Gen-z can’t get enough of coming-of-age films.

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Think Juno from director Jason Reitman or Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig; those movies have become cult classics for the younger generation.They have always held a special place in the independent  film landscape and in the hearts of teenagers. It seems that Gen-Z is determined to take advantage of social media to declare its love for the genre. 

A portrait of the genre 

 As far as indie coming-of-age films are concerned, some movie titles come directly into mind, Booksmart(2019) , Moonlight (2016) or Eighth Grade (2018) are critically acclaimed films that tackle those key moments in life which force you to grow up. But what exactly are coming-of-age  films  ?

Traditionally speaking, the term is used to refer to films that speak about young people. This genre is characterized by the themes explored; it is mostly about identity quests and finding oneself. Often a deep and intimate portrait of  a character whose life experiences echoes the universal human experience. As for the plot, it often begins with an unexpected event that forces the character to experiment and  make mistakes that eventually make them more mature. For example, in the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine from directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, it is young Olive’s participation in a beauty contest that will embark her whole family on an adventure from which she will grow, as will the rest of her family. 

Coming-of-age can be found in a variety of film genres, from horror to drama. It is not so much about the tone and setting of the film but about character development. However, over the last ten years or so, among the indie films of the genre, we observe a pattern concerning the stylistic  approach. A lot of movies have a poetic and minimalist approach  enhanced by a soundtrack reflecting its time.  Such as  Waves (2019) directed by Trey Edward Shults that features the work of singer Frank Ocean.

Picture obtained through @A24/ https://a24films.com/films/waves visited on the 04/06/2024

Films that speak the language of Gen-Z

What better way to understand the interests of Gen Z than to take a look at what’s being said on social media ? We constantly hear about  the damaging effects of social media on the younger generation. However, this simplistic statement ignores the cultural subgenres that have emerged on the apps. Whether we are talking about the film community on Tik Tok referred to as “Filmtok” or the book community on Youtube commonly known as “Booktube”, it has to be noted that the younger generation likes to talk about art and culture. Not so far from book clubs or film conventions of the past generations. It is as much a place of self-expression as admiration for filmmakers. On Tik Tok for example, we can find a variety of “homemade” films from young users as well as communities of fans for directors such as Sofia Coppola or Martin Scorsese. 

Overall, the movies that have gathered the most attention from Gen-Z are coming-of-age movies such as Call me By Your Name(2017)  or Lady Bird (2017) that have made young actors such as Timothée Chalamet or Saoirse Ronan, our new movie stars. On these digital platforms, it’s not just videos that show admiration for these films. It is meticulous videos that analyze the psychological and societal aspect of these films that explains why Gen-Z connects to them so much. Those movies are used to open conversations on themes such as feminism, girlhood or sexuality, it is about speaking a language that Gen-Z understands and that makes them feel understood. What makes indie films so special, is that they are often made by younger directors of all backgrounds who want to share their stories in smaller budget films in the most intimate way. In Aftersun (2022), director Charlotte Wells tells her intimate story of growth in the intimate context of loss. This smaller budget film was critically acclaimed and spoke to a lot of younger people as well. 

Picture obtained through @A24/ https://a24films.com/films/aftersun  visited on the 04/06/2024

No longer Clueless 

Has Gen-Z been the most anxious generation in the past few years? If we refer to the numerous studies carried out on the subject, it would seem that there is an overall mental health problem among the generation.Teenagers and young adults  have always had doubts about their own future and the world around them. However, it is clear that no generation has had such easy access to images of  the horrors taking place in the world.  

Could mental health concerns   have a direct correlation with the success of coming-of-age stories ? Overall, young adults are always drawn to stories representing their struggle, thus explaining the success of John Hugues films in the 80s. Gen-Z isn’t the first generation to question themselves and that has mental health issues  but it is the first generation to yearn for  films about underrepresented issues and identities. 

As said earlier,  the 80s were the  true golden ages of coming-of-age stories with films, such as The Breakfast Club (1985) or Sixteen Candles (1984)  both from director John Hughes

 Although the stories are timeless, some aspects are outdated;the teenagers portrayed are often middle-class kids living in American suburbia.  

 As well as mental health issues, the lack of representation of minorities and diversity  remains an issue  in the film industry, but other voices are now being heard. The Belgian film Girl (2018) directed by Lukas Dhont talks about girlhood as well as trans identity. Rick Famuyiwa‘s film DOPE (2015) traces the adolescence of a young black man through hip hop music.  

Representation is essential for Gen-Z which gives hope for the next generation of filmmakers. Hopefully,people of all identities will feel like telling their own coming-of-age story in the future.

Picture obtained through @allociné/ https://www.allocine.fr/film/fichefilm-263852/photos/detail/?cmediafile=21501548 visited on the 10/06/2024

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