It’s been a while since the buzz surrounding Lady Bird and how Greta Gerwig set a great example on depicting teenage stories. Since then, A24 and YA novel fans, amongst others, have all been on the lookout for the next story that makes us feel both nostalgia and comfort because of how reminiscent they feel of our own experiences.
2018 graced us with a number of teen films following Lady Bird, bringing to the spotlight a growing inclusivity of female directors, gay characters, and more visible ethnicities on screen. These films had us crying and laughing at the same time because of their awkward mistakes and the lessons they shared.
Love, Simon is a blockbuster LGBTQ film, being the first major Hollywood production focusing on a gay teenager. It feels inspired but not derivative of a John Hughes film thanks to its soundtrack, permissibly cheesy scenes, and American high school visuals. While it does not represent all teenagers as it is set in a more upscale suburb, the film provides mainstream audiences with a heartwarming story about acceptance. Some viewers online shared how the film was able to show their parents a different perspective on homosexuality, especially since Simon doesn’t fit into the usual campy stereotype.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
From the get-go, we meet a rather self-assured Cameron, who is put into a conversion camp for what the counselors constantly refer to as “same sex attraction.” Of course, Cameron does get conflicted along the way, as part of any journey of growth — what’s different however is how strong the character is from the beginning, which isn’t the usual trope in other teen films. Thanks to director Desiree Akhavan, a bisexual woman who has been longing for proper queer representation in film, we are finally able to see lesbians who aren’t fetishized for the male gaze. It also takes on each theme with delicate empathy, propagating that even when you do come of age as an adult, you will never stop having to figure things out.
We follow 13-year-old Stevie as he confronts his own tension between innocence and masculinity. While at first you might feel off at how the characters cope with their insecurities through violence and vices, their slips of innocence pull you back in to remember that they’re all confused, and that we too may have fallen into peer pressure at that age. The film rides on the nostalgia wave, having been filmed in 4:3 and set with ‘90s aesthetics, but never fully relies on this to make an impact. The ‘90s setting frames the story to further push its notions on the consequences of peer pressure and toxic masculinity. Complete with a repressed character played by Lucas Hedges, you can immediately tell this is an A24 film.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Set apart from the rest, this animated superhero film is a refreshing take on both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the coming-of-age genre. You can feel the passion and heart that the crew put into the film as the animation, soundtrack, story, and character of teen hero Miles Morales are all weaved together so smoothly. Amidst all the action, glamour, and comedy, the core of the film revolves around Miles struggling with his identity and dreams because of expectations from others. Thanks to Spider-Man, we see him grow into realizing his strengths. Don’t forget to watch the post-credits scene for a clever gag.
Protagonist Kayla Day definitely wins as 2018’s young heroine of the year (along with Elsie Fisher, the actress who plays her, being a breakout star to watch out for). Her journey through eighth grade will have you cringing — her experiences may remind you of your own, and these drive you to root for her as she overcomes her anxieties. Despite being a comedy, as expected from director Bo Burnham, he is able balance the laughs with drama, even tackling Gen Z issues like sexual coercion (which needs to be discussed more in teen films). Being a personal piece, Eighth Grade has to be the most iconic coming-of-age film of the year, worthy of the same kind of praise Lady Bird got.