The coming-of-age movie is a classic genre in the film world, except for one glaring problem: the male gaze. In 2021, out of the top-grossing 51 films released that year, only seven of the movies were directed by womenand out of that group, only three of the women were of color (Chloe Zhao, Liesl Tommy, and Nia DaCosta). Due to the lack of women involved in the artistic and technical processes of creating a movie, the script and storyline are filtered through the lens through which men see girlhood. This has led to unrealistic depictions of what it means to grow up as a young woman and a disassociation with how girls see themselves when compared to the characters on the screen.
Coming-of-age movies relied on sexist depictions of girls, but a new wave of filmmaking – often led by directors, producers, and writers that are women – has fought against the notions created by their predecessors. This is, however, with criticism. Directors, like Sofia Coppola, known to work with very feminine styles have been criticized for supposedly being superficial. This criticism in itself may be rooted in sexism. Regardless, there has been progress in accurately depicting women coming-of-age stories. These are the best women coming-of-age movies ranked.
Future Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke came out with her directorial debut Thirteen in 2003, starring Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, and Nikki Reed. Thirteen-year-old Tacy (Wood) is the daughter of a divorced alcoholic (Hunter), and juggles her perfect image with the life that she lives at home. She befriends Evie (Reed), a popular girl at her school who encourages Tracy to pick up new dangerous and reckless habits. As their escapades escalate and reach a new level, it leads to some devastating decisions.
Premature is a hidden gem, a movie that was buried underneath 2020 blockbusters and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ayanna (Zora Howard) is a 17-year-old girl from Harlem. During summer vacation, she meets an older man named Isaiah (Joshua Boone), a record producer, and there is instant chemistry between the two of them. Ayanna dreams of becoming a writer and going off to college, but as she begins a romance with Isaiah, these hopes and relationships begin fluctuating. In between the cusp of adulthood and being a child, Ayanna’s struggle is a common one, especially as a young Black woman.
6 The Virgin Suicides
Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut was in 1999 with The Virgin Suicides, an adaptation from the literary novel of the same name. Its focus is on the Lisbon sisters, five young women who live in the suburbs of Detroit with religious, strict parents that forbid them from living lives like their classmates. Neighborhood boys romanticize and sexualize the girls, creating fantasies with their mysterious, off-limit appeal, but at the same time, these sisters only want to be like the other girls. While the cast has many stars, it establishes the working relationship between Coppola and actor Kristen Dunst.
French movie Girlhood was directed and written by Céline Sciamma, who would later go on to direct the film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This film stars actor Karidja Touré as Marieme, a 16-year-old African-French teenager living in the outskirts of Paris. Her neighborhood is a poor one and her mother works long hours, leaving Marieme to struggle in her school and home lives. This leads her to befriend a group of girls that encourages her to steal, fight, and live a life filled with drugs, dancing, and alcohol. Girlhood is a story of a young woman reclaiming a future she never knew she had, even if it means turning her back on what she already knows.
4 The Edge of Seventeen
Before taking on the role of Kate Bishop in Hawkeyeone of Hailee Steinfeld’s best roles was in The Edge of Seventeen. She portrays Nadine, a 17-year-old that feels estranged from her family, especially her brother, after the sudden death of her father. After discovering her best friend in bed with her brother, Nadine begins to spiral and lead on a classmate (Hayden Szeto) who has a desperate crush on her. A dramatic comedy, The Edge of Seventeen offers a heartfelt, relatable take on growing up and overcoming loss.
3 House of Hummingbird
Kim Bora’s House of Hummingbird might have a very Korean context, but its overarching themes touch upon a global understanding of coming-of-age. The year is 1994 and the main character, Eun-hee, lives in Seoul with her family. She has a secret boyfriend, likes to hang out with her best friend, and has after-school tutoring sessions in Mandarin Chinese. But at the same time, she faces the hardship of what it means to grow up: tragedy strikes, her health takes a turn for the worse, friend and romantic breakups loom on the horizon.
2 The Diary of a Teenage Girl
2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl was based on a graphic novel, which, in turn, was based on the author’s own life. And perhaps that is where the charm of this movie lies: it refuses to place judgment on the main character, 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley). Minnie has decided she wants to discover her sexuality before it is too late, and so she becomes sexually active. She sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend, which leads down a rabbit hole that forces Minnie to grow up and contemplate what truly will make her happy.
1 Lady Bird
Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, has become an icon of the woman coming-of-age story in cinema. Christine or Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) wants to escape the boring town of Sacramento for the East Coast, where she thinks culture will be. She rebels against her mother (Laurie Metcalf) and the rules set against her by the Catholic school she attends, and, at the same time, delves into two romances with a theater geek (Lucas Hedges) and a bad boy who pretends to read philosophy (Timothée Chalamet). Lady Bird is a tender story that offers so much love and devotion to its female characters.
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