'The Spectacular Now' and three other coming-of-age movies worth watching

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What is it about the coming-of-age movie? Is there any other kind of film that can hit so many sweet and bittersweet spots, or transport you back to a time when all that mattered was that secret crush and who was taking you to the senior prom? Personally, I wish there was a different name for this genre, as it always feels slightly like it’s describing movies about puberty or someone’s Bar Mitzvah. But that aside, these movies for me — and I’m sure for a lot of you — are the ones I tend to be attracted to when it comes to cinematic comfort food.

This weekend brings The Spectacular Now. I’d argue that this movie is the closest thing we’ve come — yes, even counting last year’s amazing and wonderful The Perks of Being a Wallflower — to hitting the same zone as those movies in the Golden Era of the Coming-of-Age Movie, also known as the time when John Hughes was making films. EW’s Owen Gleiberman, who awarded Now an A– rating this week in the magazine, says: “It’s one of the rare truly soulful and authentic teen movies. It’s about the experience of being caught on the cusp and not knowing which way you’ll land.”

The movie stars Miles Teller as Sutter, a charismatic and popular senior who has made being carefree his young life’s work. But things aren’t completely working out, and he awakes one morning to find himself horrifically hungover and on the lawn of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a sweet girl from school who had managed to fade into the background amidst high school’s hierarchy. This movie doesn’t break the conventions of its genre — there’s first love, first sex, and even a prom — but it does so spectacularly (heh) well.

Shailene Woodley told EW that she considers doing this movie, directed by James Ponsoldt, one of the best decisions she’s ever made. “It was really important to me and James and Miles to create a movie that didn’t revolve around modern-day stereotypes,” she said. “We couldn’t think of a movie that takes place now and has the feel of a John Hughes film. But I think James has definitely captured that.”

Agreed! Also, for all those who love Friday Night Lights and Argo star Kyle Chandler, you should go see this movie just to see him play wildly against type. (Spoiler alert: He’s awesome.)

But this had me thinking about other coming-of-age films, particularly the off-the-beaten track ones not made by John Hughes. So here are my top three picks, in no particular order

1. Lucas: If you haven’t ever seen this 1986 film — starring David Seltzer, Corey Haim, Kerri Green, Charlie Sheen, Winona Ryder, and Courtney Thorne-Smith — you should stop whatever you are doing and go watch it right now. Corey Haim stars in the title role, a sweet, if a little on the nerdy side, kid who develops a crush on Green’s character. (Aside: Kerri, where are you? Please come back!) Sheen is at his very finest as captain of the football team, and also look out for Jeremy Piven as a boorish jock. It’s also notable for being Ryder’s screen debut. Dare you not to choke up at the end. (Watch the trailer.)

2. The Girl Next Door: Granted, a film about a high schooler falling in love with a porn star is not the first film that comes to mind when you’re thinking of heartwarming young people movies. But this 2004 film, directed by Luke Greenfield and starring Emile Hirsch, Elisha Cuthbert, and Timothy Olyphant (at his most wonderful Olyphant-y), gets everything right. And its opening credit montage, set to “Under Pressure”, is one of the finest around. (Here’s the trailer.)

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Sure, I already said it was wonderful right up there at the top. But the movies I considered including were Dazed and Confused, Can’t Hardly Wait, Say Anything, and Almost Famous, and surely everyone knows about those films already. But if you missed last year’s Perks, you should go back and take another look. Directed by Stephen Chbosky and starring Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and Ezra Miller, this movie — based on Chbosky’s 1999 novel of the same name — is sweet and melancholy and has a really good soundtrack to boot. (Give Perks‘ trailer a whirl.)

But I’m curious as to what you all think is the best of this genre? Got a favorite? Sound off in the comments below.

Read more:
‘The Spectacular Now’ review
‘The Girl Next Door’ review
‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ review


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