By Feronia Ding, Saoirse Hickey, Emma frank and Arabella Ahearns
American Honey (2016) directed by Andrea Arnold
By Feronia Ding
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey (2016) is a poignant coming of age story about a teenage girl, Star, who joins a sales crew that travels across the Midwest, selling magazines from door-to-door. The film portrays poverty and inequalities within the United States, focusing on the country’s marginalised citizens and ultimately commenting on it’s “hidden youth”.
The mag crew often travels through upper-class neighbourhoods, attempting to sell subscriptions to dismissive, snobbish citizens, dramatically contrasting with the economically deprived towns they also travel through. Star often interacts with those in similar situations as her - a truck driver, an oil worker, the neglected children of a drug addict, all fragments of a poor, white America. The members of the crew themselves have no “place” within society, as ephemerals struggling in a grindingly difficult job, in which they do not reap the financial benefits. In fact, it was named one of the worst occupations in American for teenagers by the National Consumers League in 2009. Even within the crew, there’s a hierarchy. The manager, Krystal, drives in a separate car, sleeps in a separate room, and is ultimately the only person who benefits economically from the mag crew lifestyle.
Despite the bleak topic at hand, through Star and Jake (another character within the film and with whom Star develops a romance), Arnold still seems to find room in this broken America to dream and to hope. Jake, especially, embodies this. All he wants is “a little spot somewhere in the woods, a small duplex or something”, somewhere he can truly call home. It’s seemingly impossible and a dream he would be lucky to realise. Overall, American Honey is a must-watch and a film that discusses a group within society that’s often ignored.
Lady Bird (2017) directed by Greta Gerwig
By Arabella Ahearn
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is a brilliant coming of age film which, unlike so many others, does not portray the idealised teenage experience and instead provides audiences with a far more realistic perspective of life. The film follows the life of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson as she navigates her senior year at a Catholic high school in Sacramento. Exploring her difficult relationship with her mother and her attempt to get as far away from the monotony of small-town life as she possibly can.
Gerwig presents a semi-autobiographical story of life for those who are struggling to stay afloat, in more ways than one. Lady Bird’s need for her sense of identity, her need to escape and her tumultuous relationship with her mother is all controlled by an overarching theme of money and the stake that it holds in relationships and happiness. Lady Bird hopes to finish school and move to New York to attend a liberal arts college, but without the money to afford that she is forced to stay in a home and a life that she hates.
Within the first three minutes of the movie, Lady Bird has jumped from a moving vehicle after being lectured on the harsh realities of adult life, and the probability that her future consists of a trip to city college and then to jail. The film does not sugar-coat life’s material practicalities, with Lady Bird’s mother Marion providing a constant reminder that what she wants in life is not always what she is going to get. The film opens with the idea that all one can know is themselves and ends with Lady Bird finally being able to understand the world around her and a radiant reconciliation with her family, her hometown and herself aided by the teenage experiences of heartbreak, rejection and turbulent family relationships.
Lady Bird is a vibrant coming of age movie full of self-discovery, heartbreak and love. The cinematography, writing and acting all work together to create a beautiful story that audiences can relate to on a personal level. It is a film that will certainly stay with you well after you have watched it.
Eight Grade (2018) directed by Bo Burnham
By Emma Frank
Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” will forever be one of my favourite movies. It depicts the protagonist, Kayla, navigating her final week of middle school, all while she comments on her experiences and gives advice through her Youtube channel. The film does not have a conventional plot structure; instead, the plot is driven by the daily life of Kayla, whether she is attending a pool party she knows she is unwanted at, trying to get a boyfriend before the end of middle school or attending a shadowing-day at her future high school. It all feels extremely real. Bo Burnham made the movie as a projection of his anxiety, reflecting it in this character, Kayla, played by Elsie Fisher, the film aims to encapsulate the inner workings of a young teenage girl's mind and by extension, the mind of someone with anxiety. This is considered throughout production. In certain scenes, shots will be modelled to evoke claustrophobia or the camera will pace alongside Kayla to make the audience physically nauseous to communicate Kayla’s dread or panic.
At the core of the movie is the idea that it is okay if your expectations are not met; as Kayla grows, she learns that the boy she likes will likely never really care about her (and also is a pretty bad person), nor will the girls who she was yearning for the approval of, and that it is sometimes necessary to let go of your dreams to be happy. It is essentially the anti-highschool movie, the characters are played by the people their actual age and the high school/middle school experience is not glamorized (even discussing darker, yet prevalent issues like consent, hypersexualisation and manipulation). The main character is not facing all their adversity alongside a quirky best friend archetype, in a “us against the world” sort of way, because frankly, this is not the reality for a lot of people. The only person Kayla has for most of the movie is her dad. Although their relationship is not perfect, her dad cares deeply about her and it’s beautiful that the film is framed in a way that places their relationship at the forefront. The realism in this movie is essential, this is what grounds it, this is what engages the audience and makes the project so special.
Overall, Eighth Grade is a beautiful movie, the production, acting and writing is grounded, intelligent and detailed-focused, altogether creating an incredibly heartfelt film. I have so much more to say, but I want this description to be spoiler-free so I recommend you watch it yourself if you are interested.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) directed by Stephen Chbosky
By Saoirse Hickey
Stephen Chbosky’s 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the novel of the same name, is a beautifully heartbreaking coming of age film that follows the protagonist 15-year-old Charlie as he begins high school. We see the film narrated through Charlie's letters addressed to an unknown character that Charlie calls “friend”, the story begins innocently as we see Charlie as an empathetic, introvert trying to navigate high school. As the story progresses, we see Charlie's bleak outlook on life change as he befriends misfit seniors Sam and Patrick, who see Charlie as more than just a shy nobody and teach him to embrace who he is, a wallflower. However, as the film develops, we begin to see Charlie and his friends' idealistic teenage story fall apart as the flaws and trauma that make up each person is revealed.
Chbosky creates complex yet loveable and relatable characters to portray this story of belonging and identity. Throughout the film, we see many of the characters struggle as their walls and “perfect” lives are broken down. The film shows Charlie having flashbacks to memories with his aunt, who died in a car crash, and often in his letters to his friend after or before these flashbacks he expresses that he is “feeling bad” or “getting bad again”. One night at a party with Sam and Patrick, Charlie reveals that the mystery character he is addressing in his letters is his only friend Michael, who killed himself the summer before they were due to start high school together. After this, Sam tells Patrick that she doesn’t think Charlie has any friends, this prompts Patrick to call a toast to Charlie, Charlie is confused because he thinks nobody notices him, to this Patrick responds “you see things, you understand, you’re a wallflower” after this, the film follows their developing friendship and we start to see Charlie understand what it means to belong, however, this doesn’t last long and soon the film takes a turn. As we are seeing the film from Charlie's perspective, we believe Sam and Patrick are living these amazing lives, however, this is not the case, as we see Charlie become the rock for these two characters as their own lives come crashing down around them, while Charlie is also struggling with his own issues.
I won’t go any further into detail or give away any more spoilers to the movie because I believe this film is a must-watch that will leave you feeling infinite. The heart-warming yet tragic story of these friends highlights the ups and downs of life and delves into many serious issues around mental health and exposing the perfect façade people create for themselves, while also delivering feelings of joy through its perfect soundtrack, dark and witty humour and scenes showing that through their struggles, these misfits can find happiness and belong together.