Hey Stupid Teen Sex Comedy, the coming-of-age genre called and it wants its movies back.
In all seriousness, what happened to the coming-of-age genre? Can we pinpoint the exact moment it disappeared and was replaced by movies about kids throwing parties, lighting patio furniture on fire and sticking their private parts in pies? When, exactly, did we stop taking teenagers seriously? When did we stop making movies that tried to recognize just how difficult and important (and gratifying) that transition from kid to adult really is?
Those movies existed when I was growing up. Stand By Me and The Goonies have always been two personal favorites. John Hughes made a bunch of them, too, with stuff like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and, to a certain extent, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. They were movies that didn’t shy away from their silly side, but they also tried to make a point. They tried to dig deeper into the teenage psyche and march all their hopes, dreams and fears across the big screen for two hours in an attempt to validate those weird, uncomfortable feelings kids rarely want to admit exist.
But then they stopped. Maybe it had something to do with the ’90s and a new generation, and maybe it had something to do with the success of American Pie and Hollywood’s desire to tone down the hard stuff in order to focus on the MOST AWESOMEST PARTY MOVIE EVER, but regardless of why the important, meaningful and memorable coming-of-age movie took a long vacation without giving notice, the good news is those movies are now making a comeback. A big comeback.
Dare I say, a spectacular comeback.
Back in September, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was finally released from its late-90s prison, and with it has come a whole new era of coming-of-age movies that care more about their characters than their wild set pieces. The signs were all over last year’s Sundance Film Festival, too, with movies like The First Time making a big splash, and now this year the festival invited more than a few coming-of-age movies. There’s The Spectacular Now, which kicked things off by wowing audiences at its premiere on Friday night, all but solidifying Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley as future movie stars. Later in the fest, we’ll get to see what movies like Toy’s House and The Way, Way Back add to the coming-of-age conversation.
And what a conversation it is! In the case of The Spectacular Now, director James Ponsoldt — along with 500 Days of Summer writers Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter — expertly tap into a teenager’s fear of the future, most notably the moments when we begin to realize how much of an impact (good and bad) our parents had on us growing up.
That self-realization that much of who you are and how you feel all comes from your parents is one of the scariest moments for a teenager, especially when that sort of clarity arrives as you’re transitioning to the next phase in life, be it college or your first job out of school. The Spectacular Now not only captures those moments brilliantly, but it also doesn’t back down from the hard reality that growing up and moving on with your life is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have. That even the coolest kids — the ones you think have it all together — are probably the ones who need the most help.
That no matter how bad it may all seem, you’re really only a conversation away from brighter days.
This is what’s been missing in today’s teen-centric movies, and it’s exactly what The Spectacular Now brings back with gusto. They’ll talk about how great Miles Teller is and how Shailene Woodley reminds us of a sweeter, gentler Jennifer Lawrence, but hopefully they’ll also talk about why more movies like this make sense, and why now is the time to champion the return of the coming-of-age genre.
Wouldn’t that be spectacular?
Bookmark our Sundance coverage here.
Follow our Sundance coverage on Twitter: