I recently saw Mud (2013) – easily one of the best movies of the year, so far – and was struck by its multiple layers. It’s a thriller that stars Matthew McConaughey in the title role as a fugitive living on a remote island, hiding from bounty hunters and pining for the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Its languid, atmospheric setting, along the Mississippi River in the Ozarks, is a character unto itself that is refreshingly free of stereotypes. But at its core is Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a young boy who decides to help Mud reunite with Juniper, despite problems at home. While I enjoy cheerful, predictable coming-of-age films as much as the next person, this movie made me think of some others with life-changing journeys for the young protagonists. Y tu Mamá También (2001), directed by Alfonso Cuarón, follows best friends Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna). Abandoned by their girlfriends for the summer, they embark on an unlikely trip across Mexico with beautiful Luisa (Maribel Verdú), who’s harboring a secret. The rivalry between Julio and Tenoch for Luisa’s affections are heightened by issues of class and tests the limits of how far best friends will go when certain situations present themselves. (Check out the soundtrack as well for an eclectic mix of Mexican music alongside Frank Zappa and Brian Eno).
Ghost World (2001), based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, tells the story of two best friends and social outcasts – Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) – as they navigate life beyond high school. Bored, they prey on Seymour (Steve Buschemi), a middle-aged vinyl record collector who’s a social outcast himself, by answering a personal ad and pretending a woman is interested in him. Director Terry Zwigoff does an excellent job of portraying anxiety, loneliness and the struggle for connection on its way to a rewarding (if a bit predicatable) ending.
Mysterious Skin (2004) stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Neil, a hustler who’s tormented by events from his childhood that he can’t remember. Brian (Brady Corbet), who played with Neil on a baseball team when they were eight-years-old, suffered the same trauma as Neil but believes he was abducted by aliens. The movie follows Brian as he searches for Neil, who delves deeper into the seedy underworld of hustling. Director Gregg Araki’s adaptation of Scott Heim’s novel is raw and challenging, but worthwhile in its exploration of difficult issues.
Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (2003) depicts every parent’s worst nightmare. Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a smart thirteen-year-old who is led down the path to sex, drugs and theft by her influential new best friend Evie (Nikki Reed) while her mother Melanie (Holly Hunter) desperately tries to save her from herself. This unflinching look at the effects of peer pressure and the dangerous implications it can have on vulnerable teenagers is harrowing, but worth a viewing for the award nominated performances of Wood (Golden Globe) and Hunter (Oscar and Golden Globe).