The coming-of-age film Marvelous and the Black Hole by Kate Tsang in her debut feature follows the story of a teenage girl who forms a friendship with a children’s party magician, who takes her as an apprentice as she grapples with teen angst, loss, and family issues. Director Tsang, whose writing credits include the cartoon series Steven Universe Future and Adventure Time, integrates her style in the film with comic-like illustrations. The film stars Miya Cech as the angsty teen Sammy in her debut lead role who is known for playing the younger version of Ali Wong in the film Alway be Maybe, and four-time Emmy winner Rhea Perlman as the eccentric magician Margot the Marvelous. Keith Powell, Leonardo Nam, and Paulina Lule also appear in supporting roles. The film has received positive reviews and special praise for newcomer Cech’s performance and the chemistry between Cech and Perlman. In a review by New York Times, they wrote, “Cech is believable as a troubled teenager, and it’s refreshing to see an Asian American girl as a protagonist. Variety also wrote a review of the film saying, “You don’t have to be wholly convinced by the film to take pleasure in its faith that almost anything can be solved with sincerity, storytelling, and some very slight sleight.” Marvelous and the Black Hole is certainly a coming-of-age film worth watching, and if you’re searching for similar films that tackle teen angst and the adolescent experience, here are five movies we highly recommend watching.
One of the best movies to capture teen angst is the 2017 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig in her solo directorial debut. The film stars Saoirse Ronan in the title role with Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, and Lois Smith in supporting roles. Set in Sacramento, California. the film follows the story of seventeen-year-old Christine, who prefers to be called Lady Bird, as she navigates her last year in high school. The plot centers on her relationship with her mother and her eventful senior year involving love, friendship, and decision-making. The film received critical acclaim for the performances of Ronan and Metcalf and Gerwig’s screenplay and direction. It also received numerous accolades including a win for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy (for Ronan) at the Golden Globe Awards, earning five Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Metcalf), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director, and three nominations at the British Academy Film Awards. Lady Bird was also chosen as one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review, the American Film Institute, and Time magazine. The film is certified fresh with a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and critics consensus saying, “Lady Bird delivers fresh insights about the turmoil of adolescence — and reveals writer-director, Greta Gerwig, as a fully formed filmmaking talent.” New York Times also published a review of the film praising Gerwig’s unique take on the coming-age-age genre and wrote, “You might think you’ve seen this all before. You probably have, but never quite like this. What Ms. Gerwig has done — and it’s by no means a small accomplishment — is to infuse one of the most convention-bound, rose-colored genres in American cinema with freshness and surprise.”
Just like Sammy’s Marvelous and the Black Hole, the protagonist of the coming-of-age comedy-drama film Eighth Grade is dealing with teen issues and struggles to connect with his single father. The film was written by comedian and musician Bo Burnham in his feature film debut as writer and director and stars Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Catherine Oliviere, Jake Ryan, Luke Prael, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, and Imani Lewis. The plot centers on middle schooler Kayla who struggles to fit in with her peers as she grapples with anxiety. To cope, she turns to the internet and publishes her vlogs giving motivational advice about self-image. The film received critical acclaim and numerous accolades, especially for Burnham’s writing and direction earning him the Writers Guild and Directors Guild of America Awards and being named the Best Directorial Debut in 2018 by the American Film Institute. Eighth Grade was also chosen by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2018 and Elsie Fisher was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress and won the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Actor. The Guardian gave Eighth grade a five-star rating in their film review and wrote, “Yet like all true coming-of-age classics – from Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups to Céline Sciamma’s Bande de Filles/Girlhood and Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight – Burnham’s piercingly humanist movie makes the audience feel that what they are watching is personal to them, regardless of age, gender or nationality.”
The Half of It
Another coming-of-age film that takes a classic story and integrates modern storytelling is the 2020 film The Half of It, written and directed by Alice Wu. It stars Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, and Alexxis Lemire, with Enrique Murciano, Wolfgang Novogratz, Catherine Curtin, Becky Ann Baker, and Collin Chou in supporting roles. The plot centers on straight-A Chinese-American student Elle Chu who forms an unlikely friendship with the school’s jock Paul Munsky as he helps him woo the girl he has a crush on by writing love letters on his behalf. The familiar storyline is loosely based on the classic tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. The film received positive reviews and received the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. In a film review by Variety, they wrote, “Wu’s unique take on teen angst hints at what else we’ve been missing by allowing studios to limit who can tell such stories. If the genre seems played out, or else rife with clichés, it’s a direct result of such exclusion. Expanding the field, as Netflix does, reveals that we still haven’t seen the half of it.”
The American-Filipino musical drama film Yellow Rose, co-written and directed by Diane Paragas, also features a strong heroine who forms friendships in her journey as she struggles to reach her dreams of becoming a country singer. The film stars Eva Noblezada, Dale Watson, Princess Punzalan, and Lea Salonga. The plot centers on Rose, a Filipina illegal immigrant who aspires to be a country singer but faces a big hurdle when her mother is taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement which forces her to leave her town in Texas. In a film by The Guardian, they praised the film’s wonderful execution despite a predictable plot saying. “The bittersweet trajectory of the story is as easy to predict as a chord progression. But as with country music itself, the point here is not so much to rewrite the rules of the genre but to display finesse in the execution, and offer tiny, original tweaks of the formula – for example by having the star be an outsider to the usual country music milieu.”
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
If you want to watch a coming-of-age film that involves humor and adventure, the 2016 New Zealand adventure comedy-drama film Hunt for the Wilderpeople written and directed by Taika Waititi is a definite must-watch. The film’s screenplay is based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump and stars Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in the lead roles. The film follows rebellious orphan Ricky Baker who moves to the countryside to be with his new foster parents. When Ricky faces an unfortunate event, he decides to run away and ends up getting lost in the wilderness. His foster father, uncle Hector tracks him down and the two end up being chased by authorities because of misinformation. The film received critical acclaim highlighting Dennison and Neill’s performances. In a review published by Independent, they praised the film and mentioned the great chemistry between the actors and wrote, “Uncle Hec and Ricky’s journey together is hysterical, the laughs coming often, the two central characters’ relationship becoming the ginormous and heartwarming soul of the film. There’s brilliant chemistry between Dennison and Neil, the pair quite obviously bouncing off each other; a joy to watch on screen, and as the story progresses you begin to feel like a member of their special pack, gleefully part of the adventure.”