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Brooklyn is a 1950s immigrant story that starts out simple enough: Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) has just moved from Ireland to the borough (against her mother’s better judgement) for a better life. She leaves the ship that brought her to America’s shores, ready to find the American promise she’s heard so much about. In a strange city with rowdy Americans, she’s lonely enough to sob into her own sheets. She might not have left a full life beyond, but it was a satisfying one.
Soon enough, she meets Tony (Emory Cohen), a boyishly handsome Italian guy at a Catholic mixer. For a while, Brooklyn masquerades as a love story: The pair sweetly fall in love and plan a life together. Then a tragedy at home in Ireland requires Eilis to return to her sleepy hometown.
And this is when Brooklyn gets really great: It takes meeting a boy at home (Domhnall Gleeson) to put in perspective how much Eilis has accomplished. She’s built herself a life in Brooklyn, through long days and lonely nights. The crux of the movie is the crossroads of coming of age: Looking in the mirror and deciding between the self you’ve grown out of and the self you’ve grown into.
Splendor In The Grass (1961)
This classic, directed by Elia Kazan, is most famous for being the first American movie to feature French kissing onscreen. Outside of the Natalie Wood-Warren Beatty lip action, though, it’s a touching story of desire, resistance, and how jarring it is to realise your parents are imperfect — and maybe even deeply flawed.
The story is set in 1920s Kansas, and Bud Stamper (Beatty) and Deanie Loomis (Wood) are in love. He’s the football hero, heir to an oil fortune; she’s a good girl, dutiful daughter to a humble grocery-owning family. There’s no way (or reason) to put it delicately: Kissing isn’t enough anymore. These high school seniors are ready to do the thing they’re taught good girls aren’t supposed to want and good boys aren’t supposed to ask for: have sex.
The central conflict is that Deanie and Bud are trapped within puritanical conventions about sexuality and womanhood that no one can explain, but that are rigidly abided by. Some of what the movie has to say about sex isn’t as potent so many decades later. But the larger questions about parents who love you but can’t listen or raise or relate to you — and how we’re tasked with loving them through it — remain.
An Education (2009)
When Jenny (Carey Mulligan) meets David, she’s a small-town girl with dreams of Oxford. She’s clever, accomplished, and bored. He’s older, curiously smooth, and fun. The pair doesn’t have a lot of natural chemistry, but the idea of the relationship is alluring, and David brings her into a world of luxury, teasing her with a trip to Paris. Jenny trades her textbooks for kitten heels. “My choice is to do something hard and boring for the rest of my life,” Jenny tells her teacher, choosing to set aside her studies, “or to go to Paris. And have fun!”
But the adult relationship requires Jenny to grow up in ways she didn’t expect. Loving David might not come saddled with Proust or Saussure, but their life together still has strings attached. As the girlish cello-playing student, Jenny saw past them. As the woman Jenny grows into, she sees through them.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
By the time we meet parents Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), the fractures in their family have bubbled to the surface. Only on the surface is this a movie about a family with two moms, or about what happens when an “unconventional” family opens their doors to their sperm donor. A coming-of-age story is at the root of the plot: Nic and Jules's kids, two California teens in most respects — one headed to college, the other trying to define his life outside of “jock” and “kid brother" — are piecing together their origin story, and their entire family is growing past it.
Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is a troubled teen climbing her way out of the disorder of her high school life. She has a problem with fighting. In school and at home, her temper is always dragging her into trouble. After spending a few moments in the boxing ring by chance, she’s hooked. The aggression is exciting, and the discipline of the sport anchors her in the midst of the chaos of her life.
It’s important that boxing is what wins Guzman’s interest. The sport is ruled by testosterone and physicality. To the men and boys who surround her, Guzman's entrance into the boxing gym upsets their masculine power. “This is a story about a girl growing up in a macho society and, far from being threatened by its values, discovering she has a nature probably more macho than the men around her,” wrote Roger Ebert at the time of the film’s release. “Since the movie (written, directed, and produced by women) is deeply aware of that theme, it's always about more than boxing.”