For the sentimentalist: Almost Famous
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film about his teenage years touring with various rock bands tugs at the emotional heartstrings. It’s impossible not to like 15-year-old William Miller as he follows his favorite band across America. I would watch this during my first year of college and totally relate to William – falling in love for the first time, feeling like you’re in way over your head in every way possible. He gets his cherry popped literally and metaphorically. If you’ve already fallen in love too many times, the illustrious groupie Penny Lane and charismatic guitarist Russell Hammond are relatable also. On the road Penny Lane lives inside her own fantasy, often making reference to the “real world” in contrast. At one point William finally demands of her, “when and where does this ‘real world’ take place?” Many confused twenty-somethings have needed to confront the harsh reality of this very question, myself included. The good news is they all get their shit together in the end. Time to embark on your own No More Airplanes Tour ‘13.
For the 20-something of classic good taste: The Graduate
Obviously The Graduate has to be on this list. Mike Nichols’s timeless film exemplifies all the confusion and eventual disappointment experienced by young adults after college is all done and we face the dreaded question: what’s next? What kind of life are you going to build? Benjamin Braddock spends the summer after graduation floating around his parents’ pool while they try to push him in too many wrong directions. For those of us who have heard enough misguided, pre-packaged advice from older adults, it’s great to see a movie that doesn’t only target the younger generation as the source of their own problems. In the end, Benjamin and Elaine triumph over their parents and succeed in running away together (that’s right, screw the institution of marriage, huh?) But their startled faces on the bus ride out of town shows their growing doubts about this plan, too. Love is not the end-all answer to everything, and neither is rebellion for its own sake. For most of us, just like Ben, figuring it all out is going to take a lot more time.
For the high school-aged reader: American Pie
American Pie is seriously an underrated classic. There was the glorious era of John Hughes in the 80s, but the late 90s brought some of that teen movie magic back with this one. Stifler drinking jizz guaranteed it a place in the gross-out movie hall of fame, but there’s way more to be appreciated. Watching the four guys trying to lose their virginity before prom is actually as sweet as it is funny. There’s even a spoof on The Graduate. This is another movie with a pivotal closing scene, too. Fans like myself can’t hear Third Eye Blind’s “Semi-Charmed Life” without thinking of it. The guys toast to the future over lunch at a fast food restaurant and decide to appreciate the fleeting moments of just being young and confused in high school. Because even with big changes ahead, sometimes you just need to pause and remember what’s great about a closing chapter in your life.
For the would-be existentialist: The 400 Blows
Francois Truffaut’s 1959 film is a pensive character study of a 12-year-old delinquent named Antoine. If you find yourself in some kind of existentialist funk that you’d like to wallow in further, embrace the New Wave cliché and watch this movie. It’s heartbreaking to watch this young misunderstood kid run away from home and later get sent away to a correctional facility. There’s so many artfully composed shots of Antoine wandering the lonely streets Paris with no home to return to that I just want to pick him up and hug him and say, “it’s okay, buddy, we’ll figure everything out eventually.”
For those facing tough good-byes: Lost In Translation
To me this movie really encapsulates the fragile relationships we form with people in transitional phases of our lives. In the movie lead characters played by Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray are adrift in different age-specific life crises, but the bond they form reminds me of what I’ve seen between many twenty-somethings who come together in a given time and place. There’s definitely a sexual attraction between them, but it’s more of a relationship based on shared feelings of displacement and dissatisfaction in their physical setting and in their lives back home. Even though you know their relationship is not going to be a lasting one, their final goodbye in the middle of a busy Tokyo street is so poignant. Through sheer circumstance and sometimes through many other factors, this is a point in life where everyone learns that some friendships, even very meaningful ones, are just not meant to last. Watch this film and realize it’s okay to let go of people.
For everyone who’s scared of the future: Hot Tub Time Machine
If you’re a twenty-something you should take care to avoid almost any time travel movie. Seriously, we all love Back To The Future, but don’t go there. The plot of most all time travel movies hinges on the core idea that there is one future out there for you, one specific destiny, and any tiny action could screw that up forever. For a person in the process of figuring out their adult life, this is a really terrifying concept. Enter Hot Tub Time Machine. Not only does it parody other time travel narratives in an incredibly smart way but it tackles middle-aged regret with brutal honesty. I can’t be the only person my age who’s already worried about waking up at age 40 and regretting the decisions I make today. Well, Hot Tub Time Machine quiets these fears. The movie argues against the idea of a fixed destiny and tells you that the future is yours to take control of. Plus, you’ll laugh your ass off. Comic relief, yay!