Top 10 Counterculture Coming-of-Age Movies
We all remember the classic films of our formidable years, and have our favorite top 10 movies. The movies that taught us how to laugh. The movies that taught us how to love. And the movies that taught us how to grow up. These classic coming-of-age stories like American Pie, Superbad, and Mean Girls allowed us to empathize and identify with each other, and the world, because they were experiences we shared.
But what about stories for the outsiders? The misfits? The rebels? The troublemakers? The round pegs in the square holes? The ones who see things differently?
Well there’s a special set of movies out there for us, the counterculture coming-of-age stories; subcultures whose values and norms of behavior differ greatly from those of mainstream society, expressing the ethos and aspirations of a people in a specific time, and a specific place.
Here, we’ve collected our top 10 choices for the best counterculture coming-of-age stories in world cinema, and while this is a subjective list, we encourage you to check out these movies and expand your cinematic vocabulary.
Kicking off the list, we have the 1998 post-modern story of Stevo and the Salt Lake City punk music movement rebelling against the Mormon majority. The film is delivered with a high-octane rebellious energy by director, James Merendino, and inspired a kickstarter funded sequel. Technically the film takes place in 1985, but you can’t tell from the direction. The film could take place anytime in recent memory, but it is about us, and about our time, as many young people (punk or not) continue a vociferous rebellion against the oppressive baby-boomer generation. With comedic stars Matthew Lillard (Bloodsucking Bastards) and Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), this movie delivers a fast, funny, and engaging story.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
This 2012 film is a beautifully painted adaptation of the angst that can engulf us in our teenage years. Set in the small group of a High School Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast, the story balances issues of love, sexuality, and abuse, all while maintaining a great sense of wit, and unexpected twists. Based on the novel of the same name, the author directed the piece himself, revealing both a beautiful talent for displaying the interpersonal connections we share, and a practical sense of hope & adventure. The movie features a (now) all star cast, including Logan Lerman (Fury), Emma Watson (the Harry Potter franchise), and Ezra Miller (The Stanford Prison Experiment and is the DC Cinematic Universe’s Flash). The film was nominated for many accolades, and won the year’s independent spirit award. When interviewed, Chbosky said, “The truth is, I wrote the book for very personal reasons, and I’ve been very happy to see how many people have been able to relate to it.”
This Sundance winner was acquired by Focus Features, and won numerous awards. The film tells the story of Alike (played by Adepero Oduye from 12 Years A Slave) a teenage girl who struggles with her sexuality and attempts to hide it from others, due to immense peer pressure around her, from both family and friends. Delving into a world that many of us have not explored, it allows us to walk a mile in Alike’s shoes. Her story reminds us of what it is like to try to fit in to a world that we might not be completely at ease in. Writer/director, Dee Rees also won the John Cassavetes award, and went on to direct the hit show, Empire.
While unlikely to be the first film to come to mind when evaluating coming-of-age stories, this 2009 movie tells a story of boys-grown-tall, still striving to become men. Luke Wilson (Old School) stars as Jack, a mild-mannered Texan who is recruited by his juvenile internet partners, played by Giovanni Ribisi (Avatar, Saving Private Ryan) and Gabriel Macht (Suits); James Caan (The Godfather) also delivers a great performance. They are seduced by the allure of hot women and internet startup cash, and descend into a world of sex, drugs, and murder. In one poignant moment, Jack thinks to himself, “She was right, I wasn’t there anymore. I’d become addicted to a lifestyle of money, sex, and power that was lightyears away from family… or anything I’d ever experienced. You see the biggest problem with my addiction, was that like all addictions, it sneaks up on you slowly; you give into it incrementally… in an almost imperceptible way. The other thing about it was that it wasn’t the kind of addiction that you would wake up with a hangover. It wasn’t the kind of thing that would rob you of your wealth. It didn’t rob you of your health. The more I indulged, the richer it would make me. I’ve got to tell you, that’s impossible to give up.”
This little-known independent film gem is the directorial debut of Australian visionary director, Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby). Set in the hyper-stylized world of Ballroom dancing, we follow the story of a classic outsider, who seeks to fight against the oppressive rules of formal Australian dance. Adorned with all the glitz and glamour of a Baz Luhrmann film, this story forecasts all the motifs that would come to encapsulate Luhrmann’s style. I also recommend the soundtrack, because what would a Baz Luhrmann film be without an impressive soundtrack.
How To Train Your Dragon
Stories of outsiders are often tales that can captivate our imagination, as in the story of an unlikely Viking by the name of Hiccup. Excellently voiced by Jay Baruchel (Million Dollar Baby, This is The End), our unlikely hero is a scrawny young man who has been drafted into the dragon killing competition by his father, Gerard Butler (300, Olympus Has Fallen). However, Hiccup is secretly protecting a dragon, and learning how to fly him. While mocked by the other young vikings and villagers, this story of a beloved outsider teaches an important lesson about how being yourself can lead to success and recognition.
If you liked SLC Punk!, you’ll love its fraternal twin from across the pond. This little known British comedy is a hilarious tale of a clique of Millenials as they embark on a drug-fueled night out on the town. The irreverent and self-referential humor is a great nod to Monty Python, but in a hyper-stylized way that hits just the right tone for the MTV generation. Starring Lorraine Pilkington and John Simm (Life On Mars), the film was released by Miramax at the height of its heyday. The film covers all the problems of a pre-quarter-life crisis adult, including friendship, love, shitty jobs, and Star Wars, and the memorable last line of the film leaves you laughing as the credits roll.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by indie-darling, Wes Anderson (known for Moonrise Kingdom, Royal Tennenbaums, and Rushmore), he tells his most ambitious story, set against a storybook version of Europe. The audience is invited to follow the story of a young Arab bellhop at one of the most prestigious hotels in Europe, under the tutelage of Monsieur Gustave. The bellhop, Zero Moustafa, is skillfully played by both Tony Revolori (Dope), and Academy Award Winner, F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus, Finding Forrester). It is with delight that we delve into this world, while exploring the pains of a young man, orphaned, and taken up by a surrogate father who teaches him the finer points of what it means to grow from lobby boy, to manhood.
The second Luhrmann installment on the list, this 2001 musical came to identify a generation through its romantic post-modern musical score and Academy Award winning design. Starring Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, the Star Wars Franchise) and Nicole Kidman (The Others, Eyes Wide Shut), the movie tells the story of a bohemian writer who falls in love with a Courtesan. Unfortunately, the courtesan is promised to a wealthy Duke, but as we’ve learned from any Hollywood romance, true love cannot be stopped. What most people don’t realize about the film is how much it was influenced by classic art and cinema: the story receives much inspiration from La Boheme and Cabaret; and the musical numbers were modeled after classic Hollywood hits like Singin’ In The Rain. The film was ranked #25 in AFI’s 100 musicals of all time.
Harold & Maude
This 1971 classic stars Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby) and Bud Cort (Dogma). The titular star, Harold, is obsessed with death, and lives a lonely existence, punctuated by attending funerals and faking suicide attempts. His life is turned upside down when he meets Maude, a septuagenarian with a passion for art, life, and motorcycles. This film classic is a terrific uplifting experience, and a reminder to always live life to its fullest. Plus, it has a great soundtrack by Cat Stevens.
That concludes our evaluation. Didn’t agree with us? Have your own contributions? List your favorites in the comments section.