies when necessary.
4. Toy Story 3
The Toy Story franchise has grown up with the millennial generation. Most of us probably saw the first one in theaters in 1995, pretended we didn’t care about seeing the second one in 1999 (but totally went to the theater with our younger siblings, anyway), and fessed up to being really excited to see the third one in 2010. No one was disappointed, because all three were pretty amazing.
Toy Story 3 was a poignant and astute film, and incredibly relevant to the generation it raised. “Let go,” it said. “Don’t be afraid to move on.”
Your childhood, high school, and college friends will always be a part of you, even if you don’t see them anymore. The things you cared about when you were younger might not be as important, but that doesn’t make their memories any less worthwhile.
5. Jerry Maguire
Despite the film's truly horrible famous lines — “you complete me” and “you had me at hello” (though, to be fair, it does have the awesome use of “kwan”) — Jerry Maguire is, at its heart, about reinvention and transformation. The film is a healthy reminder that it’s never too late to start over, that finding a moral center is essential to happiness, and that becoming self-aware can sometimes involve losing things we care about.
As a generation steeped in student loans and lacking in job opportunities, it’s important for millennials to remember that money isn’t everything. Shouting, “Show me the money!” is probably a fast way to learn that.
6. Turn Me On, Dammit!
Turn Me On, Dammit! Is an incredible Norwegian film about a young girl coming of age, and her sexual explorations. It’s funny and realistic, the acting is incredible, the dialogue is snappy, and the main characters' sexual fantasies are hilariously embarrassing.
Films that deal with female coming of age don’t often explore the sexual aspect of growing up a realistic or intelligent way. Turn Me On, Dammit! is a happy exception.
7. American Pie
No list of coming-of-age films would be complete without American Pie.
Most millennials have probably already had a sexual awakening (congratulations!), but that doesn’t mean that their sexuality is said and done. The conversation continues, particularly with regard to questions about hook-up culture, and what it’s done to our generation.
Plus, the scene that involves the pie is pretty brilliant.
8. The Breakfast Club
The Breakfast Club is, of course, one of the best-known coming of age films of all time. The story of five very different students suffering through Saturday detention has become the ultimate movie about transformation and human connections.
The distinctions and labels we assign ourselves (or that others give us) never do us justice, for we are far more complicated and diverse and interesting than we (or they) think we are.
That realization — that we are complex individuals and who are all connected — is what growing up is all about.