Anton Yelchin stars as Charlie Bartlett, an affluent teenager who seeks to appease the students at his new high school by becoming an underground psychiatrist and a drug dealer. Charlie’s rebellious and charming spirit infects the students leading to hormone fuelled outrage and school protests. Inevitably, Bartlett’s control unravels simultaneously with Principal Nathan Gardner (Robert Downey Jr), the two opposing figures join forces to balance the nature of the school and the relationship they each have with Susan Gardner (Kat Dennings).
Dope was one of the first films I saw myself represented in. It showcases the intersectionality of being a black nerd and how difficult it can be to navigate both cultures, let alone balance them. Malcom (Shameik Moore) wants to get into Harvard. He has a perfect SAT score and an entrepreneurial spirit that inadvertently lands him in the centre of Inglewood’s drug culture. With a lot of help from his friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) Malcom manages to escape the dangerous cycle that he hoped he’d never be in. Oh, and they have a hiphop/rock fusion band called ‘Awreeoh’.
If you enjoyed watching Charlie Bartlett, Beware the Gonzo should be next on your list. Both feature transgressive protagonists who want to transform their school’s structure whilst clashing with an orthodox opponent. Beware the Gonzo differs because it is a classic underdog story; a group of misfits releasing newspapers to reform society. This film humanises and empowers Evie Wallace (Zoe Kravitz), the school “slut” as well as touching on the casual racism Ming Na (Stefanie Hong) experiences. My favourite moment between Eddie “Gonzo” Gilman (Ezra Miller) and Evie is when Evie shares a personal story. Gonzo listens intently and shows how to be an ally. If you are looking for a film that’s funny, progressive and underappreciated, you can watch Beware the Gonzo on Tubi. (VPN may be required.)
Excision explores how morbid adolescence can be. AnnaLynn McCord of 90210 fame, sheds her Beverly Hills image to play Pauline. Like many coming of age film characters, Pauline wants to lose her virginity under her circumstances and against the wish of her domineering mother. The film explores her graphic psychosexual fantasies, each stranger than the other. Her mother, Phylis (Traci Lords) is completely disgusted by Pauline as she can’t understand her daughter’s gruesome motivations.
But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)
Coming of age is difficult enough, throw coming out in a conservative Christian state into the mix and you’ve landed yourself in a conversion camp. At least that’s where Megan (Natasha Lyonne) finds herself. The excellent screenplay by Brian Peterson unravels the pitfalls of repressed sexuality in an hilarious, charming yet attentive manner. The film is clearly not made for straight audiences; it wastes no time in pandering to us or trying to educate us, which I really appreciate. Although, I fear the screenplay’s nuances may have been overlooked by film critics who have this to say, “But I'm a Cheerleader is a smug little comedy that tries to mock other people's self-righteousness while ignoring its own.” Ouch. Audience reactions have been far more sympathetic, which highlights cinema’s need for diverse film critics who can help certain films reach its intended audience.
American Honey is one of my most re-watched films. Maybe it’s because it’s the only film I have downloaded on my phone or maybe I just appreciate its authenticity. It’s about a young woman called Star who begins selling magazines to wealthy white people in suburban mansions. American Honey’s portrayal is organic; the main actress, Sasha Lane, was discovered on a Miami beach and most of the cast is comprised of members of the public. Star has to navigate late adolescence with stoicism as she learns to deal with her boss’s (Riley Keough) combative and jealous nature. American Honey expresses why we should value freedom and the possessions we have, big or small.
Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, and it deserves more praise. Not only is the film inspiring, but it has also helped to cultivate the recent resurgence of roller derby and roller skating in general. Many skaters reference this film’s influence on their newfound hobby. It stars Elliot Page as Bliss, an alternative teenager who lives in Bodeen, Texas. Bliss works to individuate from her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), whose overbearing grip causes her to secretly partake in roller derby and dissolve her meek demeaner. As roller derby takes over Bliss’ life, her friendship with Pash (Alia Shawkat) dissolves, showing her selfish and immature nature. Whip It is the perfect coming of age film; it shows how individuality can decay our most valuable relationships if we go about it in a dishonest way. In the end, Bliss learns to value her loved ones, helping her live her life authentically.