20 Great Coming of Age Characters: Part I
This post is brought to you by Out There, premiering tomorrow night at 10:30pm/9:30pm C on IFC.
While the fringe jackets and bell bottoms may have changed to purple leather, poofy hair, and shoulder pads and the soundtracks have evolved from The Partridge Family to Tom Petty to Simple Minds, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood is a universal experience, and you can learn a lot about someone (more specifically, which decade they grew up) based on their favorite coming-of-age films and television shows. In anticipation of IFC’s new series Out There, here’s a two-part look at 20 memorable characters who came of age onscreen, in no particular order.
“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?”
For Max Fischer, being a student is a full-time vocation. In his fantasy world he excels at every subject and extra-curricular activity, but in reality he’s failing all his classes and is overextended with his non-academic endeavors, particularly staging fantastically detailed play versions of films like Serpico. Thankfully, bad grades can’t hold Max back for long, especially since he’s got charm, unrelenting confidence, and true artsiness.
“The future is an enormous question mark, and I don’t know what lies ahead. I only know that if it moves, I’m shooting it.”
Daria and her Sick Sad World have become legendary for bookish, cynical, monotone girls everywhere. She has cool artsy friends, hot boyfriends (I love you Trent Lane!), and padded walls in her bedroom, which come in handy when blasting Mystik Spiral and while in the throes of a complete psychotic breakdown, MTV style.
“Now begins the Age of Pete!”
Before we all started getting AOL screen names, teenage social power was won and lost on the streets of hometown neighborhoods, where we still rode bikes to get places and tried to get Mr. Tastee to come out of his shell. For 90s Nickelodeon kids, no TV siblings embodied our adolescent summers better than the Wrigley brothers. Plus, they have the coolest theme song ever made.
“Yeah, I might just go psycho. Wanna try me?”
Over the course of one brief, beautiful season, featured geek Rob’s older sister and freak-in-training Lindsay distances herself more and more from her rich girl/star mathlete childhood image and angles to be accepted by her school’s clique of oddball slackers, all the while keeping an eye out for her anemic little brother, much to his discomfort.
“I am dark and mysterious and pissed off!”
Not many teenagers get to tour with seedy rock bands and write about their experiences for Rolling Stone, and William’s transformative experience is, like the final draft of his article, completely “honest and unmerciful.” He’s also this list’s resident Mama’s Boy, forcing a lead guitarist to hear his mom’s lectures via long distance phone, and for some reason he isn’t kicked off the bus. Having a pre-iPhone commercial Zooey Deschanel as a wise older sister with good musical taste is always a bonus.
“You know, it’s not like I’m some modern punk, dickhead. It’s obviously a 1977 original punk rock look, but I guess Johnny Fuckface over there is too stupid to realize it!”
Enid is cynical, impulsive, likes to prank people, and she isn’t afraid to verbally destroy anyone who dares cross her, even if it gets her fired from every job she can get (including popcorn butterer). She also has a best friend played by a then un-fully blossomed Scarlett Johansson, but Enid’s perfect pitch of disdain begins to crash when she has to take a remedial art class and find her inner voice, or at least a racist poster in the stash of her weird old guy friend played by Steve Buscemi.
“Who needs affection when I have blind hatred?”
1999 was a great year for films about hunky guys whose friends dare them to ask the weird girl to the dance, and Heath Ledger’s bleacherside performance of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” set the bar for high school outcast girl-chasing in this adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. But unlike Zack in She’s All That, Patrick isn’t your typical Prom King type – he’s got an accent, gorgeous golden mane, and he smokes cigarettes, which was still allowed to be sexy in 1999.
“Shit, you guys, I have never had straight friends before!”
Brittany Murphy was 18 years old when she played the frumpy-turned-popular new girl Tai in Clueless, who goes from being Cher’s druggie nerd charity case to surpassing her in social status, “rolling with the homies,” and delivering the ultimate blow: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”
“You know when you hear girls say ‘Ah man, I was so shit-faced last night, I shouldn’t have fucked that guy?’ We could be that mistake!”
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg finished their first draft of Superbad when they were fifteen, which makes all of Seth’s immature and dick-obsessed dialogue excusable if unforgivable, as well as hilarious.
“Do you know how popular I am?”
So often the snobbish princess types are cast as one-dimensional mean girls, but in John Hughes films, even they get a full measure of humanity and problems. Here Claire’s struggle to play the part of the perfect high school girl is offset by a bitter, conflicted home life where her parents fight over her. All it takes for Claire to release her demons and accept her true self is a Saturday afternoon of smoking pot in detention and trysting with bad boy Judd Nelson.