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Coming-Of-Age Films That We All Remember

July 8th, 2009 1:00pm EDT
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SuperBadMaking the transition from adolescence into adulthood is a critical phase in an individual's life. This coming-of-age period, which has been coined "emerging adulthood" by Clark University research professor, Dr. Jeffrey Arnett, is characterized by identity exploration, self-focus, instability, a belief in boundless possibilities, and feeling in-between. According to Arnett's theory, in industrialized societies the types of experiences that people have who are in their late teens to mid-20's have changed dramatically over the past 50 years. Instead of being quick to make that walk down the aisle or to get a visit from the stork, most young adults today are spending more quality time Magellaning around their own psyches as they audition various possibilities in love, labor, and location. All of these voyages of self-discovery are by definition eye-opening and edifying, but they also tend to be laden with conflict making them ripe for the picking for movie plots.

The coming-of-age movie genre isn't restricted to featuring characters who fall just within the late teens to mid-20's age bracket, however. Coming-of-age movies frequently involve tween protagonists, as is the case with Director Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me" (1986), as well as slightly older characters like in 2007's "Knocked Up" starring Seth Rogen, the reigning Man-boy champion. Still, all coming-of-age films concern similar thematic content to the characteristics that Dr. Arnett described in his theory of emerging adulthood - themes that concern events like falling in love for the first time, leaving home, and losing one's childhood innocence. Coming-of-age themes are rarely all that innovative, but they tend to hold mass appeal because their banality can usually be overpowered by the sentimental experience of youthful nostalgia. The following list of films represents a compilation of some of the better coming-of-age films to grace the silver screen…

American Graffiti (1973)
Directed by George Lucas. Starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Cindy Williams, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, and Harrison Ford.

Set in 1962, "American Graffiti" is a bittersweet coming-of-age film for baby boomers that follows one decisive night in the lives of several recently graduated high school students from Modesto, California. The film's main focus is on the characters Steve (Ron Howard) and Curt (Richard Dreyfuss) who are each faced with the struggle of being caught somewhere in the middle of savoring and outgrowing their small hometown. Taking place just prior to the Vietnam War and the turmoil of the late 1960's, "American Graffiti" evokes a wistful yearning for the simpler, more innocent times of milkshakes, diners, and drive in movies.


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