Because I’m not Toni Morrison I’ll never get the chance to address a class of graduates and give them advice about how to live their lives. And it’s just as well, really. I went to a party school/diploma factory in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas, so my ideas about rites of passage to maturity were mostly informed by dancing to “Jungle Love” by Morris Day and The Time and excelling at intramural vomiting.
But I know movies, Graduate of Today. I watched lots of different ones as you were growing up and shouting “Again!” as soon as your 27th viewing of “The Lion King” was ending in the family room DVD player. I’m not trying to say you’re stunted and weak but… okay yes I am.
So you need me and my wisdom. I have some titles specifically related to your station in life, coming-of-age films to guide you on your path. You can just put them in your Netflix queue or illegally download them to your laptop. But you should watch them between all those extended bouts of nothing you plan to do this summer. And don’t lie like you’re going to be busy. Everyone likes to pretend they’re being all Rory Gilmore-accomplished. But they’re not.
If you’re a serious-minded film student:
“Europa, Europa” — True story about a Jewish kid who had to pretend to be Aryan to save himself from the Nazis. It matured him, as you might imagine. The foreskin situation alone will send chills down your spine.
“Murmur of The Heart” — Louis Malle classic of 15 year-old sickliness and sexed-up weirdness. This teen even does “it” with his own mom and no one seems too upset about it. (See also Malle’s “Au Revoir, Les Enfants” if incest creeps you out too much.)
“The Graduate” — A little on the hippie side but that’s how it was then, apparently. It’s about a guy who doesn’t want to go have a secure, successful career. He just wants to get it on with an older woman. This was back when college meant you kind of automatically got to have a secure, successful career so they were a little more cavalier about it all. Best seen if you’re not stuck temping somewhere.
If you’re a fan of “90210” reruns on Soapnet:
“Foxes” — Teen Jodie Foster runs around with her friends in the San Fernando Valley, evading the pervasive boredom and wearing sparkly tube tops. Life lessons interrupt.
“Real Women have Curves” — Recent indie film about a teenage Mexican-American girl in East L.A. who’d give her left one to run around carefree in the Valley.
“Risky Business” — Kind of like “Foxes” for boys. So privileged, so misunderstood. And it has the added bonus of featuring Tom Cruise before you hated him.
If you enjoy crying:
“Ma Vie En Rose” — Belgian arthouse trip into the mind of a boy who wishes he could be a girl and the ill-feeling that sort of request tends to have on parents.
“King of The Hill” — Steven Soderbergh movie that everyone ignored — but that should be forced viewing for people who thought “Ocean’s Twelve” was so awesome — about a kid who has to survive by his wits.
“Crooklyn” — The best Spike Lee movie ever. A little girl in the 1970s loses more than her share of everything and weathers it all. It sounds sadder than it plays.
If you’re a potential serial killer:
“Friday the 13th, Part 2” — Jason was just an innocent water-dwelling child in the first one. But here, mom finally dead, he grows up to be a man and learns to accept his destiny as the grooviest ax-wielding monster of his generation. It’s like a blood-soaked “Bambi.”
“Sleepaway Camp” — Angela is stuck at Camp Acid-Washed Jeans and no one likes her. She has to find the will to keep going and accept the life lessons a poignant camp-bound summer can bring to a young girl. She also murders everyone who crosses her.
“Dirty Dancing” — Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze have the time of their lives growing up and learning to dance their troubles away. But it makes me want to kill people.
If you’re gay:
“Beautiful Thing” — They may not have let you take your boyfriend to the prom, but as this UK import shows, you can still have a slow dance with him out in the middle of the street in your own neighborhood and not get the crap beaten out of you. Provided you have a spine made of steel
“Show Me Love” — “Beautiful Thing” for teen lesbians.
“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” — “Beautiful Thing” for grown men in love with their bikes and Mr. T Cereal.
“X-Men: The Last Stand” — All the “X-Men” movies are totally gay but this one features a kid with big giant white wings who not only has to come out as Mutant to a mutantphobic dad but then has to grow up fast and help save that dad’s life. All this while dressed like he’s about to jet off to Palm Springs for The White Party.
If you just flat-out know that you’re better than everyone else:
“The Opposite of Sex” — Christina Ricci slashes and burns her way through a thicket of people who simply don’t understand that they need to get out of her way. And she barely learns her lesson at the end, which makes it the best movie on this whole list.
“Ghost World” — They just don’t make enough movies about the cruelest truth of all: that you will grow apart from your best high school friends and probably never talk to them again after you graduate.
“My Brilliant Career” — Young Judy Davis endures and defies the low-expectations that conspire to keep her from growing up to play Judy Garland in that TV movie.
“Donnie Darko” — Yes, you’ve already seen this one probably. And it makes more emotional than narrative sense. But it’s the best post-9/11 teen-anxiety movie to date. Sparkle motion!
If you’re a weirdo:
“Harold & Maude” — Teenage boy falls in love with very old woman. They go to funerals together. They have sex. Then she has to leave the relationship because she dies. I’m making it sound less sweet and life-affirming than it is. Just trust me, it’s very cool.
“Welcome to the Dollhouse” — A teenage girl experiences torment, despair, brutality and emotional paralysis. This is what adolescence really feels like. And the moral is that nothing changes when you get older. It’s hilarious.
“Eraserhead” — An anti-coming-of-age nightmare about what will happen to you if you grow up, get married and have a baby. It will be a monster and your head will be chopped off and made into pencil erasers. Now go enjoy your life.
Professor Dave White is the author of “Exile in Guyville.” Learn more life lessons from him at .