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6 Bittersweet and Brutally Honest Coming-of-Age Stories

Growing up is complicated, especially when you’re about to cross over that pimple-addled threshold into adulthood. Whether you’re a shy teen trying to navigate your own birthday party or a young immigrant trying to hold on to your future, coming of age is an emotional battleground. There are few things in this life more heart-wrenching than those adolescent years when the weight of your expanding universe feels crushing and every single human interaction can spark an episode of self-reflection. Luckily, we have films to guide us through these trying times. We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite coming-of-age stories on Topic to help you prepare for adulting.

The Wonders

When you come from a family of traditional beekeepers and live in a small village in central Italy with ancient Etruscan roots, your eyes might widen at the introduction of anything new. So when a reality TV crew comes to town to document the ancient Etruscan lifestyle, eldest daughter Gelsomina is immediately intrigued. She’s reaching an age where she must start figuring out her place in the world, so this disruption to her normally monotonous life inspires both wonder and confusion, evoking the beautiful vulnerability of adolescence.

Show Me the Way

Coming out while coming of age? How about in rural Tennessee? This documentary follows a group of gay men in central Tennessee who share their stories of self-acceptance, but the most moving dynamic is between teenager Jordan and his pastor father who is struggling to reconcile his religious beliefs with his love for his son. It’s a powerful examination of the intersection of religion and tolerance and an emotional portrait that every family should watch.

Dreamed

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There are roughly 700,000 DACA recipients in the US—that’s almost a million people whose futures are uncertain. In this documentary, we meet several undocumented young people who came to the US as children and have been able to stay in the country with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but what will they do when their DACA expires? Imagine working hard to enter adult life and then having that life ripped away from you? For these young individuals, that would mean their jobs, friends, and families too.

Starless Dreams

Not every coming-of-age story is tied up with a neat bow. This harrowing documentary follows the teenage girls of a juvenile detention center on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran. Some of these girls have exhibited the behavior of hardened criminals—one girl is in theretheir for armed robbery, one for drug possession, and one murdered her own father—but they’re still vulnerable teens. In between scenes of sisterly bonding, they reveal their anxiety over being released back into the world, where they’ll have to survive even harsher elements.

Araby

Like a coming-of-age story within a coming-of-age story, 18-year-old Andre learns a lifetime of lessons through an older man’s life story. When Andre is sent to pick up an injured factory worker’s belongings, he comes across his memoir and starts reading it, becoming fully engrossed in the man’s modest, but soulful life of poverty, love, and political action. The film is just as much about the man’s coming of age as well, as we follow him on his epic journey in search of a better life.

Girl Asleep

Sometimes teens don’t want to act out, they just want to blend in. Introverted Greta is about to turn 15 and her parents want to throw a party and invite the whole school, which becomes a literal nightmare come true. As the party progresses, she finds herself in a surreal dream-like existence where she must battle evil versions of her mean-girl friends and chase mysterious forest creatures to get back a valuable stolen possession. The quirky drama is a perfect allegory for the mind of a teenager: slightly irrational, often strange, but resilient as hell.

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