Teen dramas, concerns, troubles, romances, discoveries, escapism… No matter which of these aspects of young lives are depicted, there is always at least one feature with which we can relate. Their lives may be easy; their lives may be tragic, but teenagers are vulnerable and passionate. And their moral ambiguity provides a fascinating new outlook on life. This review is dedicated to ten motion pictures that have captured a unique teen feature and developed it in a strikingly artistic way. 

 

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10. LOL (Laughing Out Loud) (Lisa Azuelos, 2008)

Laughing out loud French style! LOL will make tweens jealous of all the perks that teenage freedom introduces, yet will signal to the older spectators to check their priorities. Lola (Theret) clearly hyperbolizes her high school problems, yet her serious approach towards romantic relationships and friendship deserves special recognition. It is rather ironic how her mother attempts to control Lola’s relationships, despite having a very chaotic personal life of her own. The innocence of this film makes it quite enjoyable to watch as it introduces minor, yet significant issues that most teenage girls have to face in their interactions with family and friends.  

 

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9. Girl interrupted (James Mangold, 1999)

Set in the 1960s, Girl Interrupted takes teenage confusion and uncertainties to a whole new level. Susanna’s (Winona Ryder) goalless future is unacceptable to the point where she is sent to a mental asylum. As Susanna develops friendships with people who are truly disturbed, she learns to distinguish between psychotic pain and simple teenage stubbornness. By the end of her treatment Suzanna manages to establish a down-to-earth perception of her inner-self and her position in society.  

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8. Big (Penny Marshall, 1988) 

What better way to look at all the privileges and limitations of childhood than through the eyes of an adult? Twelve-year old Josh (Tom Hanks) finds his wish granted as he wakes up one morning a grown man. It is quite amusing to observe this ‘grown up’ succeed in the real world through the use of his pre-mature talents. The highlight of Big is Josh’s prosperity in the toy industry, as he proposes a more child-appealing version of toy robots. This movie illustrates the apparent disjunctions between child and adult perspectives and apart from that is simply a great comedy!

 

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7. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)

When considering the social implications behind Pan’s Labyrinth all typical problems that teenagers dramatize seem quite insignificant compared to what young Ophelia experiences. In the midst of war, her only salvation from the weak mother and despotic stepfather is the tale of a magical world, to which Ophelia eagerly tries to escape. The audience will be astonished with the little girl’s courage as she faces the truly horrifying creatures in her attempt to escape the world which proves to be even more demonic. Reality and magic collide as Ophelia meets her demise…or rather finally finds peace in the beautiful kingdom.

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6. Phoebe In Wonderland (Daniel Barnz, 2008)

A troubled young girl, with apparent Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Phoebe distances from the over-ruled social norms in the inspiring realms of Wonderland. For her, Wonderland is not simply the stage of a school play, but a world where she doesn’t feel so incongruent and misunderstood. Phoebe’s desire to be understood by her peers is evident as her principal, psychotherapist and mother even portray the characters of her beloved Wonderland. Phoebe’s vivid imagination and, in fact, her friendship with a boy who has a rather feminine character, suggests the importance of accepting one’s personal idiosyncrasies. Indeed, Phoebe is unique and unlike the ‘awful normals’ of her pragmatic society. 

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5. That Night (Craig Bolotin, 1992) 

A tender film, That Night breaks the boundaries between teenage and childhood friendships. Little Alice (Eliza Dushku), who doesn’t really get along with her peers, idealizes the older girl down the road, Sheryl (Juliette Lewis). As she spends more time with her new friend, Alice not only learns the art of ‘kissing and make-up’ application, but also develops a very mature understanding of the teen’s concerns. Indeed, Sheryl has a number of problems herself. After the death of her father she seeks salvation in the arms of Rick, a boy disapproved by all the parents in the neighborhood. After Sheryl is sent away to an asylum for young expecting mothers, Alice does everything in her power to reunite her with Rick. In a very kind manner, this movie comments on the fact that mature decisions are not always a product of superior age; that both young women and little girls encounter a number of social and emotional problems they can overcome only with compassion and moral support.  

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4. This Boy's Life (MIchael Caton-Jones, 1993) 

The movie examines the relationship between the young writer Tobias Wolff and his cruel stepfather. Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), as the teenager calls himself, is rebellious to an acceptable extent, which enforces the injustice of his stepfather’s abuse that all his children face. Even thought Jack’s worst crimes are merely random rides in his stepdad’s car, and the writing of obscenities in the school bathroom. However, through personal ambition and clever tricks, Jack eventually manages to free himself from the man’s control. As he walks down the long road away from the hostile home, Jack illustrates the pure adolescent spirit of hope and inspiration.

 

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3. Hounddog (Deborah Kampmeier, 2007)

Although rejected by many critics, Hounddog is a very clever movie that illustrates both the grotesque environment of the American South and its spirit. A young girl, Lewellen (Dakota Fanning) embodies that spirit through her great fondness of Elvis’ music. Elvis is not a mere musical preference, but a symbol of life for Lewellen. Her passion for Elvis leads her to destruction, as she gets viciously raped in the pursuit of concert tickets; yet music revitalizes the young girl and renders a sense of hope after Ellen (her father’s girlfriend) and her friend horribly betray her. Even her dog gets shot by her drunken father. Given the circumstances, there seems to be no possible hope for Lewellen’s escape. Yet the ending is cleverly crafted as it introduces a sense of hope for the audience without depriving the film of its naturalistic style. As Lewellen finds a cute puppy on the rode she also encounters Ellen, who offers her a new life in the city. Leaving everything behind and saying, ‘I love you daddy’, Lewellen walks towards her new mother.     

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2. Welcome to the Dollhouse (Todd Solondz, 1995) 

In a rather comedic way, Welcome to the Dollhouse illustrates a very bitter situation that young Dawn (Heather Matarazzo) effortlessly copes with. An awkward looking Middle school student, Dawn is overshadowed by her smart older brother and adorable younger sister. Her crush on the older and attractive ‘back-street’ boy inspires her to learn about the next stages of maturity, particularly relationships and sexuality. The whole concept of teen sexuality is played in such an innocent and comedic fashion that it makes the film a true work of art. The highlight of ‘Dollhouse’ is expressed in Dawn and her classmate Brandon’s confrontation when he threatens to rape her. Their conflict is far from truly aggressive or dangerous; it actually results in the development of a new friendship between the two. Throughout the whole film cynical issues such as rape or kidnap are given a rather matter-of-fact tone, as if it is simply something we all must deal with. Despite Dawn’s recurring tantrums and evident misery, she maintains a strong character with her self-absorbed mother and judgmental peers.

 

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1. Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke, 2003) 

This movie demonstrates a merciless rebellion of a young girl in its purest form. Distancing from the typical romantic intensions which motivate most teen girls to protest against their mothers, Thirteen is both frightening and fascinating in its authentic depiction of a teen’s emotional suffering. The main character, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), is desperate, vulnerable and troubled. Starting with painful, evocative poetry and ending with piercings and drugs, Tracy herself is not sure what it is that she wants to escape from. Tracy’s actions are manifestations of the world she has created, a display that fails to render her any kind of remedy for her confusion. Even the light of her day, the precious and popular friend Ivy, betrays her, which only reinforces the fact that Tracy was the one who aggravated her emotional state by creating illusions and reaching for extremes… as most of us young people do. 

 

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