No director of the last two decades has obsessed over the male adolescent experience in America quite like Richard Linklater.
His 12-years-in-the-making opus, Boyhood, was released to great acclaim in 2014, and this month he delivers Everybody Wants Some!! — a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused (1993) that introduces us to a merry gang of college baseball players in the 72 hours leading up to the first day of school.
To celebrate, let's consider some notable (and lesser known) coming-of-age films from years past, their as-it-were morals of the story and, most importantly for you, where to watch ‘em.
Lucasfilms Ltd. & Coppola Company
American Graffiti (1973)
Directed by George Lucas
Synopsis: Before there was Dazed and Confused, there was George Lucas's American Graffiti. The film takes place over the course of one night in the lives of several recent High School grads (Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard, among others), as they cruise the Modesto strip and generally get up to no good. Set in 1962, the film is bursting with period details, from the hot rods to the tunes to the wardrobes. A parable of youth and innocence set in an America on the cusp of the Vietnam War and the Summer of Love.
Lesson learned: It's all fun and games until you roll Daddy's Thunderbird.
Warner Bros. & Columbia-Warner
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Synopsis: Wait, A Clockwork Orange is a coming-of-age film? Well, somewhere behind the sinister, inscrutably milky exterior of head droog Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is your average young man, just trying to break free of the chains of a repressive society. While Kubrick's film evades easy moral categorizations, it is nevertheless preoccupied with the tension between institutions and youth culture (even if the "youths" in question are rapacious, homicidal maniacs) while skewering the pop-psych notion of the "misunderstood teen" — which Alex, in his extremity, represents. The film is really just about growing up.
Lesson learned: Go through society's motions, and you'll never have to grow up.
Directed by Spike Lee
Synopsis: This is Lee's semi-autobiographical take on growing up in Bed-Stuy, set in the scorching-hot Summer of 1973. The film focuses on a young girl named Troy (Zelda Harris) and her family — as well as the life of her neighborhood, where Lee himself grew up. As the summer roils on, Troy fights with her brothers and faces a host of Lee's trademark bit characters from the block, ending the film wise beyond her young years. The film also features sequences from Soul Train, as well as a stellar soundtrack of ‘70s Soul and R&B.
Lesson learned: You fight your parents and siblings because you love them.
Stolen Kisses (1968)
Directed by François Truffaut.
Synopsis: François Truffaut, master of the French New Wave and, like Linklater, a frequent practitioner of the bildungsroman, first cast Jean-Pierre Léaud as precocious and mischievous youth Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows (1959), but would go on to make four more films with Léaud in the role over the next 20 years, ranging from his youth to his marriage to the encroachment of middle age. The entire series is available as a Criterion Collection boxed set, and is highly recommended. Stolen Kisses is perhaps the most whimsical of all, with Doinel quite accidentally falling into the profession of private eye in late-‘60s Paris. Break out the wine and cheese for this one.
Lesson learned: You never know where you'll end up (or with whom).
Before Sunrise (1995)
Directed by Richard Linklater
Synopsis: Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, a brooding, sardonic Gen-Xer backpacking alone through Europe who meets French girl Céline (Julie Delpy) on a train and convinces her to get off in Vienna and explore the city together, thus fulfilling the dream of every American guy abroad. Like Truffaut did with Léaud, Linklater has collaborated with Hawke and Delpy on the "Before" series for the last 20 years, exploring the complexities of the two characters as they fall in love (Before Sunrise), rediscover one another in their 30s (Before Sunset) and finally arrive at parenthood and middle age (Before Midnight), with each phase acted out over the course of a single day.
Lesson learned: You'll never know unless you man up and say Hi.
—Michael C. Brown
Main image via Paramount Pictures