While the coming-of-age genre is typically associated with films for teenage viewers struggling to find themselves and form their identities, more than a few picks are aimed toward adults. Moving away from the teenage angst of Lady Bird and the stylish comedy of Almost Famous, coming-of-age movies for more mature audiences tend to focus on stories that are more relatable to the late 20s and early 30s crowd.
From the inspirational blockbuster Barbie to the tear-jerking drama The Worst Person in the World, the best coming-of-age movies for adults offer profound and heartfelt insights about personal growth during the later stages of life. They are a testament to the fact that self-discovery never truly ends, with the daunting process being something everyone must go through in their own imperfect ways.
The Graduate (1967)
Dustin Hoffman stars as 21-year-old Benjamin Braddock in the classic rom-com The Graduate. Directed by Mike Nichols, the film tells the story of a recent college graduate who is unsure of what he wants to do with his life. Instead of considering a career, Benjamin becomes involved with the much older and already-married Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Their already messy affair is complicated by the protagonist’s developing feelings for Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross).
The Graduate features a flawed and, in many ways, unlikable main character who seems to make one bad decision after another. Benjamin is woefully unprepared for adult life and chases after what he thinks he wants in the moment. In the process, the film showcases its other characters’ imperfections, like the initially dazzling Mrs. Robinson, who is eventually revealed to have uncertainties like everyone else. While many of The Graduate‘s aspects haven’t aged well, its core message about how nobody really knows what they’re doing is something that will still resonate with modern audiences.
Frances Ha (2012)
Before becoming one of the most influential directors working today, Greta Gerwig wrote and starred in the 2012 comedy-drama Frances Ha. Director Noah Baumbach’s film is centered on the titular 27-year-old dancer who struggles with her career, dating life, and friendships. Frances grapples with the many changes that are happening around her, most notably the negative shifts in her relationship with her best friend, Sophie (Mickey Sumner).
Gerwig is perfectly cast as the insecure yet charming Frances, who never quite accomplishes what she sets out to do. With her 20s fading fast, the protagonist finds herself increasingly isolated and unsure despite meeting several other characters in similar predicaments. In the end, the beautifully told black-and-white movie captures the feeling of being lost as a not-quite-mature adult while also showing all the ways there can be love, humor, and lessons learned in that tumultuous period.
Director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie took the world by storm when it premiered last year, with fans worldwide flocking to theaters to see the delightful fantasy-comedy flick. Set in the perfect world of Barbieland, where nothing terrible ever happens, the film revolves around Margot Robbie’s Barbie, who begins to question their reality. When she decides to visit the real world, she learns some hard truths about humanity.
Alongside Ken (Ryan Gosling), Barbie’s quest to find the little girl who could be causing her unprecedented existential crisis turns into one of self-discovery. Barbie falls in love with being human and all the awful and fantastic things that come with it. A unique coming-of-age story, Barbie’s story is an ode to all the small details that make life worth living and the beautiful women who paved the way for future generations who should make the most of their personal paths.
Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) is an imaginative and introverted young woman who spends most of her time secretly making others happy. From giving vivid descriptions of Paris to a blind man to sneakily inspiring her father to see the world, she finds creative ways to make others smile. What no one knows is that Amélie herself is not exactly untroubled, as she carries some pain from her past. This prevents her from fully embracing a potential romance with a charming man who walks into her café one fortunate day.
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Amélie is mostly known as a feel-good movie about a sweet and selfless main character. It’s made better by its underlying story, which is a coming-of-age narrative that highlights how the ghosts from Amélie’s past continue to influence her present actions. The way she overcomes her self-doubts and anxieties is the cherry on top of an already heartwarming film about the value of altruism.
The Worst Person in the World (2021)
In director Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, the young woman Julie (Renate Reinsve) navigates the many choices she has to make in her life. The film depicts different stages in Julie’s career and relationships, showing her shifting attitudes as she jumps from psychology to photography and from a man she meets while she studies to someone she encounters several years later at a random party.
The movie’s several time jumps work to its advantage, as audiences see the direct consequences or positive effects of Julie’s actions, with many of her decisions leading to heartbreak and regret. Over time, Julie seems to become “the worst person in the world” as she paves her own path and leaves others hurt and confused in her wake. Through her messy, authentic, and oftentimes relatable journey, viewers are invited to reflect on how easy it is to make seemingly unforgivable mistakes in one’s lifetime. Ultimately, these faults don’t make Julie “the worst,” they just make her painfully human.