The coming-of-age genre is one of cinema’s greatest evergreens. Watching a character grow up and go through a perspective shift comes with a set of built-in stakes that can persuade audiences to relate to even the most specific of circumstances. Like any good genre, it’s a great template to build a world around. But how can you make a teen film truly stand out?
Let’s take a look at five of the best coming-of-age screenplays of the last decade and see what can we learn from them!
Beloved by critics and a modest audience upon release, Rick Famuyiwa’s indie teen romp DOPE is an excellent fusion of teen comedy, crime caper, and inner-city drama. The descriptions and pace of this script are incredible, with lightning-fast setups and clever narration that propel the reader through its teenage protagonist’s unlikely journey from Bitcoin-farming nerd to prolific drug dealer. Looking for unique dialogue and world build? Interested in genre-blending that creates a film fresh enough to stand out amongst familiar territory. Then this script is for you!
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Director Marielle Heller’s adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel is an excellent distillation of what makes the teen film so captivating. Diary of a Teenage Girl is the ultimate contradiction between what a young person believes the world to be, and how the world actually is. While the film is known for its animated flourishes and hyper-stylized surface, this is an incredible script built mainly on a structure of multiple scenes that find the protagonist Minnie Goetz negotiating her personal life, from her art to her sexual discovery, with different characters to varying cringey effect. Read on for a script built on minutiae and even thriller-like tension between an idealistic main character and the harsh lessons she must learn.
20th Century Women
Largely autobiographical, Mike Mills’ ensemble drama is about a mother raising her son in the tenuous cultural moment of 1979. 20th Century Women focuses on a young man’s education in how to be a functional adult in a society torn between consumerism and making something meaningful of yourself. It is also that special kind of film in this genre that recognizes coming-of-age as an experience that can happen to all ages and not just teenagers, with a window into the emotional growth of a variety of characters ranging from teenagers to fiftysomethings. Mills’ dialogue is funny and enlightening, and his use of multiple voiceovers is one of the most engaging stylistic choices in a script for a reader.
Much has been written about Greta Gerwig’s debut feature, an expert lesson in economic storytelling where every scene is paced to maximum effect and goes together perfectly to propel us through a year-long journey within a brief running time. Read and study how Gerwig introduces her characters and how much detail she chooses to give us about body movement and even set dressing — who can forget the Eternal Flame prom decorations? It’s a rich script full of detail and assured vision even in its writing. It shows us how to wring out a central emotional conceit (a daughter’s connection to her mother and her town) that could make the most jaded reader cry.
Praised for its documentary style and Elsie Fisher’s breakout performance Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade‘s rich and detailed screenplay is often looked over. This is possibly due to how natural and improvised its dialogue seemed. It’s a unique script punctuated through long monologues delivered by main character Kayla to a webcam, and effectively the audience. These self-help diatribes reflect and contradict the other vignettes throughout the film that see Kayla try and mostly fail at putting herself out there as an eighth-grader navigating the jump to high school amidst toxic boys and an unforgiving social media landscape. Look at how Bo incorporates the fits and starts of teen-speak, but also look at where and when he chooses to drop dialogue and funny moments and when he lets the action speak on its own.