The Films That Shaped Us: Six coming of age films for the modern teenager

Raúl Castillo, Josiah Gabriel and Evan Rosado in We the Animals

The Rife team comes together to list their favourite coming-of-age films in celebration of the release of We the Animals, coming to Watershed on the 14th of June

The power of a coming of age film is inescapable. Whether you laughed your way through your teens or cried your way into your twenties (and can’t seem to stop), watching someone else work out who they are onscreen has always been a really important way of working out your own stuff, too. In We The Animals, Jeremiah Zagar’s evocative  film based on Justin Torres’ semi-autobiographical book, three brothers grow up in upstate New York. Watching the youngest brother, Jonah, struggle with his emerging sexuality and his volatile family is totally absorbing. After watching the film, the Rife Magazine lot had some thoughts on the films that shaped them when they were growing up. Read on below.


If you are as obsessed with floppy-haired, repressed posh boys as I am, then oh boy, I have the film for you. Maurice tells the tale of a young man growing up in the early 1900s, when being gay was still illegal. Our eponymous protagonist falls in love twice, and although due to societal pressures, his relationship with Clive (a very young Hugh Grant) falls through, but he does end up with Alec (played by Rupert Graves). It’s a story that harkens back to an era of stiff upper lips and the notion that love could be illegal. The tension in this film is almost unbearable, and certainly made me wish that interactions with people who fancied me (the list is empty but I am hopeful) would be this crushingly intense. – Lily


Dumplin’ is the resented nickname of Willowdean Dickson (a.k.a. Will). Will is an overweight teen who has struggled consistently with her body image since she was a child. Her insecurities and low self-esteem come to affect some of her relationships – particularly that with her ex-beauty-pageant-queen mother, Rosie; Bo, her love interest; and her best friend, Ellen. The dynamic between Will and her mum has always been complicated. With Rosie considered a celebrity within their small town, most are quick to express confusion or shock when they learn of the two’s relation. Having very contrasting experiences and interests, Will finds herself feeling more connected to and understood by her late aunty, Lucy. Also on the heavier end of the scale and full of life and love, Lucy harboured a seemingly unbreakable confidence that she forever attempted to instil in her niece. This is why Will is both surprised and saddened to find a torn-up pageant application, filled out by Lucy as a teen, among some of her old belongings. The discovery inspires Will to also apply – an act of protest for all individuals feeling inadequate against the one-dimensional beauty standards of society. Will ends up not only learning some invaluable lessons on the topic of self-love, but love in general in a familial, platonic and romantic capacity. – Sumaya

Stand By Me

Stand By Me is based on the novella by Stephen King, and it’s one of the most iconic coming-of-age films of the 20th century. The story follows four boys who embark on a journey to find the body of another boy. The focus of this film isn’t the crescendo moment of discovering the corpse, but the journey that the boys take to find him. At heart, it’s a story of self-discovery and friendship. I don’t know about you, but I have never been (despite the rumours) a teen boy who grew up in Oregon in the 1980s, but after watching this film I can feel the muggy heat of the Pacific Northwest, complete with damp socks and the ever-present buzz of mosquitos. The boy’s inane banter as they traverse along railway lines and through the undergrowth is so relatable, and reminds of me lazy summer holidays spent aimlessly talking in the park. By the way, a young Kiefer Sutherland appears in this film as a mean bully, but that doesn’t detract from his attractiveness. – Lily


Richard Ayoade’s coming of age saga Submarine features Oliver, an antihero who loathes the world around him. Apart, that is, from Jordana, who leads him to push a classmate into a pond in order to prove his worthiness. The film centres on the big fears in young people’s lives, fitting into school, realising your parents are human, mental health, sex and death. this is not a grand sweeping love story – I think this film is an anti-love comedy, apart from a dreamy whimsical moment relegated to the ‘Super 8 of memory’ as Oliver says. Oliver and Jordana spend their time together burning things on the beach, setting fireworks alight, and bullying people. My favourite part is the pond scene, because it captures so precisely the indifference of the ‘bully or be bullied’ school environment. There is a moment where he could save them, but he chooses not to. Oliver’s indecision as to whether he’s going to take part or not is literally captured in a freeze frame.  This guilt doesn’t linger around Oliver for long though, and it’s refreshing to see a character who who exists in the grey, and doesn’t care if they are a good person. Before Jordana, Oliver drifted mainly on the outside of life, after, we watch as he comes of age and everything combusts into heady memories. – Asmaa

A Silent Voice

If you don’t cry at this film, I lowkey can’t trust you. A Silent Voice is a beautifully touching coming of age movie that offers a raw and honest depiction of bullying and mental health. It approaches this theme from numerous angles, exploring the causes and consequences of being both the bully, and the bullied. Weaved within the issue of mental wellbeing are connecting themes of emotional self-sabotage, suicidal intent, and the importance of human connection. The story is centred around a young man, Shoya Ishida, and a young woman, Shoko Nishimiya – although predominantly we follow Shoya’s perspective. Though very different personalities, emotionally, the two share in their feelings of disconnect, isolation from society and feelings of guilt in various capacities. The two’s journeys are tethered and really aid in the progression of each other’s personal growth, realised through quests for redemption, self-reflection, forgiveness and the willingness to have an open heart. – Sumaya


The entire plot of Dope can be summed up as: how to sell drugs online for money. It does slightly more complex than that, but the tale follows Malcolm, Dig and Jibby who go to a party that ends up being raided by the police. Malcolm and his friends escape, only to realise drugs have been planted in their bag. What ensues is a hilarious attempt to get rid of the drugs, whilst still attending their high school in Inglewood, which has a heavy police presence. Malcolm is also trying to get into an Ivy League school and leave behind his neighbourhood – and this is the last thing he needs. What’s interesting in the film is seeing the disconnect for Malcolm, whose chance at social mobility centres on getting into this school, and seeing the responses from members of his community and his teachers who don’t understand his ambition.  I think the film also speaks to how black people struggle against the system that promises them social mobility, a meritocracy, and the myth of the American dream. The film itself was a passion project of Rick Famuyiwa, a black director. I think in general giving people the platform to tell their own stories is incredibly important, and often it pulls out truth and nuance that is otherwise not possible. This also stood out to me while watching We the Animals, based on Justin Torres’ semi-autobiographical novel. – Asmaa

Want to see another coming of age classic? We The Animals is coming to Watershed on the 14th of June – book your tickets here! Tickets for under 25s are just a fiver. 

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