Twelve years in the making, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood finally arrives in UK cinemas today. An unprecedented American epic of the journey from childhood into adulthood, Linklater cast Ellar Coltrane as the film’s lead character, Mason when he was just seven-years-old, and shot the movie in small, three/four day shoots once a year on a shoestring budget.
Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette star as Mason’s estranged parents – Hawke a semi-absent father cruising in and out of town in his 1968 GTO while Arquette juggles work with being a single mother. Over the course of the movie we see Mason's curiosity shift from raccoons, to video games, to girls and partying, and revisit the highs and lows of adolescence – coming home drunk for the first time, dealing with unpleasant step-parents – as we watch his story gently unfold.
"From the groundbreaking emergence of the French New Wave to the cautionary drug tales of the American 90s, the coming of age genre has fascinated filmmakers for decades"
From the groundbreaking emergence of the French New Wave to the harsh, cautionary drug tales of the American 90s, the coming of age genre has fascinated filmmakers for decades. Spanning uncompromising realism in 1960s Yorkshire to inventive eccentricity in the last days of East Berlin, here we present some of our favourite cinematic takes on the ordeal of growing up.
1. The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Sofia Coppola's haunting interpretation of Jeffrey Eugenides' acclaimed debut novel The Virgin Suicides tells the tale of the five Lisbon sisters: blonde, beautiful and heavily oppressed by their overbearing, orthodox parents. A story of teenage obsession as well as repression, we watch the drama unfold through the eyes of a group of teenage boys who become increasingly infatuated with the young sirens and determined to help them in their bid for freedom. Throw a spine-tingling soundtrack by Air and stunning, washed-out cinematography into the mix and the result is entirely mesmerising.
2. The Graduate (1967)
Despite being quintessentially 1960s in look, sound and style, The Graduate is one of the most timeless and iconic coming of age films in cinematic history. Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is suffering from post-college malaise, drifting around aimlessly in his parents' pool and ignoring the advice of his parents and family friends. Except for Mrs Robinson, that is, whose suggestion of an illicit affair proves too tempting to resist, until he meets her stunning daughter and then... well, you get the picture. From the flawless performances to the Simon and Garfunkle soundtrack and the brilliant one-liners – "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me" – portraits of the trials and tribulations of youth don't get much better than this.
3. Kes (1969)
It is impossible to forget the bleak ending of this British classic, but Kes also shows how something small can bring hope to a hopeless situation. Fifteen-year-old Billy has no prospects except the coal-mining pit, until finding and training a kestrel gives him a new outlook as well as a new friend. The harsh emotional tone of Ken Loach’s film set in a Yorkshire mining community has lost none of its power over the years to show how tough it can be to be a kid.
4. Kids (1995)
The film that started the careers of Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, Kids feels like a documentary at times in the cinematography and slow, meandering story. Perhaps less of a coming of age story than a story where coming of age fails to happen, Telly, Casper, Ruby and Jennie spend a hot summer’s day in New York making bad decisions. Packed into these twenty-four hours is a shopping list made out of a parent’s worst nightmares, including alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, HIV and crime. Controversial and uncompromising, Larry Clark's depiction of inner city youth in the 90s is still captivating.
5. Goodbye, Lenin! (2003)
Poor Alex, growing up in East Berlin can’t have been much fun, and just as the wall comes down he needs to convince his mother that East Berlin is still going strong or the shock will kill her now she’s just woken up from a coma. Hilariously eccentric and witty, this East meets West comedy includes gigantic Coca-Cola banners, the eponymous Lenin statue flying away through the streets and a few cinematic nods to Stanley Kubrick thrown in for good measure. But it’s the transition from cared-for-by to carer of our parents that marks so many people’s growth to adulthood and makes Goodbye, Lenin! so touching as well as funny.
6. The 400 Blows (1959)
If there’s something we hope for from coming of age films, it’s probably some kind of resolution to the characters’ struggles, and it is this that the haunting final shot of François Truffaut's French New Wave classic absolutely refuses to give us. The title may be taken from a French idiom meaning ‘to raise hell’, but The 400 Blows will seem tame next to the drug taking and debauchery of more modern films. Nevertheless, Antoine’s quiet unhappiness in Paris during the 1950s, misunderstood by all around him as a troublemaker until this lands him in juvenile detention, is riveting in how unanswerable it is. The concluding freeze-frame of Antoine staring directly into the camera asks us a question neither we, nor the film, can answer.
7. Cry-Baby (1990)
John Waters puts a brilliantly renegade spin on the high school musical in the Johnny Depp-starring Cry-Baby. Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker is a leather-clad, chain smoking, motorbike riding bad boy, who goes around wreaking havoc with his gang of cronies, The Drapes. He has also fallen hard for Alison, a pretty "square" with a wild side. But there are obstacles in his way – namely slime ball, goody two-shoes Baldwin. But not even arson attacks and prison sentences can stop the determined young stud from getting what he wants. Highlights include Iggy Pop in a cameo role as Cry-Baby's grandpa, a particularly raunchy jail break and some sing-along songs to rival Grease.
8. The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Before he was raising hell in The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio was roaming the streets of New York hustling, stealing, and pimping himself out for another fix in this adaption of Jim Carroll’s memoir. Jim’s rapid descent into an out of control heroin addiction is transferred from the 60s to the 90s for the film, with a strong (unsurprisingly) anti-drug message attached, and shows that sometimes coming of age can mean just trying to survive your adolescence.
9. The Last Picture Show (1971)
Shot in black and white, unusual for its time in 1971, this story of small town American teenagers looks iconic even as it shows this aspect of American culture dying. Sonny and Duane are high school seniors eager to start experiencing life, but the real star here is Cybill Shepherd as Jacy in her film debut. The claustrophobia of growing up in a tiny, stagnating community is universal, played out here in this uniquely American setting.
10. Dazed and Confused (1993)
Long before Boyhood, Richard Linklater tackled the coming of age genre with this ensemble film that featured future stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich. It’s the last day of high school in 1976 and everyone is more interested in hazing the new freshmen (or escaping being hazed) than growing to maturity. A welcome respite from the heavier subject matter tackled by some of the other films on this list, there’s still drama amongst the beer, pot and partying as the seniors kick off the summer. A cult classic of dragging your feet into adulthood.
Boyhood is in cinemas nationwide from today. Click here to watch the trailer.
Text by Thomas Rooney and Daisy Woodward