I have a love-hate relationship with coming-of-age stories.
On the one hand, I feel like I’m getting a little too old for them. Most of the time, they feature characters in high school, and let’s just say it’s been a couple years since I’ve been in that age group. When the stories get overly saccharine or earnest about things like prom, I just can’t really handle it anymore.
On the other hand, despite being a 20-something, I sometimes still feel like I’m not done “coming of age.” I’m still interested in stories about formative experiences because, well, I’m still looking for and/or processing mine. (Okay, go ahead and cue the societal hand-wringing about our generation’s extended adolescence.)
But anyway. All of this is to explain why I was really excited about–but also wary of–the movie The Spectacular Now. I loved the poster, but the trailer was a little eye roll-worthy. Sutter Keely, charming and troubled, inadvertently falls in love with Aimee Finecky, nerdy and socially awkward. Haven’t we heard this story before?
I ended up watching the movie anyway because the reviews were so positive. I’d also read that the book version of The Spectacular Now was quite good, and that it was a lot darker and more morally ambiguous than your typical young adult novel. Because I’d like to some day write such a book myself, I decided I had better find out what was so spectacular about The Spectacular Now.
And you know what? I liked it. It really was as nostalgic, tender, painful, and emotional as everyone said it would be. And beautifully photographed to boot. I loved the aesthetic so much that I was even inspired to make this.
But all of that critical praise about the movie’s unflinching honesty and realism made me wonder what makes a depiction of adolescence feel “real.” I mean, I certainly don’t doubt that The Spectacular Now is in fact more honest and realistic than most other teen movies these days. But I didn’t watch it and think, oh wow, that’s exactly how I felt as a teenager. Instead, I watched it and thought, oh wow, that’s exactly how I used to wish I felt as a teenager.
Because what I remember about adolescence is that it was a long period of waiting for life to begin: watching movies like The Spectacular Now and waiting to experience those epic emotions and life-changing relationships, all the while moping about how pale and unreal my real life felt in comparison. I was basically an Aimee Finecky, except I never met a Sutter Keely. (Also, I wasn’t nearly as nice. Or as accommodating.)
I think one reason I’m so interested in coming-of-age stories is that I’m constantly looking for one that actually reflects my own adolescence. One that makes me think, YES, that’s exactly how it was! I haven’t found it yet, but I’m still holding out hope.
Otherwise, I guess that’s what I’ll try to write myself.