Promotional materials/ film posters. From top left: Heathers (Cinemarque Entertainment), Clueless (Paramount Pictures), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Paramount Pictures), Dead Poets Society (Touchstone Pictures), and Hoop Dreams (Kartemquin Films) (Photo by Gre)
Promotional materials/ film posters. From top left: Heathers (Cinemarque Entertainment), Clueless (Paramount Pictures), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Paramount Pictures), Dead Poets Society (Touchstone Pictures), and Hoop Dreams (Kartemquin Films)

Photo by Gre

Podcast: Pre-2000s Coming-of-Age Films

Portrait Perspectives Episode Two

January 8, 2021

To our listeners: There is a use of profanity in this podcast, in the form of a film clip. Please skip to 00.12 if you do not wish to hear this.



“Dear diary, my teen angst bull**** has a body count” (Heathers, Cinemarque Entertainment)

Edith Pendell: Welcome to Portrait Perspectives, The official Portrait Podcast.  I’m your host, Edith Pendell, and today we have a guest co-host, Gretchen Rojewski!

Gretchen Rojewski: Today we are going to be talking about the coming of Age films before 2000. We’ll be offering our suggestions based on how popular and influential a film was, it’s critical acclaim, and whether or not we think it is actually good. Unfortunately, not all our films provide full representation to people of color or members of the LGBTQ community, but due to each’s relevance at the time, we have decided to include certain films despite their lack of representation. 

Pendell: Some of the earlier comings of age films was 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, and 1968’s The Graduate. The genre was truly born, though, in the 80s, when adolescent stories went big, with classics like 1983’s The Outsiders, and in 1986, Stand By Me, This is the era where we start our list, with 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“Roll call” clip, (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Paramount Pictures)

Rojewski: A tried and true favorite, this comedy follows the adventure of the charismatic Ferris Bueller and his friends on their day of skipping school and spending the day in Chicago. They go to a museum, eat lunch, ride in a parade float, and other shenanigans, featuring the iconic line at the beginning of the film  “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this”? Ferris and his friend’s day of escapades is a trope in coming-of-age films, the “Last Hurrah” per se. Comparatively, In 2019’s Booksmart, the main characters Amy and Molly have their last hurrah in the form of one eventful night before graduating. We asked Annie Mcllhagga, a junior, what she thought of this recurring trope in teen films. 

Annie Mcllhagga: “I think everyone can understand that it feels like after high school, that’s when your life begins…and we have been working toward that future that it feels like people have been pushing us toward our whole lives, the one thing that we haven’t been able to do, is like break those rules and do something that makes us happy….” 

Rojewski- This film is one of the defining moments in 80s coming of age cinema, and is our one film from writer/producer John Hughes (sorry breakfast club!), whose angst-ridden high school films in the early-to-mid 80s were some of the best examples of the coming of age genre. This film, constantly quoted and referenced, is a prime example of the lighthearted comedy of the time, illustrating angst against teachers and authority, and a desire for rebellious adventure. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off still is a great reminder that the best part of living is taking risks, even if it means breaking some rules. 

Pendell: Two years later, 1988 saw another cult-favorite, Heathers, a dark, cynical comedy that intentionally juxtaposes itself from teen films of its time. Winona Ryder plays Veronica Sawyer, who is witty and sarcastic, unlike the earnest leading girls in several John Hughes films. Veronica seeks a way to escape the popular clique she’s been roped into, which includes the beautiful-yet-cruel Heather Chandler, and two other girls named Heather. (hence the title- Heathers). She finds just that in JD, a rebellious new guy who turns out to be murderous. Veronica gets roped into his schemes and doesn’t see a way out. Anna Delgado, a sophomore, told us about the pros and cons of presenting tough material in a comedic way, such as in Heathers.

Anna Delgado: “It kind of shows how teens can be pressured into doing things, and they might not realize the strong effects of it until after it happens…”

Pendell: Each character, location and image, and song in Heathers is more unsettling than the last. This creates a brilliantly morbid satire of high school social groups, and peer pressure, themes that have carried into more recent films such as 2004’s Mean Girls. (although much less morbid). Heathers is rated R for (Gun violence, domestic violence, and themes of suicide)

Rojewski: The next year yielded a vastly different, earnest film about life and school as a teenager. This was 1989’s “Dead Poets Society”, a film in which a group of sheltered private prep schoolboys, are inspired by their unorthodox English teacher, Mr. Keeting, played by the late Robin Williams, to rebel against what their parents and teachers want for their lives. 

“Carpe Diem” (Dead Poet Society, Touchstone Pictures)

Rojewski: They form a group, affectionately named The Dead Poet’s Society, and relish in the poetry of the past.  Caitlin Shaw, a junior, gave us her thoughts on the characters of the movie. 

Caitlyn Shaw: “I relate to a lot of the struggles they’re going through, even though it’s obviously not as extreme as them and like, one of the boys Todd deals with anxiety and seeing him work through that was like really cool to watch.”

Rojewski: A character in the film commits suicide, and it is an important part of the plot. Films have long been criticized for their handling of this issue, but Dead Poets Society doesn’t glamorize suicide, it provides a thoughtful reflection on the loss of a young life, and it’s repercussions. This film not only received massive accolades, it told of the importance of teachers who love teaching to students, not the curriculum. Caitlyn also gave her thoughts on the teacher, Mr. Keating.

Shaw: “Honestly, Mr. Keating, who’s played by Robin Williams, is the English teacher everyone wants but knows we will never have. Well, because like, as much as I would love to have him as a teacher like he doesn’t follow the curriculum.”

Rojewski: Dead Poets Society is rated PG.

Pendell: In the 90s, the output of teen films continued, some being better than others. A standout was 1994’s Hoop Dreams, which chronicles the story of two teenage boys in Chicago who both aspire to play basketball in the NBA. While, unlike other films on this list, it is a documentary, it is nothing if not a coming of age film. The documentarist re-visits the two boys, Arthur and William, at different points in their lives, from the summer before high school, all the way to adulthood.

“When I was young, when I was little, that’s all I used to think about, the NBA. If I set mind, I can go.” (Hoop Dreams, Kartemquin Films)

Pendell: The film not only shows their journey as players, but also their home lives, often wrought with poverty, and also joy. Hoop Dreams utilizes interviews with the boys, their coaches, and their family members, as well as footage from their games, to tell a full story. Both boys want to “get out” of Chicago, and their struggles. Films about teens, whether documentaries or not, often focus on an adolescent’s hope for a better future somewhere else, whether it be the NBA, or in the case of a more recent film,  2017’s Ladybird, the main character wants to escape her town for college on the East Coast. Hoop Dreams tells a devastatingly true story of two boys who, against all odds, are fighting for their version of the American Dream. This film is rated PG-13

Rojewski-The last film on our list came one year later, and is just about as iconic as they come; it’s constantly quoted and is seen as the epitome of 90’s fashion and culture, while also managing to splice in a heartfelt story. 1994’s Clueless wrapped up the pre-2000s era of coming of age films and helped to usher in modern films about modern teens. In the film, rich California teen Cher is popular and fashionable, but shallow. 

“Calvin Klein” clip, (Clueless, Paramount Pictures)

Rojewski: Throughout the film, Cher learns that beauty isn’t just skin-deep and that helping others is always rewarding. She develops as she forms new relationships. Clueless is rated PG-13. 

“Ugh, as if!” (Clueless, Paramount Pictures)

Pendell: The coming-of-age films of the ’80s and ’90s reflect the values of those decades: Rebelling against controlling authority figures and stifling peer groups, finding and following your dreams, and understanding the social dramas of high school are not that important in the. Next time, we’ll look at Coming of Age movies from the last 20 years. We’ll look at what tropes continue, and what brand-new ideas the 2000s bring to the table.

Rojewski: Thank you for listening to this episode of portrait perspectives!  if you have any comments about our choices or any suggestions for future episodes, reach out to us at [email protected]


Leave a Comment
About the Contributors
Photo of Edith Pendell
Edith Pendell, Multimedia Editor

Edith Pendell is a member of the Class of 2023 and is the Social Media Editor for Portrait. This is her second year on staff as a junior. Edith’s favorite...

Photo of Gretchen Rojewski
Gretchen Rojewski, Editor-In-Chief (Visuals)

Gretchen is a member of the Class of 2023 and is the Visuals Editor-and-Chief for Portrait. This is her third year on staff as a senior. Gretchen’s favorite...

Portrait • Copyright 2024 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in

Comments (0)

All Portrait Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *