With 2021 graduations behind us and area teens now headed for work, college or military service, this June edition of Lycoming Critic’s Corner takes a look at “coming of age” movies.
This baker’s dozen features youths who slowly or suddenly have to grow up; and sometimes the adults find much to learn as well. Any internet search will reveal a plethora of such titles; however — while I have included some well-known classics — this list stresses under-the-radar picks that deserve more attention.
DESERT BLOOM (1986)
Set on the outskirts of Vegas in 1950, this obscure gem focuses on Rose Chismore, a likable and conscientious teen struggling for peace with her difficult stepfather; he’s a World War II vet with PTSD, an injured leg, a working wife and a tenacious drinking problem. Jon Voight delivers what may be his finest performance in that role; cast also includes Annabeth Gish in the lead, plus Ellen Barkin, JoBeth Williams and a wonderful Jay Underwood as a gallant young neighbor, who is crushing on Rose. (PG-13)
EIGHTH GRADE (2018)
Beautifully written and acted indie about a chipper but painfully insecure young lady in her last week of middle school. While Kayla records unwatched vlogs about self-confidence and “putting yourself out there,” her life is plagued by mean girls who are “all that”; by a total jerk she’s inexplicably obsessed with; and by a likable but somewhat clueless single father. Very frank in its dealings with sex — which Kayla knows she isn’t ready for — this film is ultimately a real beacon of hope, with a scintillating lead performance from Elsie Fisher. (R)
Based on Louis Sachar’s fabulous young-adult novel, Disney’s live-action “Holes” is the story of palindromic protagonist Stanley Yetnats, who’s been unjustly accused of theft and sent to the poorly named Camp Green Lake, where the sadistic warden has kids digging holes in the desert all day. But that summary gives no idea of this film’s dazzling complexity, with at least four multi-generational plot-strands which come together like a jigsaw puzzle at the end. Superb cast includes Shia LaBeouf, Jon Voight, Dule Hill, Particia Arquette, Sigourney Weaver, Tim Blake Nelson, Henry Winkler and Eartha Kitt. One of my all-time favorite films. (PG)
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)
A masterful adventure from writer-director Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”), “Wilderpeople” strands a mismatched pair in the wild New Zealand outback: snarky, overweight 13-year-old Ricky Baker and his grouchy foster-father Hec, who together face dense brush, dwindling supplies, wild boars, three-foot eels, a broken leg and a host of unfriendly pursuers convinced that Hec means the boy harm. Alternately humorous, painful, exciting, quirky and inspirational; not to be missed. (PG-13)
THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN (1985)
Another live-action charmer from Disney, “Gann” occurs in the Great Depression, with the titular teen (a winsome Meredith Salenger) taking a cross-country trek to reconnect with her single-parent father, who is working in the Pacific Northwest. Handsome trains and peerless period detail highlight this exciting adventure, which co-stars John Cusack in an early role. (PG)
THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991)
Lovely and poignant little sleeper which marked the screen debut of Reese Witherspoon, here playing Dani Trant, a tomboyish but very feminine young lady growing up on a family farm in 1950s Louisiana. Spirited and independent, Dani falls hard for a handsome neighbor and then hits a brick wall when he falls just as hard for her older sis. Directed by Robert Mulligan (“Summer of ’42,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”), “Moon” co-stars Sam Waterston and Tess Harper. (PG-13)
Coming-of-age is only one plot-strand in this enchanting piece set in Key West on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Various adolescents deal with siblings, young love and adult paranoia even as the local movie-house readies for a visit from fictional Hollywood schlock-meister Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), whose latest camp classic concerns a hapless human transmogrifying into a giant ant. That film-within-a-film, comically called “Mant!”, is a dead-on satire of late-fifties drive-in claptrap — yet “Matinee” itself is thoroughly moving and nostalgic. When I penned my recent book on under-the-radar movies, this was easily my favorite discovery. (PG)
For five additional movie suggestions, visit On the PULSE