The 1980s were the glorious heyday of “coming-of-age” flicks – The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Dirty Dancing, Sixteen Candles – about teenagers and pivotal moments in their lives, and perhaps a loss of childhood innocence.
Coming of age is generally considered to be “the age or occasion when one formally becomes an adult”, and the academics tell us “personal growth is the most important characteristic in this genre. It relies on emotional responses and dialogue rather than action.” (They sure know how to suck the fun right out, and should watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off immediately.)
But Melissa Linares from Florida International University says coming of age stories are so compelling because they are relatable to everyone, “whether they feel that they’ve already gone through that process of self-discovery or whether they are right in the middle of it. Whether it is film, literature, or music, coming of age stories attract us all.”
There’s no denying the nostalgia of the era of John Hughes movies (referenced in modern coming-of-age Netflix flick To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before), but the theme continues unabated.
Here are some of our Plum Picks, focusing specifically on young women and their rites of passage.
Georgia Flood plays Amanda, an Upper East Side socialite, who is in the throes of a fairytale wedding. In this particular storybook, however, there is the groom-to-be who is caught in a rather compromising position mere hours before the nuptials. Amanda’s response is to flee to a nearby Renaissance Faire where she finds herself stranded with no phone and no way home. It turns out to be the perfect time to re-evaluate her life choices, and if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … the Faire, that is.
Inspired by the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, The Bold Type uses a popular sub-plot: the group of friends. Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee), and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) work at a women’s magazine in New York City (of course) where they also explore their sexualities, identities, love, and fashion. For a forerunner of this format, go back to Sex and The City, also on Showmax. It’s a classic.
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)
The teenage witch from the Archie comics comes of age when Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka, who played Sally Draper in Mad Men) turns 16 and must make the tough choice between her dual nature as a half-witch, half-mortal – all while fighting the evil forces that threaten her, her family and the daylight world inhabited by humans.
Euphoria perfectly (and shockingly) encapsulates the coming-of-age genre. The HBO drama series – which comes with the good news it has been renewed for a second season – is (loosely) about a group of high school students and their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love and trauma. It’s way more complex than that, though. Through technical brilliance and evocative performances, it’s one of the standout shows of 2019.
This spinoff of The Fosters sees sisters Callie Adams Foster (Maia Mitchell) and Mariana Adams Foster (Cierra Ramirez) heading to Los Angeles to pursue careers and new young adult lives, as a judicial clerk and a software engineer respectively. The setting is a few years after the parent series. Naturally, things do not go smoothly, but somehow they will muddle through it. Good Trouble’s second season premiered globally in June 2019.
Gilmore Girls (Netflix)
Go back to the classics with witty “thirty-something” mother Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham, Bad Santa) and her intellectual teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale). It ran for seven seasons and was cited in TV (The Book) and Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest television shows of all time. Its themes are family and connection, says creator Amy Sherman-Palladino: “I always felt like the underlying thing about Gilmore was that, if you happened to be born into a family that doesn’t really understand you, go out and make your own.”
Running from 2012 till 2017, this HBO comedy drama (before the word dramedy was invented) was created by and starred Lena Dunham. It follows the lives of four young women living in New York City (Sex and The City for a new, younger generation, perhaps). The show’s premise and major aspects of the main character, Hannah – like being cut off financially from her parents, becoming a writer, and making unfortunate decisions – were drawn from Dunham’s own life. Girls received considerable critical acclaim and several accolades, including the 2013 Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.
Based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante and the first of four novels in the Neapolitan Novels series to be adapted for television, this Italian subtitled eight-episode series explores the complexity of female friendship. Elderly author Elena Greco (Margherita Mazzucco) learns the most important friend she ever had, Lila Cerullo (Gaia Girace), has disappeared without a trace. She, Elena, reflects on their childhood friendship which began in 1950s Naples, in a sweeping story covering 60 years of their lives.
Another novel-to-small-screen adaptation, this one takes us back to NYC again for the story of Tess (Ella Purnell). A small fish in a big pond, she somehow, miraculous, magically, gets a job at one of the top restaurants in the city despite having zero experience and knowing less than Jon Snow. She is quickly thrust into a world of drugs, drinking, love, lust, dive bars and fine wine and dining – and apparently, like New York, never sleeps again.