Now and Then

8 kick-ass coming-of-age movies directed by women

If you liked Lady Bird, you’ll love these top coming-of-age films.

|
18 January 2018, 9:06am

Now and Then

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird follows a 17-year-old girl’s coming of age in early 2000s Sacramento: she challenges her mum about her messy bedroom, she listens to Alanis Morissette’s Hand in My Pocket in her dad’s car, she falls for a pretentious bassist. Nothing extreme happens. It’s just her, navigating that awkward part of pre-college adolescence that you’ll recognise if you ever came home late at night wasted and tried to hide it from your parents.

It’s 100% on point -- so much so that it was crowned Rotten Tomatoes' freshest movie of all time. And yet, the film and its director were completely overlooked by both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs. I have no idea why. For too long, female directors have been eclipsed by their male counterparts in the race for Best Director awards -- frustration at which was crystallised during the Golden Globes when Natalie Portman introduced the “all male nominees”. When you have some of the most brilliant minds from all over the world shattering glass ceilings with the stories they tell, the skill with which them tell them, and, sometimes, even just by the very nature of them being women directors in the first place, how can you read their exclusion as anything other than sexism? So, sod the patriarchy, here are eight of the finest coming-of-age movies directed by women. If you liked Lady Bird, you’ll love these.

Mustang
With some dubbing it the Turkish Virgin Suicides, Mustang parachutes you into the day-to-day trenches of girlhood in rural Turkey. Five sisters are routinely punished for being girls: for splashing in the sea with boys, for wearing clothes that don't cover every inch of their skin. Worst of all, they're married off one by one to guys they've never met, and are subjected to 'virginity reports'. It’s an eye-opener. An emotionally bruising tale from Turkish-French filmmaker Deniz Gamze Ergüven.

Now and Then
The girl gang in Lesli Linka Glatter’s Now and Then -- which looks at the particularities of girlhood in the 70s -- stealing boys’ clothes at the lake, conducting midnight séances in the cemetery and of course, making friends with an old man called Crazy Pete. It basically flips the gender script on Stand By Me’s nostalgic flashback to a group of friends growing up in small-town America. Instead of River Phoenix and his dorky mates, you get a young Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, and Gaby Hoffmann. You can’t really beat that combo.

Tomboy
Laure is a 10-year-old girl who’s just moved to the neighbourhood. She’s a tomboy. And when she meets a girl who assumes she’s a boy, she instinctively introduces herself as Mikäel. As Mikäel, he carves out a new identity as part of a group of local boys. Then he develops a crush on a girl. But with his sister in on the secret, you know it’s not gonna end well. Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy is a nuanced, rarely-seen exploration of ambiguous gender and youthful innocence.

The Virgin Suicides
Set in 70s suburbia -- and ripe with dreamy visuals, lens flare, hazy Air soundtrack -- Sofia Coppola’s coming of age classic pulls back the curtain on the Lisbon sisters, who are essentially imprisoned by their militant mother, forced to wear drab clothes and live a life of abstinence. There’s just one problem: they’re teenage girls. Did she really think they’d fall in line? Sofia’s tale of teenage repression, love and tragedy is equal parts deeply disturbing and achingly beautiful.

Wadjda
As Saudi Arabia’s first female behind the camera, Haifaa al-Mansour is responsible for this heartwarming drama about a girl who dreams of owning a shiny green bike. She wants it more than anything. Trouble is, the ultra-conservative society around her -- even her own mum -- disapproves, seeing it as counter to Islamic principles. Shockingly, it was only in 2013 that Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women riding bikes (in controlled areas). Also shocking: Haifaa had to direct this film mostly from the back of a van, using a walkie-talkie, so as not to raise any red flags locally.

Fish Tank
Andrea Arnold’s critically lauded drama -- rated the 65th best film of the 21st century by the BBC -- introduces you to Mia, a girl growing up on an estate in Essex. She’s a loner who dances in an empty flat. She’s also fearless and mouthy, criticising other girls’ dance routines and even head-butting one. Things reach crisis point when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in and takes advantage of Mia. The one positive thing she has? Her dancing. And maybe a horse. By the end of it, you’re completely in her corner. Not least because first-time actor Katie Jarvis -- cast when she was just 17 -- is insanely great.

Clueless
You didn’t have to grow up in Beverly Hills and dress head-to-toe in Alaïa to appreciate Amy Heckerling’s masterpiece. She nailed 90s teen tribes: skaters in ill-fitting jeans, stoners in dreads, and, um, girls with endless supplies of huge hats? And beyond that, she nails the daily bullshit of high school life, a time when being called “a virgin who can’t drive” is somehow a legit put-down. Who’d have thought that a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's Emma could remain so relevant? Yes, even if you didn’t grow up driving around LA, in platforms. As if!

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Granted it’s not a straightforward tale of coming of age. I mean, it has skateboarding vampires and it’s set in a ghost town called Bad City. Yet when you strip it down, Ana Lily Amirpour’s feature debut -- hailed as “The first Iranian vampire Western” -- is exactly that: a simple tale of a girl growing up in a small town, wandering the streets at night, dreaming of the world that lies beyond. And yeah, she happens to be a vamp. In other words: you’ve never seen a coming of age quite like this.