Why do I even try calling these “mini” reviews? I can literally write a whole review on each one of these but then I would never catch up on my reviews. If you’ve been following my blog for the past couple of months, you’ll know how much I completely adore the coming-of-age genre. I just love the exploration of identity and just discovering what you want out of life while at the same time, faced with these growing burdens and expectations from the people around you. I think it’s such an interesting dynamic and I’ve been watching a lot of TV and reading books that revolve around this but I haven’t really talked about coming-of-age movies.
Musical | Directed by Patricia Riggen| Disney Channel | D
To be honest, I only watched this movie because I wanted a point of reference to the other movies. In a sense, comparing a “bad” coming of age movie to a “good” one. Lemonade Mouth tries so hard to portray an authentic high school experience but it doesn’t work. It’s like making someone who has never been to high school make a movie about high school.
And because of this, this entire movie is so unintentionally funny. I’m not kidding you when I tell you there was a part in this movie where the school bully falls in someone’s lap and then for some reason the entire pizzeria starts fighting and everyone starts throwing empty red cups at one another. I’ve never been so painfully aware of a movie’s limited budget. There is no mystery to these characters or the fact they are having inner lives apart from the page. You know exactly what their deal is the minute they are introduced and their subsequent story arc only serves to confirm what you already know. For one, there is Charles whose parents want him to play soccer like his perfect older brother but guess what he doesn’t want to play soccer. Who would have thought? And of course at the end, it’s suddenly revealed that his brother is actually not so perfect (surprise). The dialogue leaves no room for conflict and neither does the story.
The songs aren’t particularly great either. The lyrics are too bright and dare I say it, too inspirational if that makes any sense at all. It’s kind of funny that this movie would be more of an inspiration for little kids or tweens rather than people who are actually in high school. It’s got that unrealistic teen empowerment message–like yeah I can do anything type thing and that cheesiness to go along with it. I will say that I have to give it credit for its diversity. That makes it feel more true to recent times but alas that’s really the only thing it’s got going for it.
The Breakfast Club
Directed by John Hughes | B+
So apparently this is the quintessential coming-of-age film. I can see why from just watching its beginning lines unfold. The most notable of which is in Brian’s monologue where he’s telling Mr. Vernon, “You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” And every single high school coming-of-age film afterwards has tried to answer this statement. To show these kids as more than just their stereotypes. How does someone break into themselves in the pressure pot that is high school? The Breakfast Club is smart is so many ways, instead of tediously showing what life is like for these people, wasting scenes of waking up and showing what their room is like and things like that or following them through a typical school day where we mostly know what’s going to happen to them, Hughes puts them all together in the same room, where these so-called stereotypes would have never have met and forced them to interact in the same playing field–in detention. Slowly their layers are peeled back layer by layer. There is a lot of explosive angst especially from Bender who basically adds fuel to the fire in whatever he says. And there’s a lot of anger in these kids that is just brilliantly acted.
Although what they reveal about themselves isn’t terribly original like Vernon, who is stereotyped as the smart, straight A student is actually failing a class and of course Andrew who is presumably the star of the wrestling team, shocker, does not have the perfect life and has to live to his father’s persistent expectations, the way these secrets are revealed is explosive and surprising. And there’s really nothing better for me than to see a group of unlikely friends become well..friends.
This movie was produced in 1985 so while it feels timeless in some aspects, it also feels dated at the same time. It is sexist and the romances are so off-kilter, and while the cast is supremely more talented than the cast of Lemonade Mouth, the same can’t be said about its diversity. If there could somehow be a good remake of this movie, I’ll be the first one to see it.
Musical | Directed by John Carney | Ireland | A-
This movie is the reason this whole post was started. Sing Street is the most charming movie I have seen in a long time.
It is so inspirational and caught with youthful optimism but never descends into cheesiness because it is so grounded in realism. There are so many ways this premise could have gone wrong. I mean this movie takes place in Ireland in 1985 and it is about a boy who starts a band to impress this mysterious girl that he likes but doesn’t know anything about. But I was so unexpectedly and pleasantly surprised. It finds this perfect balance between the raw realism of the inner life of Conor as a teen with parents who constantly fight and dealing with kids and staff (who btw are priests) who bully him and the wish fulfillment optimism of of starting a band. The dialogue is so well-written, full of dry one-liners that you almost miss and reactions that never feel over-the-top or dramatic in any way.
Basically, they skip all the unnecessary parts and just get straight to the good stuff. There was this one part where the school bully tells our intrepid main character to dance naked in the bathroom, Conor says no and the bully just leaves. Just unexpected moments like that are what make this movie work. Or like the part when no one questions the unrealistic nature of starting a band. They just do it. It shouldn’t work, there usually is a period of disbelief that the characters go through because they think they can’t actually pull off start a band but the movie skips those parts we expect. I adored each and every song. They were so catchy and nostalgic and inspirational and so feel good. Easily could have fallen into Lemonade Mouth’s trap but it effortlessly avoids the same pitfalls by painting its characters with subtle and nuanced inner lives.
And let me tell you that the female love interest is not nearly as manic pixie dream girlesque as one would expect.
The Edge of Seventeen
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig | A
The Edge of Seventeen is my favorite out of the bunch and that’s because it’s just got the best ingredients of the coming-of-age genre. Nadine is a character that isn’t “likeable”. Most of the awkward situations she gets into are of her own doing. This is truly someone whom no one understands and even she doesn’t understand herself. She’s self-centered and melodramatic and is always ready to pick a fight. And the one person who did understand her most was her dad who died when she was just going through middle school. The dialogue is crude and unapologetic but the story is so sincere and charming. It’s as if the person who wrote this movie has been Nadine before and is chuckling and shaking their head at their past self. And hey, there is an Asian male love interest who is into drawing and is even more awkward than our main character. It’s so wonderful. This coming-of-age film is not necessarily about finding her own identity so much as finding a way to make the most of her present as shitty as she thinks it is which is honestly how a lot of high school teens feel. This feeling that even though you know this is temporary, this part of your life feels so permanent and you’re just waiting for the day when you can find your way out. This movie is also just funny. I love the wit between Nadine and her history teacher played by Woody Harrelson, the one and only Haymitch, and he was such a great casting choice for this role. Like the Breakfast Club, it’s about the character’s perceptions of other people, just as we try to see past our perceptions of the characters, we see from the very beginning, that Nadine’s “hate” for her older brother is a little misguided. Her brother who appears to be golden boy the one who gets everything he wants and doesn’t give a shit about anyone else. But though many of the things Nadine thinks about her brother may be true, there’s many other things that she doesn’t quite know about her brother.
I actually watched this movie a 2nd time just so I can write this review and I don’t regret a single moment.
Let me know if you’ve seen any of these movies and if you have any other coming-of-age recommendations.