It’s that time of year again! Social media is flooded with filtered photos of crowds of young people dressed in caps and gowns and students across the country get to breathe a sigh of relief at finally having finished their schooling as well as feel a new kind of nervousness that only comes from having to enter the “real world”. Graduation has always been a compelling subject for film precisely because of the universal but complicated emotions that come with it. If you just graduated or the Class of 2022 is making you nostalgic, here is a list of great movies all about the joys and pains of growing up and graduating.
People may choose to dismiss this one because it is a Disney movie based on a TV show, and it didn’t go to festivals or win major awards, but that would be such a waste. The Lizzie McGuire Movie follows Hilary Duff‘s star-making and beloved character Lizzie as she graduates from middle school to high school. Having embarrassed herself by falling at the graduation ceremony, she is happy to be anonymous again on her class trip to Italy. This attempt fails when a famous Italian pop singer, Paolo, convinces her to pose as the other half of his duo, Isabella. The movie may be ripe with after-school special clichés, but it has a fun sensibility and endearing characters, making it a classic!
One of the more recent teen comedy successes, Booksmart is equal parts vulgar and sweet. The movie follows two high school best friends, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who have spent their entire school career abstaining from partying so they could get into good schools. Their hard work pays off but on the eve of graduation, they realize that the wild ones also got into good schools and so the two decide to cram in all the craziness they can into one night. What follows is an insanely inventive perspective on the high school experience and how hard it can be to say goodbye. With great performances from Feldstein, Dever, and Billie Lourdthis movie will make you nostalgic for your high school days!
The quarter-life crisis never looked as good as it does in The Graduate. One of the most important movies in the history of Hollywood, it centers around Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college grad who is living at home with no job prospects and begins an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). This was the first time that a mainstream Hollywood movie depicted the existential crisis of a new generation that lacked the economic access of their postwar parents and no longer looked upon their future or their country with hope. Even with all this dark material, director Mike Nichols still manages to make an insanely funny movie that any recent graduate can relate to.
though Richard Linklater had already wowed audiences at Sundance with his film slacker, Dazed and Confused became his first big commercial success. The movie opens on the afternoon of the last day of school and follows the nights of several teenagers in this small 1970s Texas town. Linklater manages to tell the stories of so many characters that you get an intimate understanding of the lives and motivations of every kind of person you meet in high school. From jocks to stoners, nerds, bullies, and rising freshmen, Linklater really runs the gambit. Featuring a cast of future greats in some of their first performances like Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleckand Anthony Rappthis is one of the best teen comedies of all time!
In most male-led teen comedies, the focus is often on machismo, sexist and vulgar gags, and a lack of emotional intelligence. While superbad is definitely as vulgar as they come, its focus is on the growth of a beautiful friendship between Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill). Superficially, the plot revolves around the trials and tribulations they face in trying to secure alcohol for a party and not leave high school a virgin, but it’s much more than that. The real journey of the film revolves around whether they can accept just how much they mean to each other and how much they will miss each other while away at college. Not to mention, the movie will have you rolling on the floor laughing in practically every scene!
Before director Noah Baumbach made midlife crisis movies his bread and butter, he gave the world a classic movie about the post-grad crisis. Kicking and Screaming centers around a college friend group as each of them struggle to enter into the adult world on their own. The primary focus of the story is on Grover (Josh Hamilton) who refuses to make radical decisions and thus loses his girlfriend when she moves to Prague. While many movies about graduation focus on the event’s life-changing and glorious thrills, Baumbach delves into how scary it can be to accept that your life has entered a new phase with such skill that it’s hard to believe this is his debut film.
In one of the most critically acclaimed directorial debuts in recent memory, Greta Gerwig put on display all the complicated emotions that come with your hometown. Lady Bird opens with its title character played by Saoirse Ronan and her mother (Laurie Metcalf) on their way home from a college visit. We follow Lady Bird’s school year as her turbulent relationship with her mother, her financial situation, and her love life begins to change how she sees herself and her home. Gerwig perfectly demonstrates how thrilling and heartbreaking it is to finally flee the nest and earned her place as one of the most respected contemporary directors.
before George Lucas became famous the world over for making the franchise Star Warshe directed a very different but equally meaningful ensemble movie. American Graffiti follows four high school graduates in 1962 California as they cruise around their small town on the final day of their summer vacation. Lucas creates an amazing and extremely entertaining character-driven story that everyone can relate to, even if you weren’t there in ’62. Each of these graduates represents the wildness of youth as well as the deep-seated fear of becoming an adult. With an excellent cast of young stars like Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howardand Paul LeMatthis is a great movie for a night-in.
Ghost World (2001)
Based on the cult-classic comic book series by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World is a wonderfully deadpan story of teenage apathy. Ghost World opens when best friends, Enid and Rebecca (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson), graduate high school and must now face a summer of boredom until Enid becomes fixed on finding a girlfriend for an older man, Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and the two suffer a rift. While most high school graduation movies focus on the lives of uber-cool students going to parties or the plight of nerds to become accepted into that world, these two friends are outsiders and like it that way. The only acceptance they want is from each other which allows this story to flow in a much more untraditional and innovative way!
Of Cameron Crowe‘s directorial debut, he showed the world a new kind of teen romance! Say Anything opens on the eve of graduation as the noble underachiever Lloyd Dobbler (John Cusack) decides to ask naive valedictorian Diane Court (Ione Skye) out and the two fall head over heels in love with each other. Crowe crafts a story that isn’t just about young love but the harsh realities of the adult world as Diane has to figure out if her relationship can work long-distance and come to grips with the fact that her disapproving father is not the hero she always thought it was. If you love a good romance or are just a fan of the Peter Gabriel song “In Your Eyes”, this is a must-see!
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