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5 unexpectedly poignant coming-of-age films

The term “coming-of-age film” immediately conjures the image of four boys looking for a dead body, Reese Witherspoon skinny-dipping with Jason London, or kids auditioning for a performing-arts school in New York City. Coming-of-age films are intended to provoke enjoyable nostalgia of an emotional time in our childhood and teen years.

However, it’s a mistake to think that everyone’s coming of age is lovely and filled with cute moments of romance and finding independence. Young adulthood is often a dark, confusing labyrinth of emotion and fear. Here are some recommended lesser-known films that show the darker side of coming of age.

Wetlands (2013)

Wetlands was a small, independent German film whose notoriety hinged on the “grossness” of the film. Helen, a precocious teenager, is fascinated by her own bodily functions and bodily fluids. Guess what? We all deal with these functions every day of our lives, but Wetlands just had no shame about addressing them directly. Helen ends up in the hospital because of a very unfortunate shaving accident, and during her time there, she flirts with an attractive nurse, reminisces on her parents’ tumultuous relationship while she was growing up, growing apart from her best friend, and her preoccupation with sex. The “grossness” of the film is just one aspect of it; if you can look past that factor, it’s a poignant story about a girl claiming her own sexuality.

Puppylove (2012)

This French film details six months in the life of 14-year-old Diane. Diane lives with her single father and brother and struggles to withhold her feelings about sex; she’s so consumed with her thoughts that one day at school, she barges into the boys’ showers naked. When her father picks her up after getting a call from the school, he purposely avoids any notion of talking to Diane about sex. Therefore, she turns to her “wild child” new neighbor. Under her new and sophisticated friend’s watch, she is encouraged to take risks. Julia is no angel, and her final actions are inevitable, especially when she joins Diane and her father on vacation. Puppylove is not a film with a strong narrative; it is filmed in an almost improvised way in order for us to take the identity of Diane and experience the confusion she feels about desire.

Kids (1996)

In retrospect, Larry Clark’s Kids was a game-changer for film culture. Filmed in what almost appeared to be cinema verite style, it followed the lives of several teenagers in New York City who did exactly the opposite of what was moral, legal, and appropriate for teenage behavior. The focus of the film is Telly, the 17-year-old sexual predator who shoplifted and fought as well as sought to take girls’ virginity. In contrast, there’s Jenny, who, both ironically and unfairly, finds out she is HIV-positive after only from sleeping with one guy (Telly).

The kids’ coming-of-age was fueled by cursing, stealing, fighting, and having sex with zero remorse or fear of consequence. Director and former photographer Larry Clark wasn’t using the film to glorify the behavior of the kids, nor to condemn it (although he did love to shock). However, it served as a cautionary tale to parents everywhere.

The Girl Next Door (2007)

I would never have intentionally watched this film based on the gimmicky trailer. It was pure serendipity that I caught this on television when I was home sick, thus being let in on the secret that this film wasn’t a raunchy teen sex comedy, but a thoughtful film about relationships and taking control of your own life. The film centers on the relationship between Matthew, a shy, smart high schooler, and Danielle, an adult film star struggling to start a new life.

Danielle and Matthew’s courtship and relationship is actually one of the sweetest and most realistic depictions of teenage love on film. Matthew loves her despite her secret life as a porn star, and he and his friends attempt to save her from the industry … only to find that she doesn’t want saving. It subverts the general trope of a teen sex comedy, actually promoting ownership of one’s sexuality (with a bit of an action-suspense romp). Sure, it’s still a comedy, and there are some silly moments, but it makes for one of the most sex-positive films involving teens. There are also great performances by Timothy Olyphant and future Academy Award nominee Paul Dano.

Angus (1994)

As with The Girl Next Door, Angus was a film about teenagers whose marketing was somewhat false. On the surface, Angus is about a nerdy, overweight teen who is bullied by the popular kids and is secretly in love with the head cheerleader. In a perfect world (or a John Hughes movie), Angus would triumph over the jocks and get the girl at the end. Not only does that not happen, but the film actually delves into much darker material; Angus struggles with way more than what is happening at school.

As a whole, the film is uneven in tone, but the cast—including Kathy Bates, George C. Scott, Chris Owen (later of American Pie fame), and a very , very cruel James Van Der Beek—makes for audience investment. Angus is also one of those ’90s film anomalies that did poorly at the box office but had an incredibly successful soundtrack. In the film’s opening credits, a marching band performing Love Spit Love’s sorrowful “Am I Wrong” creates a stark contrast to high school culture. It’s also one of my favorite film openings of all time.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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