Get in, loser. We're going on a teenage movie walk to remember. Throughout the decades, coming-of-age films have delighted fans with zippy dialogue, keen fashion trends, and iconic moments of rebellion. Yet some teenage movies dig deeper. Sure, most movies have at least some kind of thematic lesson, but certain films stick with us for days or even years after watching them. Sometimes it's a sad story or maybe a film that dives deep into the adolescent psyche. But whatever the reason, we just can't shake these movies.
Of course, books can do this, too — and sometimes, those books become movies. Some adolescent stories like to shy away from the big questions, thinking young audiences can't handle them. Yet some stories treat young adults like the intelligent young people they are. As a result, we still talk about Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" a good over 50 years after its publication.
Now, the book has become a film starring Rachel McAdams (Barbara Simon) and burgeoning star Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret. The story tackles how religious differences can break up a family, what it means to make your own family, and the questions young people have to ask to decide whether or not religion is something they want to take part in at all. The movie (and book) are in good company with other coming-of-age stories that dive past the surface and tackle some of the tough subjects.
A Walk to Remember
Not every movie needs a happy ending because reality doesn't always tie up situations in a neat bow. As audiences, we have this innate desire for fiction to end in a feel-good way — because life has plenty of bummer situations to throw at us. Naturally, we often try to escape the reality of our own lives in fiction. But sometimes, movies can help us deal with concepts of grief and loss (or simply give us a good cry for those rough days).
A Walk to Remember is quintessential early aughts viewing and features the OG bucket list. Mandy Moore stars as Jamie Sullivan: a teenager dealing with a terminal cancer diagnosis. Of course, she's charmed by bad boy extraordinaire Landon Carter (Shane West), who teaches her to enjoy every moment of her life. Alternatively, Jamie encourages Landon to take life more seriously and stop proving people who misjudge him right. But the characters aren't the only ones to learn a lesson. The film inspires viewers to take advantage of every life moment and not bail on something (or someone) just because it's difficult. It's the simple things we do for people that matter most.
The Breakfast Club
So, are you a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, a criminal, or a combination of the five classic high school labels? The iconic '80s film The Breakfast Club has taught generations of angsty teens that it doesn't matter. One simple detention filled with more revelations than a therapy session drives home the notion that we're all the same no matter our label, how we dress, or the masks we hide under to protect our vulnerability. We can all find common ground, even if we have to dig deep.
Is the message a bit corny? Sure, but the performances of the iconic cast don't make the movie feel preachy. And if the film's continued notoriety decades later is anything to go by, the lessons in this movie just stick.
Before I Fall
Content warning for mentions of suicide.
Plenty of films have featured popular main characters who learn a heavy lesson about bullying. But Before I Fall turns the trope on its head. Using the classic Groundhog Day time loop schtick, Zoey Deutch takes audiences on a journey through the sometimes fatal impacts of bullying. Everyone partakes in a battle of survival during high school, but tearing down others in that pursuit can change someone's psyche and confidence for life — or even drive someone to end it altogether.
Before I Fall tackles the suicide epidemic among teenagers and inspires audiences to treat people better. It's all "thoughts and prayers" after the fact, but people rarely amend their behavior before it gets to the point of no return. The ending is both uplifting and realistic in this mind-bending and hard-hitting coming-of-age drama.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or struggling with depression, please call or text the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988. A list of international resources can be found here.
Dead Poets Society
The '80s had to get in one last deep inspirational movie before the '90s hit. Dead Poets Society features the late, great Robin Williams as a teacher with an out-of-the-box teaching method. It's sad that over 30 years after its debut, schools still face some of the issues that the Dead Poets Society kids deal with on-screen. Perhaps we could all use a few teachers like Williams' John Keating who are willing to put their jobs on the line to teach authentically.
Not only does the film encourage the exploration of poetry and the arts, but it inspires young viewers to push back against oppressive status quos that prevent authentic learning under the guise of education. The movie also tackles complex subjects like suicide and fighting for your rights.
Barry Jenkins' film "Moonlight" won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017 for a reason. Most coming-of-age movies are simplistic when it comes to filming, but Moonlight has a raw beauty about it that remains unmatched in this space. The film tackles the subject of growing up as a young gay Black man — all while broaching themes of toxic masculinity, sexuality, and the labels society tries to push on us. And unlike most coming-of-age stories, we get to see how it all plays out with a grown-up Chiron. This film will stick with you for years, whether you're a teenager or an adult.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret premieres in theatres on April 28! See it at Regal.