I want to discuss how teenage bedrooms in coming of age films are a microcosm of the character’s story and a reflection of their personality.
Movies about teenagers. Coming-of-Age films hold a special place amongst movie genres I think because they depict situations most everyone has experience in: friendship, firsts, and finding yourself. My personal favorite way of defining excellent character development is when a character does something at the end of a movie, that they wouldn’t have done in the start and that is basically the entire point of coming-of-age movies. They tell a story about simultaneously being young and excited for the future and the uneasiness that comes with the unknown.
I’m not alone in loving the genre, in fact there is a whole tumblr page devoted to compiling images of teen bedrooms onscreen. But what makes bedrooms in coming-of-age stories such iconography?
I think one reason bedrooms accurately reflect a teenager’s current personality and interests is because teens can take what’s suddenly at their disposal, as might not have been at a younger age, to fill their space and have a firm grasp on their world that’s constantly evolving and throwing them new obstacles.
Some of my favorite onscreen bedrooms are in Jason Reitman’s Juno. The foreign scary movie posters and eccentric art pieces that line Juno’s wood paneled walls are immediately juxtaposed with a cheerleading uniform and a “little miss” sash hanging from her best friend’s pastel pink ones. Juno’s bedroom with its naked baby dolls and hamburger phone aid in introducing this childish and creative nonconformist. Diablo Cody, who wrote the screenplay, said
“the room in particular was a very emotional set for me because it reminded me so much of my own little habitat when I was a teenager”.
And she was right, when you’re a teenager, your bedroom is your sanctuary. Common items adorning teenage walls are posters of idolized musicians, scribbled lyrics to favorite songs, memorabilia from fond high school plays or sports teams, and street signs that probably trigger a fun origin story. These are the closest things that come to prize possessions to teenagers because this is the first time in their lives that they can truly be sentimental and nostalgic of their past.
This is where I get to give my Gen Z opinions. I grew up watching coming-of-age movies, but I also grew up watching YouTube. I, a teen, watched YouTube videos in my bedroom of other teens in their bedrooms. Lest us forget, the mighty room tour trend. Though tons of people obviously still share room tours and watch room tours, there was a spike particularly in the beauty blogger community from like 2011 to 2015. This lined up eerily well with the DIY era of YouTube, which I unfortunately took part in. So many DIY videos were made by teens in their bedrooms showing other teens in their bedrooms how to make decorations to decorate their bedrooms.
This is immediately what I think of when characters have christmas lights in their room, and the room that comes the closest to embodying this is Kayla’s in Eighth Grade. This isn’t surprising because Bo Burnham imbued the movie with intense realism and has a firm grasp on internet culture. In the script, the bedroom is described as
“small and brightly-colored. Posters of pop stars and movie stars and pretty photos on the wall. A twin bed with a massive pink down comforter and something tiny beneath it.”
Kayla’s bedroom looks identical to these room tour videos which is significant because you can imagine that Kayla was inspired by them to have her physical world match her virtual world on her phone.
I vividly remember watching one of Trisha Paytas’ room tours back in the day, and she was like “my bedroom is kind of boring because I’m an adult who can decorate and fill my whole house with the things I like”. That is the first time I thought about teenage bedrooms like that. This bedroom is all we got. All the things that are mine in the whole world basically are in this one room.
This also means that remnants from a character’s childhood interests are often peaking through a teenager’s newly adopted and ever-adapting persona. A teenager’s bedroom is itself a microcosm for their unique coming-of-age story. Parts of who they were, who they are, and who they are trying to be are co-existing in a single place.
The greatest component of a coming-of-age movie are it’s characters and how they process their emotions in this big bad world. So it is only logical that all the things a character owns that help to define them and distinguish them for their particular story and arc are visible in their one extension of themselves and their mind: their bedroom.
Lady Bird’s bedroom holds a lot of significance. She uses her bedroom walls as a direct representation of her current thoughts and dreams. Her “vote for ladybird” posters and updating list of names make this clear. Throughout the movie, Laurie Metcalf’s character pleads with Lady Bird to keep her room neat. Her angsty character trait embodies itself in rejecting her home and family (and even name!) and thus having an untidy room. But in the last scenes we get of the bedroom, she is repainting it. Tabula rasa, baby. (Schocker).
The last scene in Lady Bird’s bedroom is reminiscent of the one in Booksmart where Kaitlyn Dever’s character Amy is packing to go to Africa. In this scene, the elephant in the room is actually a stuffed panda. Amy’s parents lovingly embrace the toy that clearly bared great significance in Amy’s childhood, as well as it does now in her "teenhood". In an article interviewing Booksmart production designer Katie Byron, she references the idea that teenage bedrooms often have relics from childhood, but that
“Amy probably would take things away and put them in a box,”
explains Byron (Chan). Byron goes on to point out that the books on the shelves are comprised of feminist literature and that there is even a drawer in Amy’s room labled “Molly’s clothing”. This could be interpreted as the physical embodiment of the space Molly occupies in Amy’s mind and world.
There was a time before the coming-of-age genre existed. Teenage characters were written by adults who didn’t care to develop and understand them enough to voice their struggles let alone give them bedrooms significant to their story. From Grease to John Hughes movies, from Rebel Without a Cause to Superbad, filmmakers have been perfecting their portrayal of teenagers. And so today, we can look at a character’s bedroom for a peak inside their mind and world.
Schocker, Laura. “Here's How 'Lady Bird' Created an Iconic Teenage Bedroom From Scratch.” Apartment Therapy, Apartment Therapy, LLC., 3 May 2019, www.apartmenttherapy.com/lady-bird-set-design-bedroom-meaning-256361.
Chan, Stephanie. “In ‘Booksmart," the Teenage Bedrooms Deserve an A+.” Apartment Therapy, Apartment Therapy, LLC., 23 May 2019, www.apartmenttherapy.com/booksmart-teen-bedroom-set-design-decor-34733846.