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Ask the Editors: Favorite coming-of-age movies

With the start of the fall semester, it can feel like we’re entering the next chapter of our own coming-of-age film, with new characters, settings and conflicts. Three Daily Lobo editors have picked some of their favorite coming-of-age movies for your enjoyment and to maybe help you find your way through your own coming-of-age journey.

Spenser’s Pick: “Drop Dead Gorgeous” dir. Michael Patrick Jann

Pageant queens, tap routines and more fake Minnesota accents than you can shake a ‘dern’ stick at — Michael Patrick Jann’s 1999 cult hit “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is a riotous pseudo-mockumentary following a sweet teen beauty queen in pursuit of a pageant crown rigged against her. Starring Kirsten Dunst, Kirstie Alley, Allison Janney and Denise Richards, and featuring Brittany Murphy and a young Amy Adams in her film debut, the movie actively avoids many hallmarks of the coming-of-age genre through its pitch-black comedy.

This is not a movie focused on young love or personal acceptance, but rather a loss of naiveté concerning human life and the senseless acts of violence occurring right on the surface of our world. Tragedies in this movie are a dime a dozen, but they’re meaningless — the world just doesn’t care beyond the next scene when a beauty queen is blown to smithereens or a young man is shot between the eyes after scorning Richards. Horrible things happen, and it’s Dunst’s character who has to believe in some broader purpose in order to grow up.

This isn’t to dissect the frog, though — what’s best about this movie is its razor-sharp humor. Though extremely dated at times, the movie is a cult classic for a reason, not just for Denise Richards performing a tone-deaf impression of Franki Valli to a paper mache Jesus Christ on a cross. Like any movie featuring the late Brittany Murphy, “Drop Dead Gorgeous” is camp and imminently quotable. Awful pacing aside, this is the perfect movie to put on while you kick back with friends.

Zara’s Pick: “Welcome to the Dollhouse” dir. Todd Solondz

Cruel and heartfelt, unflinching and empathetic, Todd Solondz’s 1995 film “Welcome to the Dollhouse” is certain to make you laugh and immediately feel terrible for laughing. The film follows a twelve-year-old Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) as she navigates the harrowing world of middle school and attempts to come to terms with all of the new feelings and relationship dynamics that come with adolescence — sometimes blissful, sometimes tragic.

This film’s progression is objectively grim, as Dawn is the subject of bullying by peers, neglect by her parents and constant foibles in her pursuit of the ever-alluring high schooler Steve. However, there is a beautiful honesty that comes with Dawn facing increasingly awkward and terrifying events. As she’s slowly stripped of the guards humans often pad themselves with, she is left only with her innermost core of being. While her story ends on a minor key, there is a certain soothing quality to realizing that I was not alone in feeling like middle school was the end of the world.

The film is chock-full of Solondz’ signature grim humor, which I think he executes fairly tastefully in this film. Dawn feels entirely real even when placed in totally unreal situations: the perfect embodiment of the isolation of entering a new period of your life with nobody to guide you. The truth is that change can be ultimately painful, but even in the bleakest of situations, small moments of comfort may light your way.

John’s Pick: “Days of Heaven” dir. Terrence Malik

At first glance, Terrence Malik’s sumptuous 1978 film about life in the Midwest just before the Great Depression might not seem like a coming-of-age film. However, this film astutely exhibits the potential subtlety of the coming-of-age film and is one of the finest examples of subversion within the genre.

Our three main characters — Bill (Richard Gere), Abby (Brooke Adams) and “The Farmer” (Sam Shepard) — all appear to be in their very early twenties, but are already faced with heavy, conceptually adult issues. Bill struggles to find work, The Farmer has come down with a serious illness and Abby just wants to settle down (an unfortunately weak character arc). We see them having to mature, or come of age if you will, through poetic vignettes of American life.

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But it’s through Linda, Bill’s younger sister and our narrator (brought to life by a brilliant Linda Manz,) that we find the essence of this coming-of-age tale. Through Linda, we see that our characters are given almost no time to be young. They find brief respite once harvesting season is over on The Farmer’s farm, but they are largely stuck — and history, as well as the film’s ending, tells us that things will not improve for these characters. They never grow and move beyond their immaturities like other films in the genre, but will stay stuck in a cycle of negation and tragedy.

The coming-of-age genre is broad, as are the experiences of growing up in different American eras and climates. No matter your experience, whether bitter and bleak, or exaggerated and meaningless, there’s a movie to reflect your perspective and help you find solace in the shared pain of getting older.

Spenser Willden is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @spenserwillden

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle

John Scott is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @JScott050901


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