As my esteemed colleague Tom Fuchs pointed earlier this week, hardly a week goes by where “On the Marquee” -- Moviegoers’ weekly round-up of the best in local film scene offerings and events -- doesn’t conclude with what’s playing over the weekend as part of the Times Theater’s (5906 W. Vliet St.) weekend matinee screening series.
The theme of their matinee screening series for this month is “Independence - Classic Coming of Age Movies.”
Last weekend, they screened Rob Reiner’s 1986 classic, Stand By Me, which was adapted from a Stephen King short story (“The Body”) about a quartet of young male friends (Wil Wheaton, the late River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O’Connell) who, in the summer of 1959, go searching for the body of a local teen who had gone missing.
This week, the Times is showing another cinematic classic from 1986, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, written and directed by the late John Hughes.
In the contemporary-set film, a then-23-year-old Matthew Broderick plays the title character, a suburban Chicago teenager who leads his parents to believe that he is sick in order to take a day off from school. His numerous exploits are the thing of legend with his fellow classmates, all of which eventual drives his burnt-out school principal (a deliciously droll Jeffrey Jones) over the edge.
What transpires in the film is best described as ultimate wish fulfillment: Ferris takes his girlfriend (Mia Sara, who was a teen during production) and his best friend (played by a then-29-year-old Alan Ruck) along for the wild ride, literally.
This month’s weekend matinee screening series inspired me to think about all the coming of age films I’ve seen over the years -- the good, the bad and the truly bad. I’ve seen my fair share of teen angst depicted on the big screen. Television has also explored that theme quite often, too, perhaps most memorably with the short-lived likes of ABC‘s “My So-Called Life” and NBC‘s “Freaks and Geeks.” And one would be remiss if they didn’t include the various incarnations of the still-popular and long-running Canadian teen soap, “Degrassi”
So here goes, a list of five coming-of-age films that brought a little something extra to the often-explored genre. They might not be classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Stand By Me certainly are, but they are all worth checking out.
In order of theatrical release:
Inspired by renowned English novelist Jane Austen’s comedy of manners, “Emma,” writer-director Amy Heckerling (Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Look Who’s Talking) fashioned this contemporary tale of a rich, privileged, popular Beverly Hills teen named Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone, in a career-making performance) a natural-born matchmaker who lives to shop, and to dispense out advice (fashion and dating tips are her specialty) to those less fabulous.
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
Okay, technically the lead character, awkward 11-year-old middle child Dawn Weiner (beautifully played by Heather Matarazzo, making her big screen debut) isn’t a teen, but this poor girl experiences more angst than should be allowed for any one person in writer-director Todd Solondz’s biting coming-of-age satire. Dawn gets it from all angles: dismissed as ugly by her contemporaries, ignored at home by her parents, and bullied by a male classmate who’s secretly smitten with her.
In writer-director Alexander Payne’s more-than-capable hands, this hilarious and biting satire takes aim at the world of high school academia as well as the political process. Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon deliver career-best performances as a popular teacher who purposefully manipulates a student election and the over-achieving student whose dreams of world domination may be foiled as a result. Election would make for a perfect double-bill with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, showcasing pitch-perfect turns by Broderick on both sides of the teacher’s desk.
Mean Girls (2004)
Remember when Lindsay Lohan was actually known for her solid onscreen work instead of her personal troubles? Me neither, hardly. So that’s why Mean Girls is essential viewing. Tina Fey (pre-“30 Rock”) wrote this hilarious film adaptation of Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” and appears as a teacher. Cady (a terrific Lindsay Lohan), having been home-schooled as she grew up in the African bush, is wholly unprepared for the rigors of attending a public high school. She’s dared by her first set of high school friends to approach a trio of popular girls (played by Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert), and surprisingly enough, they hit it off. War is declared when Cady falls for the ex-boyfriend of one of her new BFFs and resorts to all level of scheming and conniving to avenge a betrayal by said BFF.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
Just when you thought that all the mileage had been driven out of the coming-of-age story, along comes director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ feature debut, The Kings of Summer. A hit earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, this low-budget film, sharply written by Chris Galletta, stars Nick Robinson, “The Big C’s” Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias as three teens, who in the ultimate act of defiance and independence, run away from home, build a makeshift house in the middle woods, and live off the land -- well attempt to anyway. They cut a few corners, but I’m happy to report that the film does not. The work of the three leads, and key supporting turns from Nick Offerman (as one of the boys’ overbearing father) and Megan Mullally (as the sweetly suffocating mother of another one of the boys) is spot on. It’s beautifully shot and doesn’t overplay its hand. It’s a lean, mean, economical picture with strong replay value.