Okay, you can totally humble me publicly if this has already been recognized and deconstructed before somewhere else (and please provide a link!).
So, under pretenses that I’m onto something here, I’d like to propose a new genre: the Second Coming-of-Age film! Tah dah….
After watching Greenberg (2010, dir. Noah Baumbach) the other night, it dawned on me that there is a Second Coming-of-Age genre that I really haven’t heard discussed before. Here are the elements:
1) A 30/40-something single protagonist (usually a guy).
2) Quasi-intellectual and socially astute, perhaps a bit neurotic.
3) Cynical and jaded; beaten by Life.
4) Had a promising opportunity/talent in their 20s, which they somehow neglected: note this fact unfolds throughout the film and comes up during private conversations or an explosive one where a person shoves it in their face.
5) They still dabble in that lost talent, but criticize themselves as being no good, while at the same time vulnerably wanting someone to notice their talent.
5) Uprooted by some event and often forced to travel (parent death, family celebration, etc.)
6) Juxtaposed with youth, which they no longer understand – clearly marking the protagonist as “old.” Note: there’s usually a scene where they’re clearly out-of-touch with youth, usually epitomized with them not understanding youth slang or technology.
7) Meets a single woman who’s full of life, often a bit quirky, which forces the protagonist out of their comfort zone.
8) She helps him to let go, relax and not stress too much.
9) There is often a scene where he does let go, but too much and makes an ass out of himself.
10) In the end, he’s too afraid to “grow up” and be with the woman.
11) However, he comes around and makes the right decision – note: this final decision-making scene is often understated and sweet.
12) The protagonist is often a comedic actor breaking into a more dramatic part….
Sociologically speaking, I believe these films are often birthed by American Generation X male disillusionment.
There you go, the “Second Coming-of-Age” film!
I think Greenberg epitomizes this. I’m also thinking Dan in Real Life and Sideways. Any other films???
No, it’s still called a “Coming of Age film” it doesn’t matter what age the protag is when he/she makes the journey.
Then call it a subgenre. Regardless, there are distinguishing characteristics that make it different than the quintessential Coming-of-Age film with kids/teens.
Innocence is replaced with disillusionment and it’s about second chances, not first. And there usually is no mentor, rather, a woman who reveals the way, leading to a romantic relationship.
Sorry Nathan, there’s a lot more to it than simply lump-summing it with Coming-of-Age.
And it’s not simply a matter of “age,” as you point out. Notice the 12 elements in the list. And I’m sure there are a lot more….
Do you think it has anything to do with this man-child archetype that has been very popular in American ( and not only American) film lately?
Where I come from a second-coming-of-age is called a midlife crisis.
A good observation. Like Anna said, there is this man-child archetype, and it’s a new sociological phenomenon because more than ever men (and women) have the option of living a relatively normal life without having to get married.
Matt, re: the midlife crisis. Absolutely, that’s what it is. However, there is a twist, that Follow… points out in his summary. Traditionally, a midlife crisis situation has to do with a desire to abandon the social constrains force upon a person by their “grown up” life. A desire to return to the infant, child-like state. Recapture the innocence. The character that Follow… is talking about is not really a grownup to begin with. He refuses, or unable, to grow up. The childishness of these characters is very different from, say, Charley Chaplin’s Tramp’s. It often has a dark underside to it, especially with Adam Sandler’s characters. Blue K is right in pointing out the sociological basis for this character, I think we would have to look back to the baby boomers to explore the development of this archetype. I would start looking somewhere around the late 60’s – early 70’s.
I’m really pleased this thread has taken on such a sociological turn. It’s truly fascinating. I’m not great with film history, but my guess is that these films are somewhat “new,” though I am very careful in using that word.
My point is that there at the very least is a trend and it’s fun to think about why. Personally, I think it springs directly from the filmmakers themselves, i.e., writers, directors, producers, actors, who basically resonate with the protagonist.
And to simply call it Coming-of-Age or mid-life crisis is to entirely miss the trend and its significance. Like Blue and Anna, I believe something else is going on. At the core, as they suggest, there is some kind of disillusioned, broken spirit that needs love. In the end, it’s always about love and relationship.
Blue, you mention the man-child and Anna you state that they are not grown-ups to begin with. I’m going to differ a bit. I believe these characters have grown up more than those around them, hence their alienation. That’s, in fact, their problem. True, they did not “grow up” conventionally, i.e., career, house, family, kids, but they did grow up in terms of reality and seeing the superficiality and imperfection of the world. This has left them in a disillusioned rut and somewhat anti-social.
So the Second Coming-of-Age is about getting out of that rut, which demands a bit of acceptance and “letting go,” which their eccentric love interest embodies and demonstrates for them.
This is very interesting to me indeed…. Thanks for the great comments….
Yeah, I don’t think it’s really necessary to come up with a new term for this type of film. As others previously mentioned, what you’re describing is more of a midlife crisis than some variation on “coming-of-age,” but I see how this might fall under the genre of “coming-of-age” in a film context, it’s just the prefix of “second” that sounds awkward.
I mean a “second coming of age?” Maybe it’s just me but that phrase doesn’t make any sense at all. Don’t get me wrong though, I see where you’re going with this and I appreciate that, but at the same time it just complicates something that is very simple. IMO, you can only “come of age” once, but as you imply with your original post, this doesn’t always happen in childhood as many films have depicted but, as has recently become the trend, also in one’s middle age – and that’s what these films are attempting to convey. So, I’m not so much disagreeing with your summation/criteria of another type of “coming-of-age” film, but with the use of the word “second”, implying that humans must continuously mature as if molting personalities. Heh, anyway, this is a nicely developed thread and an interesting topic.
-The character that Follow… is talking about is not really a grownup to begin with-
If that’s true, than logically it’s not a “second coming of age” at all. It’s more of a delayed coming of age. Actually, what you’re talking about, Follow, sounds more to me like an issue of integration than “coming-of-age” per se. I do see reintegration as a theme in Baumbach’s work—Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Lester in Mr. Jealousy.
Deckard, I see your point about the awkwardness of the phrase, so perhaps, Coming-of-Second-Age? LOL Oh well, I guess labeling it isn’t that important. I was mostly interested in this current trend which we all seem to agree on. It’s simply fascinating to me.
Matt, it really has been a while since I watched Claire’s Knee, so I dare not make reference.
Personally, and we’ll just have to disagree on this, I believe the protagonist in these films has grown-up. In fact, they have grown-up up differently and perhaps even more than the average adult. That is their problem: they are aware of the stupidity and superficiality around them. So their problem is integration, as you perfectly suggest.
So let’s call it an “Integration Film”! LOL I know, why the labels, huh? Maybe it’ll help categorize these films on Netflix!
Thanks for the great discussion!
Christopher, nice and timely topic. You got me going, and I rarely do forums. :) I think, your initial instinct in evoking “Coming of Age” in relation to the kind of film you are talking about, was correct. Essentially, we are talking about a genre that evolved from the initiation, a rite of passage that our ancestors had to go through to become active contributing members of their tribe, or community. Right?
Now, upon re-reading your first post I realized that you are creating pretty tight requirements for your “new genre”. I’m going to expand it a bit, if I may,by including Judd Apatow’s films and Michel Gondry’s and some of Adam Sandler’s vehicles. What do you think about that?
Also, let’s set aside the perceived intellectual superiority of the character ( as you suggest it). Why? IMO, it doesn’t necessarily suggest the maturity of the character. Holden Caulfield had a few things to say about “the phonies” and, to quote you, “the stupidity and superficiality around [him]” , did that make him a grownup?
Being a grownup, conventionally, is understood as being a contributing member of the society. Whether or not it sounds like a good place to be, an average human being has an inherent need to fit in. The characters that we are talking about here, experience their disconnect quite dramatically, otherwise there wouldn’t be a film to talk about. They do want to fit in, they do want to find a mate and a home. They do want complete their rite of passage. They want to (Matt!!) “integrate”.
The question is where and why this character came from. Understanding the genealogy is as important, as defining the character itself. We can’t, in good faith, blame the filmmakers for the development and emergence of the character. The creators, after all, are not living in a vacuum, although, it might seem sometimes that they do. Really though, they are affected by the very same social, cultural and historical developments that the rest of us, mortals.
The reason I suggested to look back to the 60-70s was not only the baby boomers and their refusal to age. It was “Five Easy Pieces”. Take a look at Bobby Dupea, what do you see?
P.S. As I was writing for Cine21, I felt a need to take a look at the infantile character in Russian ( Soviet) cinema. Parallel to that I was gathering to write about the man-child in American films. The two superficially similar types emerged due to some very different reasons. I really appreciate you starting this topic. It is helping me to get my thoughts in order. :)
Heh, god, just leave out the “second” part! Anyway, in the end I suppose it doesn’t matter, call it whatever you like.
And you mention an interesting point. You say, “I believe the protagonist in these films has grown-up…”, but perhaps that is where we disagree. Sure, EVERYONE who reaches 18 (or whatever the age of maturity is in whatever country … it doesn’t really matter because its just a number) has become an adult, but that doesn’t mean they’ve “grown-up”. They may have just gone through the motions of life merely “happening” upon adulthood (in society’s view) or they may have had other responsibilities/situations/etc. that required/forced them to mature for whatever reason, but it’s simply an impossibility that someone can mature twice (or more). Essentially, this person, as you suggested, has possibly developed some other area of their being (for whatever reason – this is usually what such films explore). Say, for instance, a virtuoso musician who excels in his/her instrument but neglects, say, the niceties of social interaction …. or whatever, I’m just throwing something out there, but just because that person is, say, 40 years old, doesn’t mean that he/she has just automatically matured, there has to be a conscious effort/understanding involved. As you say, integration is usually the issue. “Integration film”? Yeah, I can dig it.
I always found the term “coming of age” to be rather lacking anyway, no matter what context it was being used.
Ever seen Gumshoe? All those elements apply to it and its an early 70s film…
Incidentally, aren’t there female versions of this character in the films of Nicole Holofcener?
Give poor Holden a break, Anna. He’s only 16 or 17 in Catcher . . . he’s still got some time to mature :)
-The character that Follow… is talking about is not really a grownup to begin with. He refuses, or unable, to grow up.-
Aren’t all grown-ups, with the possible exception of the really, really repressed ones, really at heart not grown-ups. Everybody’s fighting it . . . at least a little.
@Matt, my point exactly, Holden’s view of the world is perfectly nor normal for a 16 year-old that he is. Yet, he seeks in a way to be a part of it, to belong. At heart any real person, not a fictional character, is really ageless. See, I think, you are giving the term “grown-up” a negative connotation. Let’s talk about the films and what they suggest, do you think that the character’s immaturity is a positive thing, or an obstacle he has to overcome in order to ,say, “get the girl”. Besides, even Holden’s attempt to escape the world of grown-up ends not in the best way, I’m not even talking about his brother.
I only read the OP. Follow my film, maybe your thinking about Punch Drunk Love
-See, I think, you are giving the term “grown-up” a negative connotation. Let’s talk about the films and what they suggest, do you think that the character’s immaturity is a positive thing, or an obstacle he has to overcome-
I think there are both positive and negative aspects of being a “grown-up.” There are some obvious advantages—getting the girl (or boy) among them—but there are some compromises that have to be made along the way. I see grown-upness as sort of a dynamic tension that’s a product of an ongoing negotiation between practicality and (quixotic?) idealism, between need of others (neediness) and need by others (neededness), independence and interdependence, etc. If it’s anything, it’s the process of becoming what you are, but it’s a never-completed process.I think becoming a “grown-up” is healthy, but it’s also quite healthy to maintain a degree of skepticism about the validity of having to be a “grown-up.”
Raphaela, I’m not sure about Punch Drunk since it’s been a while, but my guess is probably, though it truly tweaks things, from what I remember.
Hey Anna, glad this topic was timely for you and thanks for your insight. Typical Adam Sandler or Apatow films could very well fit in, though I feel they would fall much more in line with what Matt and Deck are saying: they never grew up in the first place; they are stunted characters.
I’m really not sure what to think anymore. You all are making my head spin! LOL To sum up: I simply wanted to point out this trend and feel it’s indicative of Gen Xers, which I most definitely am.
Personally, I believe these characters have grown-up – most definitely; however, they took a detour and headed off onto a different branch in life, not the main one, thus, finding themselves lonely and disillusioned. So by the end of the film, they embrace the branch they are on and make peace with the tree at-large. And they don’t integrate in the sense of leaving their branch; they stay there. However, they accept the diversity of the tree in-general and their place on it.
Haven’t seen it yet but saw the director on the Charlie Rose show the other day and from what I could tell he was talking about how the character has an idea of who he is(and he may not like himself too much) and more importantly who he was supposed to be at his current age and won’t continue to live with who he actually IS. When I heard him speaking about all this, the first film that came to mind was PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. I realize it may not be the same character but I think he falls in the same category of a man in midlife crisis dealing with his past failures and the everchanging present environement he finds himself in.
NEH- I was just skimming in search of Woody Allen.
What does it mean to come-of-age?
NEH, this is in the Garage because I started it here, like a noob! LOL I now understand the focus of the Garage forum, thanks to Jonathan….
So, yeah, Woody Allen. Why wasn’t he mentioned? Gees, good point!
So there you go. Go back to 1968, give or take a few years and start looking. You will dig up a gold mine of these characters. Though, Allen definitely reigns over the type in American film and his influence over the Gen-Xers is undeniable.
films about aging hipster/yupster middle/upper class whites and their mental/emotional hang ups
Another recent film that would fit here— the Italian film L’Ultimo Bacio.
PAPER MAN, opening Friday, April 23 at The Landmark, is an inspirational comedic drama about an unlikely friendship between Richard (Jeff Daniels), a failed middle-aged novelist who has never quite grown up and Abby (Emma Stone), a 17-year-old girl whose role in a family tragedy years earlier has stolen away her youth. Since his childhood, Richard has mostly relied on the imaginary one that resides in his head—a costumed superhero known as Captain Excellent (Ryan Reynolds). At the urging of his wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow), Richard has moved to a Long Island beach community for the winter season in order to overcome his writer’s block. There, Richard meets Abby and hires her as a weekly babysitter, even though he has no children. As the season progresses and the warm, quirky friendship between Richard and Abby grows, the two begin to discover that there comes a time to let go of the imaginary friends of the past and to embrace the future.