When I was kid, my mom used coming of age as code for teen sex when vetoing a movie on the grounds of its purported inappropriateness for my tender eyes. Lo and behold, coming-of-age movies became my favorite genre! Of course, not all films about growing up brim with hookups and pregnancy scares. Here, picks for each grade cohort that will make your kids think you think they’re really mature, whether or not you actually do.
Flora & Ulysses (2001; Disney+): This recent live-action-plus-cute-CGI-animals sleeper follows a world-weary 10-year-old whose parents (Alyson “This One Time at Band Camp from American Pie” Hannigan and Ben “Jean-Ralphio from Parks & Rec” Schwartz) have recently separated as she and her suddenly magical pet squirrel undertake an adventure that renews her sense of wonder and faith in family. The rodent, Ulysses, is pretty cute to boot.
Now & Then (1995; rent for $2.99 on Prime Video et al.): In addition to the on-the-rise teen actors pictured above, this star-fest features Rosie O’Donnell, Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith, and Rita Wilson as their grown-up counterparts. The movie was a critical flop when it debuted—but a massive hit among my then sixth grade contemporaries. Now & Then had everything a preadolescent girl could want: intense friendships, a light ghost subplot, a catchy vintage soundtrack, and a quick cut of Devon Sawa’s bottom. During a rainy Covid lockdown day, I sprung for this rental for our fifth grader, who proceeded to watch it four times in two days.
Eighth Grade (2018; Showtime, which offers a weeklong free trial): Bo Burnham’s quiet masterpiece tracks hormonal, social media-mesmerized Kayla as she navigates the snake pit that is middle school. Our own at-the-time eighth grader loved this movie as much as his parents, but be warned: If you watch it alongside your kid, you may want to disappear for a snack break around the 52-minute mark to avoid a brief but blow-your-hair-back-uncomfortable scene involving Kayla and a banana. Josh Hamilton plays the widowed dad. If you’re like anyone in our family, this one will make you cry.
Almost Famous (2000; Pluto TV, which is a free service; Paramount+): I could unspool thousands of words on this ultimate rock-fan movie—and one day, dear reader, I may!—but for now I’ll just say that our rising sophomore emerged almost as hot on it as I was when it was released my senior year. While I have not noticed him giving up his taste for the Chainsmokers in favor of, you know, real rock ’n roll, I did later clock him perusing my gnarled book of Rolling Stone covers. Which is something.
Yes great ideas