The transition from childhood to adulthood is marked by a phase of awkwardness, angst, anxiety and a plethora of other problems. This is described as teenage or the coming-of-age when we are stuck in an awkward limbo between being too old to be considered a child yet too young to be an adult.
Our bodies go through hormonal changes; we fall in love, have our first kiss, get our hearts broken while dealing with the pressure to perform. It is probably one of the most difficult yet fecund phases of our lives and shapes us into future adults.
Art imitates life and vice versa. Coming-of-age films involve the characters slowly and gradually grappling with heavyweight issues, including mental health, sexual discovery, first love, heartache, peer pressure and more. These films serve as classic slice-of-life films that provide an intimate look into the lives of various teenagers who are emotional, confused, angry and vulnerable.
If you are interested to see a handful of teenagers take on the world and deal with their problems while slowly progressing towards happiness, take a look at these ten best coming-of-age films that are streaming on Netflix right now:
10 best coming-of-age films on Netflix
The F**k It List (Michael Duggan, 2020)
Brett Blackmore is the textbook definition of an exemplary student with top-notch grades. However, his secrets are exposed when a prank goes wrong, and he is forced to face his frustrations about not being able to live a life on his own terms, making him launch the f**k it list comprising all the things he wished he had done.
This coming-of-age story deals with a very pertinent problem that plagues teenagers, including unrealistic educational expectations from paranoid parents. It exposes the Draconian regime teenagers are subjected to and the innate desire in them to break free.
9. All the Bright Places (Brett Haley, 2020)
Starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith, the film deals with teenage angst and other serious issues including mental health, suicide, abuse and survivor’s guilt. It also helps trace the journey of the two leads as they slowly start to heal from their respective trauma and start learning to love themselves as well as each other.
Smith said that “it was a really important conversation that [I] wanted to contribute to” and the fact that “the character was in a wheelhouse but still challenged [me]” is what drew him to play Finch.
“I first read the book when I was 14,” said Fanning, who plays Violet, and being in love with filmmaking itself made her fall in love with the idea of the character which prompted her to take up the role and help steer the conversation regarding such heavyweight issues forward.
8. All Together Now (Brett Haley, 2020)
Amber’s life is in shambles but she is steel cheery and optimistic. With her growing aspirations towards pursuing music at Carnegie Mellon, Amber is ridden with difficulties and must learn to communicate and request support from her loved ones in order to move ahead with her life.
Brett Haley has the innate talent in making films that find the extraordinary within ordinary lives. In an interview, Haley said: “I started leaning into that, knowing that I could make films that were smaller and that were more human, and I started building my career”.
He also emphasised the importance of “authenticity and emotion and humanity” in his films that motivate him to delve deeper into the emotional and psychological exploration of his characters.
7. Five Feet Apart (Justin Baldoni, 2019)
Seventeen-year-old Stella meets Will who is confined to the hospital with the same morbid illness of cystic fibrosis. Despite the safe distance they have to maintain, they engage in relentless flirtation and tender moments that indicate their unbridled attraction to one another.
Starring Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse as the leads, the film is intense yet delightful as it paints a picture of love and longing triumphing pain and melancholy with the hospital as a backdrop. In an interview, Baldoni admitted: “I wanted to create a film that kind of inspired people to fight for the things that matter and to fight for love, to fight for relationships, to not give up and that there can also be beauty in this struggle”.
6. Alex Strangelove (Craig Johnson, 2018)
After Alex starts dating his best friend Claire, he comes across a gay teen named Elliot who makes him question his own sexuality as he grows increasingly attracted towards the latter albeit being in total denial.
According to Craig Johnson: “Alex Strangelove is largely autobiographical. It kind of charts my own personal story of sexual confusion in my teens and into my twenties but kind of condensed into one kid’s senior year of high school”. His personal experiences helped deliver such a witty and smart take on this coming-of-age story.
5. The Half of It (Alice Wu, 2020)
Ellie is smart and introverted and makes good money by assisting others with their homework. She is convinced by Paul, with whom she begins an unlikely friendship, to write letters on his behalf to help him woo his crush Aster who remains oblivious to the original writer of the letters, gradually falling for paul. Ellie, too, while grappling with her own sexual awakening, feels a growing attraction towards Aster.
The film delicately handles the revelatory sexual awakening of a lesbian immigrant and is extremely well-crafted. “To be able to play an Asian-American LGBTQ character really felt like we were hitting two enormous birds with one tiny stone and it was the coolest thing ever. These stories are not told and they need to be told,” said Leah Lewis who played the lead role of Ellie Chu.
4. Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti, 2018)
Closeted gay teen Simon starts messaging a fellow gay high schooler who uses the alias name of Blue and falls in love with him. Despite their budding romance, Simon’s anxiety and inhibitions prevent him from embracing his own desires completely that leads to them falling out.
Supportive parents, friends and peers galore, this feel-good coming-of-age film is devoid of blatant homophobia which makes it somewhat utopian yet refreshing. The tender moments of romance are well portrayed by the characters who bask in these delicate moments.
While chatting with Ellen, Nick Robinson spoke of how it was special for him as his brother came out around the same time they started filming. “One of the best things that came out of this movie is just being able to talk to him and I think that’s the strength of a film like this. It starts conversations like this. It’s a conversation starter and I hope that it can do that for more people.”
3. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig, 2016)
Nadine is having a difficult time adjusting to the rapid changes that are taking place in her life, including her older brother dating her best friend. When all things seem lost, Nadine forges an unlikely friendship that helps her get accustomed to the steady changes.
“As we all know, almost everything in a teenager’s life is, in such a reasonable way, blown so out of proportion,” said Hailee Steinfeld, the protagonist while talking about Nadine’s struggles. She recounted various experiences that she went through in school being similar to that of Nadine’s that helped her relate to the vulnerability of the character.
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)
This coming-of-age drama features the life of a teenager named Charlie as he grapples with clinical depression as well as grieves the loss of his best friend to suicide. It also provides an intimate insight into teenage love, friendships, navigating high school and other trials and tribulations that teenagers face.
Starring Emma Watson and Logan Lerman, the film is a delicate tale of love, melancholy, loss, heartache, trauma and more. Emma Watson spoke of how she was “crying after finishing the whole script” and we cannot agree more with her given the sheer depth of the characters and the plot. “There’s no way you can read the book having been a teenager and not be able to relate to one of the experiences of the characters”.
1. Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)
Alike finally learns to embrace her sexuality as a butch lesbian and finds comfort in her friendship with Laura who is openly a lesbian. Alike’s mother is a conventional and orthodox Black woman who reacts violently to Alike’s confession, prompting the latter to leave home and find her way to forge her own destiny.
Poignant and moving, Alike’s cathartic journey of self-discovery amidst a dysfunctional family is steeped in bittersweet authenticity. Dee Rees had written the script way back in the summer of 2005 while she was working on the sets of Spike Lee’s Inside Man and was going through her “own coming out process” and “starting to know who [she] was”, feeling “invisible” as she was in the “grey area” about being a “butch” or a “fem” and tried to mirror the same conflict in her 17-year-old protagonist as well.