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Netflix: We Were All Freshmen, Once

With the admission of the final batch of CC 2013 students, the time has come upon us. The times which shall see a swell of apple-cheeked youths swarming over the campus, staring all doe-eyed and innocent at Low. In honor of the swarms already here and the swarms yet to come, Resident DVD-Repackaging Expert Mark Hay offers up a list of three films depicting the epic coming-of-age these unsuspecting juveniles will surely endure over the coming months.

student in locker
 Via Houston Chronicle

The Squid and the Whale (2005)

A rough sketch of director Noah Baumbach’s childhood, “The Squid and the Whale” elegantly depicts the conflicted angst and traumas of children growing up in an intelligent, well-off, but completely dysfunctional family. Typically, films about familial implosion depict strictly internal affairs.  Baumbach eschews this for the expected melodrama of the genre.  Despite living in a state of continual self-destruction and conflict, Baumbach’s characters prove reluctant to admit their own problems. They feel that their wealth and intellect forbids such levels of tension and pain. This introspection drives their demons under the skin where they can run rampant. As the film chugs along – slowly and always with the stretched and tired air of denial – these bottled terrors manifest themselves in moments that are painful, humorous, and harrowing; always masochistically ignorant and self-aware. It may be a sad magic to work, but in expressing the family’s hidden and shameful angst, Baumbach’s film strikes a chord with all who ever felt tortured growing up but always felt rather childish for feeling as such.

Superbad (2007)

As unforgivably raunchy as they may be, writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are at least honest folk. Their story of two youths (unabashedly named Seth and Evan, a nod to the autobiography inherent in all of this) nearing the end of high school and meandering about town in search of alcohol (ostensibly—but really, just anything) is unrepentantly true to life. Rogen and Goldberg magnify the crude and misperceived notions of adolescence into such a grotesque and burlesque form that they become less painfully awkward and more unbelievably hilarious. By the grace of director Greg Mottola (of “Adventureland”), the film acquires the punch and the continuity to tie together all of the obscenities and absurdities.  In its finished form, “Superbad” may remain affronting and abrasive, but such is the lost and confusing period of youth in which the two characters live, trying to justify their high school years.  Smarmy though it is, the conclusion is natural and satisfying, and affords the characters maturity and dignity and the viewer pleasant nostalgia.  Who can’t relate?

Leon (1994)

Director Luc Besson takes the quest to maturity and peace with life in some truly twisted, endearing turns in “Leon” (“The Professional” to most American audiences). Besson zeros in on two forsaken individuals – an isolated, illiterate, and generally cold hitman (Jean Reno) and the street-smart orphan of a drug dealer (Natalie Portman). By thrusting these two souls together, Besson takes the opportunity to examine compassion  and its ability to destroy all that is despicable and redirect all that is heroic. Make no mistake, though, this is a story of mutual redemption, but it is not without its disconcerting hitches.   Reno’s contemplation of putting Portman out of her misery and Portman’s inappropriate mistake of a fatherly bond for a romantic bond, serve to complicate the development and make it somehow more plausible in its gruffness. As usual, Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Nikita”) operates with such precision that he creates an alternate universe in New York in which all of this, all the debauchery and all the corruption, all the love and all the redemption, is not just romantic, but is indeed heroic. The coming of age here is bought at a high price, but it is amazingly thorough and enchanting for it.

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9 Comments

  • besson says:

    @besson is a genius

  • American Graffiti says:

    @American Graffiti is another excellent movie in the same vein.

  • nice picks says:

    @nice picks I second American Graffiti. And of course Dazed N Confused fits right in. I’ve been hearing some buzz that Adventureland is another modern coming-of-age classic. Anyone seen it?

    1. Adventureland... says:

      @Adventureland... Was awesome. College grad with a major in something like journalism can’t find a job (sounds like some CU grads), wants to go to Grad School (at Columbia no less) but can’t afford it (hence working at Adventureland). Great movie, girl from Twilight as main star… and she is much better in this film I’m sure. I would def recommend seeing it.

      1. hmm says:

        @hmm I really wanted to like Adventureland but it seemed way too self-important to me. Superbad, for all its raunchiness and mainstream trappings, is a superior and less pandering look at adolescent malaise.

        1. keep says:

          @keep in mind though that I think mine is a minority opinion

      2. saw it says:

        @saw it at ferris reel. very derivative of apatow’s flicks. lead male a poor man’s michael cera. great if you enjoy seeing men of all sorts take a knee to the groin. also, some vomit jokes. m-e-h.

  • leon says:

    @leon disclaimer: netflix sent me the american, inferior version of Leon (aka The Professional, which cut out some heavy and interesting scenes the original). if they do this to you, i suggest downloading the french version instead. both are still in english, obviously. the only change is the extra scenes.

  • kind of says:

    @kind of in the same vein. francois truffaut’s the 400 blows.

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