There are two rather distinctive types of movies that will deal with being under eighteen years of age. The first type of movie should be readily familiar to anyone that watches movies. They are movies aimed an audience of children or what can be more loosely referred to as a ‘children’s movie.’ Occasionally though, a few really great movies will slip through that actually deal with the theme of ‘childhood’ or actually ‘growing up.’ These movies take these themes warts and all. They allow that like childhood itself, it is not all happiness and roses. Sometimes, it is not even something that can be viewed by the entire family. Here are a few of my personal favorite movies that are movies about childhood but not necessarily for children.
Where The Wild Things Are… (2009) ; When the adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved book came to the big screen – it was the realization for me of a childhood dream. I had waited literally decades to see this film. I was not personally disappointed in any way by Spike Jonze’s masterful portrayal. When it came out, however, I did wonder why the soccer moms carting their children to see the movie had not actually taken the time to read and comprehend the less than two hundred word book that it was based on. The child does not have a good home life. He throws a temper tantrum. He gets sent to his room and retreats to a world where things are under his control. However, he is still a child throwing a temper tantrum. It is a violent world no matter whether or not it is inhabited by monsters or by other kids. That was the point of the book. That was the point of the movie. What the parents were saying when they said that they were not sure if they wanted their kids to see it was that they were not sure that their parenting would hold up against images shown in a movie. It is the same argument used against letting children read the works of atheists or watch Harry Potter. It is much better when you have a child right there to discuss any negative points when they are there to listen to you than to have them see something out in the world and keep it to themselves. Where The Wild Things Are… does that particular high wire act beautifully.
Stand By Me (1986): Life does not always make a lot of sense. Sometimes there are things that just happen. Sometimes there are things that has to happen. Sometimes the best friends in life you make when you are twelve are the ones that drift apart from you in the end. Sometimes an intense emotional experience that is co-experienced is what makes that happen. The four boys in Stand By Me demonstrated those points perfectly. Being a 12 year old boy is no picnic. I can attest to that. Being a twelve year old girl is probably no picnic either. They should probably make a movie about that too and probably have. Four boys searching for a body to poke and growing up along the way may not be the best of all worlds to plant a coming of age story but it certainly feels like a true one. Each of the boys will experience the seeds of what will give them trouble in manhood. They laugh. They cry. In the end, they slap each other on the ass after the game and don’t talk about it again. Its about the search and not about the find. They tell of one’s death at the end. That doesn’t make a lot of sense either. The boy was played by someone that died to early. In a way, that did. This really not only launched the young men who were in it but also the career in earnest of Rob Reiner as a film maker. Highly recommended.
Bridge to Terabithia (1985, 2007) : I will start off by saying that I have nothing against the 2007 version per se. It was wonderfully done and had beautiful visuals. Both movies captured the mood of Katherine Paterson’s novel. That being said, go back and watch the 1985 made for TV movie if you have not already. There is no happy scene where the imagination takes over at the end. There is no ‘Jerry Springer Final Thought’ bow. You have to deal with the great unfortunate circumstance of the plot the way that it was intended. You have to wake up and see the reality for what it is in the 1985 version. You have to see the hopelessness. You have to see the loss and you have to consider it and grow from it. The 2007 edition adds some wonderful humor and awe inspiring production values. It does not add more to the tale than its 1985 counterpart. Sometimes (unfortunately) a large part of growing up is realizing the sad truth that not everyone is going to make it.
Angus (1995) : Angus deals with common plot points of many teen movies in a very uncommon (read here real) way. Angus tells the story of an overweight kid named Angus with a dorky little friend as well as that universal crush on the beautiful cheerleader. There is also the jerk jock character (played wonderfully by James Van Der Beek) and a well told relationship with Angus’ grandfather. Angus then goes on to broach some unfamiliar territory for a teen movie. First of all, Angus beats up the jock…regularly… through the course of the movie. It is the finer point of dancing that gets him down. Second, Angus is sold out by his best friend during the course of the movie and has to learn to forgive. Angus has to deal with the passing of his grandfather. As a note, Angus putting down the king in the chess game with the old man signifying that his grandfather was not going to make the game is touching regardless of who you are. Angus cannot win with physical might. There might not actually be a universe in which Angus can win what he wants in the situations he is put in. With subtleness, the movie raises the question not only if he should but if he would even want too.
The Breakfast Club (1985) : One of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes ever was called Four Characters in Search of An Exit. The clown, ballerina, hobo, and soldier all turned out to be dolls waiting to be collected and played with by children. There is a scene in which the Soldier screams out a question that is essential to adolescence and pertinent to the John Hughes classic “Who are we?” One of the things about growing up (especially if you are trying to now do it in the Facebook age) is that everyone around you seems to have it so together. In short, you feel like you are the only one with problems and the whole world is against you. There is that essential feeling of alienation that seems to be a component of adolescences. You think “Hey, this jock that is beating the crap out of me really has his life together…” Or “That girl is so beautiful. If only I looked like that, I would have no worries.” The thing about The Breakfast Club in which four kids are thrown together in detention and practically forced to speak together is that they get to learn and take us through the learning process that problems are universal. You learn about the pressures that the jock or the beauty queen or the bad boy go through. There is a certain romanticism that is lost in finding out how their lives really are. You learn where some one who has it ‘together’ might be jealous of the ones that they are physically tormenting. Everyone understands the favorable figures growing up. Very few movies or things in life will make you understand the unfavorable ones.
Growing up does not always make a lot of sense. It does not make a lot of sense when you are in your thirties and have your own kids. These movies will not help you make sense of it either. What they will do is show you that there are other people that cannot begin to make sense of it either and believe me…one day that will help.