Coming of Age in the '80s

 set in the ’80s, and either made in that time period or years after.


To what degree does nostalgia influence period pieces? The 1980s are often attributed as the decade in which the Teen (also known as the Coming of Age) movie exploded as a genre. How comparable are films made in the 21st century, but set in the 1980s, to those made and released in that original time period? Are these more current films simply rehashing the stories that have been shown in the 1980s?

The definition of nostalgia is longing and having an affection for the past, usually because of a personal connection. This is not inherently a negative, but this essay will explore how it could be a negative factor. The 1981 article “Film Genres and the Genre Film” by Thomas Schatz will be used as a springboard for defining Coming of Age Films as not just a sub-genre, but its own genre. “…The genre exists as a sort of tacit ‘contract’ between filmmakers audience…” (16). Some consider Nicholas Ray’s 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, to be the first traditional Coming of Age film. The focus of this essay will be predominantly on American films, specifically English speaking ones. Many of the genre characteristic that are seen in Rebel Without a Cause carry over to other Coming of Age films, however it is interesting where and why the films’ diverge.

A set of genre expectations will be established by discussing the following seven films from the ‘80s. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982), Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge, 1983), Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984), as well as The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984). Then The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985). Lastly, Some Kind of Wonderful (Howard Deutch, 1987) which was written by John Hughes.

There are common character and story tropes in all these films, as expected as they’re from the same time period and genre. The most apparent, aside from a lack of racial diversity, is the importance placed of class systems and wealth. This is also the greatest area in which more contemporary films, which are set in the same time period, differ. The contemporary films that will be looked at are: Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009), Sing Street (John Carney, 2016), and Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017).

The photo gallery has stills from the ten films mentioned above. The gallery randomizes. When looking at the photos, go beyond attempting to identify which are ‘authentic’. What do they have in common? Where do they differ? What do the stills show about their place in the history of cinema?

Synopsis: “Ecstatic when his parents leave on vacation for a few days, high school senior Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) cuts loose with his best friend Miles. After an attempt at securing the services of a prostitute goes slightly awry, Joel hires gorgeous Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) for a night of delight. Stunned by the amount of Lana’s “bill” the next morning, Joel grows frantic after he crashes his father’s Porsche. In an effort to raise lots of money fast, a desperate Joel turns the house into a brothel.”

Synopsis: “Daniel (Ralph Macchio) moves to Southern California with his mother, Lucille (Randee Heller), but quickly finds himself the target of a group of bullies who study karate at the Cobra Kai dojo. Fortunately, Daniel befriends Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), an unassuming repairman who just happens to be a martial arts master himself. Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing, training him in a more compassionate form of karate and preparing him to compete against the brutal Cobra Kai.”

Synopsis: “With the recession hitting people hard in Dublin during the 80s, Conor is moved from his private school to a tough inner-city alternative. As he tries to adjust to a new way of life, he decides to start his own band.”

Synopsis: “With the occasion all but overshadowed by her sister’s upcoming wedding, angst-ridden Samantha (Molly Ringwald) faces her 16th birthday with typical adolescent dread. Samantha pines for studly older boy Jake (Michael Schoeffling), but worries that her chastity will be a turnoff for the popular senior. Meanwhile, Samantha must constantly rebuff the affections of nerdy Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), the only boy in the school, unfortunately, who seems to take an interest in her.”

Synopsis: “Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), an artsy high school outcast, tries to land a date with popular girl Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) with some help from his tomboy best friend, Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson). However, his advances draw the ire of Amanda’s snobby ex-boyfriend, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer), who makes plans to get even. Matters are further complicated when Watts realizes she likes Keith as more than just a friend and tries to convince him to stop pursuing Amanda.”

Synopsis: “It’s the summer of 1983, and precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He soon meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who’s working as an intern for Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of their surroundings, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.”

Synopsis: ” Stacy Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a pretty, but inexperienced, teen interested in dating. Given advice by her uninhibited friend, Linda Barrett (Phoebe Cates), Stacy gets trapped in a love triangle with nice guy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) and his more assured buddy Mike Damone (Robert Romanus). Meanwhile, Stacy’s classmate Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), who lives for surfing and being stoned, faces off against Mr. Hand (Ray Walston), a strict teacher who has no time for the slacker’s antics.”

Synopsis: “Lovely teen Julie Richman (Deborah Foreman) is steeped in the excessive, pink-clad culture of the San Fernando Valley, complete with her narcissistic boyfriend, Tommy (Michael Bowen). At a party, however, Julie falls for an edgy Hollywood punk named Randy (Nicolas Cage), and the two begin an unlikely romance. Torn between fitting in with her superficial friends and embracing a more non-conformist lifestyle, Julie ultimately has to decide to stay with Tommy or take a risk with Randy.”

Synopsis: “It’s the summer of 1987, and recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) can’t wait to begin his long-anticipated dream trip to Europe. Unfortunately, James’ plans come to a screeching halt when his parents announce that they are unable to subsidize his trip. Forced to take a job at the local amusement park, James prepares for the worst summer ever, until he finds love with a captivating co-worker named Em (Kristen Stewart).”

Synopsis: “Five high school students from different walks of life endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal (Paul Gleason). The disparate group includes rebel John (Judd Nelson), princess Claire (Molly Ringwald), outcast Allison (Ally Sheedy), brainy Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) and Andrew (Emilio Estevez), the jock. Each has a chance to tell his or her story, making the others see them a little differently — and when the day ends, they question whether school will ever be the same.”


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