Friday, 1 April 2011


While part of me always thinks that watching, or reading, coming-of-age works is self-indulgent and vaguely nostalgia-pandering, that doesn't stop me from enjoying them, and today's trip to the cinema, the comedy-drama Submarine, was no exception. Set in a coastal Welsh town (apparently Swansea), it is narrated by nerdy schoolboy Oliver, and is focused around two of his obsessions, his classmate Jordana, and the intrusion of an old flame into his parents' faltering marriage. He attempts to woo the former by helping her bully a classmate, but their budding relationship only blossoms when her attempt to blackmail him results in a playground beating for him when he stands by her (it's not as tortuous on-screen!). While awkwardly navigating the choppy waters of this first love, he also inexpertly investigates his parents' marital strife, and amateurishly attempts to solve their difficulties, at the cost of ignoring Jordana's troubles at home. Anyhow, that crude summary doesn't do it justice at all - it's done with a lot more wit and careful observation, and while it touches on familiar adolescent territory at times, still brings its own style to the proceedings.
Grade: A- (high +2 on the Leeper Scale)

Taking off on a tangent, Submarine reminded me of an issue that occurs to me whenever I see a film about tentative romance between young characters (e.g. Gregory's Girl, Garden State, Youth in Revolt; to name several random examples that immediately occur). Namely, that such films are almost always told from the perspective of a male protagonist. While there are rare romances, such as the excellent Before Sunrise (magnificently sequelled, BTW), in which both leads are given equal weight as characters, I can't think of (m)any corresponding coming-of-age films in which a female protagonist is the focus, while the male is more peripheral. For instance, can anyone think of a gender-reversed Gregory's Girl? Alternatively, am I just unable to mind-flip gender in films such that a boy-girl reversal actually appears to me as a different sort of film to that which I identify as male-led romantic coming-of-age? Any ideas?


Deditos said...

Ooh, I like a film challenge, but you're right, the female led thing is slim pickings. Stretching the age limit and tone in places I'd suggest,

A Very Long Engagement (in fact, almost any Audrey Tautou film)
The Good Girl
Me and You and Everyone We Know
My Blueberry Nights
Summer with Monika
Betty Blue
Ae Fond Kiss
My Summer of Love
Pretty In Pink
Bend it Like Beckham

Not that they're all any good.

In thinking up that list I realised that (sadly) there are rich female POV seams for disillusioned wives (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Little Children, Belle de Jour, Peggy Sue Got Married, Far From Heaven, The Purple Rose of Cairo,...) and Lolitas (An Education, Lost in Translation, Venus, Stealing Beauty, Ghost
World, The Holy Girl,...).

Anne said...

Juno was going to be my suggestion, as well as Pretty in Pink. Deditos has that covered, it seems!

Secretary is *lovely*!

Add to the list pretty much any film based on a Jane Austen or Bronte novel.

Pretty in Pink is probably the one I identified the most with growing up. I still want a Duckie rather than a Blaine.

For the disillusioned wife genera, I would like to suggest Waitress

APM said...

L suggests 'Mean Girls', never seen it myself. True Grit? Snow White? Carrie? ...

Plumbago said...

I don't know what I was thinking. I've seen almost all of the films suggested, but they just didn't occur to me when I was trying, essentially, to think of them. That, I guess, is partly what I thought: not that there weren't such films, nor that I hadn't seen them, but instead that I couldn't remember/recognise them for what they are.

Just before I cave in completely, I wasn't really thinking about simply female-led films - there are, of course, plenty of those (and no real shortage of good ones). I was more after the subset of films that include particular elements, since I thought this was empty. Basically (and to distil out all charm, etc.): coming-of-age + romance + largely undeveloped object of affection +/- whimsy. That sort of thing. ;-)

Anyway, having narrowed my target range so that my original question doesn't now seem quite so stupid, I will now attempt to analyse your suggestions (excluding the disillusioned wives subset; which has arisen why?) ...

- Juno; definitely, I can't believe that I so quickly overlooked this one, though it does contain a few extra elements (+ baby)
- Amelie; definitely
- A Very Long Engagement; a bit, though too much extra plot
- Secretary; yes, I can see this, even if it does contain some extra, transgressive elements
- The Good Girl; dunno
- Me and You and Everyone We Know; most excellent, but too balanced (i.e. not just a female protagonist)
- My Blueberry Nights; pass
- Summer with Monika; pass, but sounds male-based from title
- Betty Blue; no, too depressingly tragic
- Somersault; pass
- Ae Fond Kiss; great, but too balanced (IIRC)
- My Summer of Love; good choice, perhaps a little overloaded with other elements though
- Pretty In Pink; how did I forget this?
- Bend it Like Beckham; not seen, but I suspected it might fit the bill
- anything Jane Austin-shaped; again, how did I not think of this? it's perhaps the archetype of what I was after, good call
- Mean Girls; pass
- True Grit; more of a gender-flipped boy-becomes-man tale
- Snow White; yes, I suppose there's something there, but the cohabitation-with-7-guys bit grates
- Carrie; most definitely not what I had in mind, though there is a union of some required plot elements

Anyway, consider my hypothesis (that, due to nefarious sexism on the part of Hollywood, a certain subset of films is empty) comprehensively falsified. I now feel like I've sleep-walked through all of your suggestions at the cinema.

However, I guess this answers my other point in the affirmative, namely that, coming from a particular gender-perspective, I have difficulty mind-flipping this to see the equivalence between gender-inverted films. Or something.

In passing, and to divert attention from my defeat above, I really would recommend Submarine ...

Anne said...

Thinking about what films I have inherited and have in video cabinet, but don't watch largely because I lack a TV to hook the VCR to, I have two more brilliant suggestions:

Never Been Kissed
Bridget Jones' Diary (which, well, is sort-of Austen modernizied).

There are certainly more, but I think you'd like to move on :)

Plumbago said...

I haven't seen Never Been Kissed, so can't judge (is it worth adding to our DVD rental list?).

Of BJD, I'd argue that though it's partially Austin-like in its themes, I think it encourages the audience to laugh a little too much at its protagonist rather than inhabit their infatuations.

Then again, that might just be me. I'm clearly not doing well in projecting myself into the minds and situations of others. :-)

Deditos said...

Oh, I'm not sure your theory was defeated, we just demonstrated how much you have to stretch the definition to make a list. Many of those that I mentioned weren't coming-of-age in that Wonder Years way. They're often resolved by the protagonist either dying or finding a man, rather than maturing into adulthood.

The Hollywood subset you're interesting in may not be empty, but a few more films as good as Juno would be appreciated.

P.s. How did we forget Dirty Dancing?

Plumbago said...

I'd wholeheartedly agree re: Juno; more gems like it would be greatly appreciated. Though I wish Michael Cera would do something other than rework his performance from it. His weak-willed slacker act was tolerable in (the woefully underrated) Scott Pilgrim, but getting quite annoying in Paper Heart and Youth in Revolt (though not quite enough to ruin either).

As for Dirty Dancing, well, I can't believe that we missed it out either. Though I remain confused about whether I've actually seen the film, or whether I've instead assembled a mental picture of it based on pure prejudice and the various parodies made of it.

In passing, while it completely deviates from the formula by the end (well, the middle), Heathers overlaps some of the territory I'm interested in. Finally, Sandra Bullock fan that I am, I can't possibly let an opportunity to plug While You Were Sleeping slip passed. It's definitely at the romantic slush end of things, but I'm sure that a case can be made for it. ;-)