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The Modern Coming-of-Age Ritual
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Although from completely different continents, both the American film Youth in Revolt and Australia’s musical Bran Nue Dae shared a common theme: adolescent boys searching for the rite of passage, a ritual that seems to have vanished from our society and taken on a new form. Since these two continents are culturally different, the characters have different obstacles, but both try to achieve the same goal in dealing with coming of age. Youth in Revolt by Miguel Arteta is a straight-forward comedy while Rachael Perkins’ Bran Nue Dae is a musical comedy which also deals with culture identity. Both films celebrate the monumental achievement of these awkward teenage boys with a knock-down sense of humor. The films perfectly illustrate the struggle of young teenage boys who, themselves, can only take this whole process seriously. But who can blame them; who wants to die a virgin anyway?

In Youth in Revolt, we meet Nick Twisps (Michael Cera) who, besides being nice looking, reader of classics, and lover of Frank Sinatra and Fellini films, has a horrible last name and sees no girl in sight. From where he stands, the horizon looks grim; his life is boring and uneventful. Even his parents are no moral support; they’re divorced and have problems of their own. His mother is stuck with a stupid, truck-driver boyfriend while his unemployed father sleeps with a young girl half his age. But there seems to be hope. This modern coming-of-age tragedy takes a U-turn when Twisp, his mother, and her boyfriend head off for a summer vacation in a trailer park. His sexual frustrations emerge when he meets the beautiful Sheeni Saunders (Portia Doubleday) who is in love with anything French, but her fundamental Christian parents have a tight grip on their daughter’s future. Saunders is rebellious and encourages Twisp to take extreme measures with high risks so they can be together forever! Twisp, being a nice kid, has no idea how to become a rebellious kid, so he creates an alter ego who takes over by crashing cars, burning down cafes and helping Saunders get thrown out of French school. Despite all the damage, it turns out to be the recipe for success. It certainly seems to imply that teenagers need revolt in an extreme way in order to get what they want. After all, they are under-age and their actions won’t have severe consequences. After taking a good look at this film, I certainly need to think about what it means to have a teenage boy. What is happening to America’s youth? Is it so bad that parents act like kids and refuse to accept responsibility for their teenagers, as well as to relate to them during their time of need?

In Rachael Perkins’ Australian musical Bran Nue Dae teenager Willi (Rocky McKenzie) faces slightly different problems. His single mother clearly doesn’t want him to turn into a worthless, alcoholic, womanizing Aborigine, which has happened to various family members. She has taken measures to control his future by sending him off to Catholic school where he will become a priest, a respectable citizen in society. Although Willi is a nice boy and doesn’t want to divert from the path, he has fallen for Rosi (Jessica Mauboy, R&B pop singer, songwriter) whom he has known since they were small. As he is sent away, his competition, a local singer from the bar in Broome, moves in on Rosi. Willi lasts two days at Catholic school, upsetting the priest who refused to allow his return home. As he runs away with the priest hot on his tracks, Willi meets an array of colorful characters ranging from his hobo uncle to an uptight German tourist in a VW bus who tries to set him straight. Not until he sits in jail do his ancestors come and show him the right path. This corny, but feel-good, musical comedy which relates to the 1960’s stage play by Jimmy Chi shows us a modern, mixed-up society where, hopefully, teenagers can land on their feet without stepping on a kangaroo. Crossing the breath-taking Australian landscape makes you feel the distance that you travel, similar to America. It seems so strange that these films are similar thematically, where, today, characters need to take risks and break the rules of society, instead of following the old-fashioned tribal traditions which gave coming-of-age a ritual, one which was integrated in society and less complicated for the young men to follow. Is our society so advanced?