Cinematical got a letter the other day from a reader named Brad G wondering about coming-of-age films. Specifically he and his friends were attempting to define a single film as the best representation of their generation, which he recognizes as part Generation Y, part "Apatow Generation." The branding of his age group with that filmmaker is interesting because Judd Apatow did make two great coming-of-age TV series (Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared) that would apply to Brad's generation. Yet he also produced modern versions of the coming-of-age genre, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Step Brothers, which appropriate the genre for adults in arrested development.
For some reason, the last decade has been quite selfish in terms of the genre. In the past, coming-of-age movies were made by nostalgic filmmakers, which is why a lot of the greats of the genre (American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, Stand by Me) are period works initially representing the previous generation, but could be applied to and adapted as a representation for the present generation. Or we had someone like John Hughes, who could tap into contemporary adolescence well enough to give Generation X representations like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club.
But now most coming-of-age movies are strictly for the generation making them. In addition to man-child movies like those mentioned above, there's the genre I call homecoming-of-age films, which include twenty- and thirty-something characters going through a second (or late) coming of age after returning home for whatever reason (parent's illness or death, financial reasons, etc.). Think of films like Garden State, Elizabethtown and even the slightly qualifiable new film Greenberg. They're mostly a product of the 2000s trend of people moving back in with their parents, a trend that introduced words like "adultolescent" into our culture. Then again, you could call The Graduate a homecoming-of-age film, and that was made decades ago. And the next generation also had post-college movies labeled coming-of-age, like St. Elmo's Fire and Reality Bites.
Greenberg's director, Noah Baumbach, made a decent nostalgic (but not period) coming-of-age film in The Squid and the Whale, but not a lot of people outside New York can identify with it. The only 2000s films I can think of that do something akin to American Graffiti and Stand by Me are the 1980s recallers Adventureland, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (which should have been this era's Stand by Me), Son of Rambow, Billy Elliot and This Is England, though the latter three aren't likely as relatable for American youth. Same goes for City of God. As for a film revisiting the '90s, I can only think of The Wackness.
Otherwise, many teen movies of the last ten years have revisited the sex hunger and social issues of '80s teen movies without the same soul and underlying drama. There's something to be learned and felt about adolescence in Weird Science and Heathers that isn't exactly there in American Pie and Mean Girls. Cameron Crowe, who directed Elizabethtown, once wrote a great balance of sex comedy and coming-of-age film in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Perhaps if Apatow had combined Superbad with Knocked Up, he could have had something similar.
How about fantasy and superhero movies, which are very representative of the last decade? Spider-Man and Harry Potter may well be Brad's generation's defining coming-of-age movies. Again, the latter could be more for the Brits, who I'm now realizing have been quite good at contributing to the genre lately, particularly with the idea of kids trying to grow up too soon, as in An Education, Somers Town and Fish Tank. Maybe even the upcoming Cherrybomb, starring Harry Potter's Rupert Grint.
Anyway, I might be a bit too old to make a conclusion about Brad's generation. Anyone out there aged 20-25 with an idea of what film best represents your generation?