There is an understandable temptation for a writer to begin what is essentially a ‘History of…’ at the very outset of cinema. The author, Ryan Uytdewilligen, strives to be thorough, so wouldn’t want to risk missing anything out. In this instance he should have ignored that temptation and cut straight to the 1950s. The first four decades (chapters) are a hard slog. Any gems of wisdom better saved for an appendix.
From the start Uytdewilligen sends us mixed messages, as he can’t seem to pin down what ‘coming of age’ means. I was expecting a book about teen flicks, something akin to 2014 documentary Beyond Clueless (worth a watch), covering the ages of 12-21. In the introduction he suggests that it is possible for a person to ‘come of age’ in their 80s, but that is plainly untrue. 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies is a great premise, but he comes unstuck within the first few pages. His position becomes clearer in the section on Mary Poppins (seriously), where he reveals that he equates coming of age with learning a life lesson, in the case of Mary Poppins: “There is a time for fun and a time for work”.
The author’s voice is inconsistent: chatty, casual passages interspersed with virtually unreadable prose: “If only this lesson was as exciting and climatic in real life as it is in Peter Pan, because it would be found loud in clear”. Okay dude. He includes numerous juicy pieces of trivia (Adolf Hitler wanted to kidnap Clark Gable; MGM wanted to cut ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from The Wizard of Oz) but these are often lost amid authorial ramblings. You probably paused at the mention of Mary Poppins – I certainly did. It wouldn’t be the first title that springs to mind when thinking about coming of age movies, and neither would Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Red Balloon, National Velvet, The Jungle Book or Bambi. It is odd that Uytdewilligen should choose so many child-focussed films when he seems very passionate about the experience of teenagers at school: “After the cruel social experiment known as high school”
He attaches a ‘Greatest Influence’ to each of the listed films, but these make little sense after a while: “How Green Was My Valley: Imploring and expanding on the multigenerational period family drama.” There’s scant evidence about why most of the films can be labelled ‘influential’, though he does express decent reasons for some (kickstarted a particular genre; pioneered realism/method acting).
He includes a good number of highly influential films: The Graduate (1967); Carrie (1976); Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986); Clueless (1995); Napoleon Dynamite (2004); Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), but in his attempt to be generous to each decade has squeezed more recent years, which are the most fruitful for teen movies. I’m sorry to see he has left out Heathers, The Lost Boys and Empire Records, but any list like this will be open to debate.
101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies is a labour of love. It’s also a list. A thorough, well researched, carefully curated one, but a list nonetheless. A steadfast editor could transform it into a decent read. Failing that, just grab the list and run.
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