What to Watch at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival: 10 Coming-of-Age Stories

By Annie Lyons

Blending the universal with the personal, coming-of-age films pay loving homage to the messiness of youth and uncertainty of finding yourself. Growing pains happen to all of us, so it’s no wonder that these stories continue to resonate with Festivalgoers every year. 

The Sundance Film Festival has a long, rich history of spotlighting vital coming-of-age films, some of which you can revisit as part of the 2024 Festival’s 40th Edition Celebration screenings. Take a walk down memory lane with Napoleon Dynamite (2004 Sundance Film Festival), Jared Hess’ quirky high school staple, and Pariah (2011 Sundance Film Festival), Dee Rees’ aching exploration of a young Black lesbian coming into her own.

But whether you look back at your own adolescence with fondness or horror, the 2024 lineup has a diverse new selection of coming-of-age stories for you to relate to. Ranging from science fiction–infused romance to heartfelt tearjerkers to nostalgic period pieces, the films highlighted below encompass every emotion under the sun. Sounds just like growing up. 

àma Gloria (Spotlight) — Teenagers might be the first age group that comes to mind for coming-of-age stories, but don’t underestimate 6-year-old Cléo. When her beloved nanny, Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego), must return to Cape Verde to care for her own family, she invites Cléo to join her for one last summer together. Enriched by charming animated sequences and a phenomenal leading turn by 6-year-old Louise Mauroy-Panzani, director Marie Amachoukeli’s àma Gloria finds tenderness in the realization that your loved ones have their own lives outside of you. Available in person.

Dìdi (弟弟) (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — It’s the last month before high school begins, and Chris (Izaac Wang) — or Wang-Wang, as he’s known to his friends — still has a lot to learn. A first-generation Taiwanese American kid, he spends his days fighting with his sister, practicing skateboarding tricks, and mustering up the courage to talk to his crush. Full of 2000s nostalgia and playful visual flourishes, Sean Wang’s heartening feature directorial debut considers the cultural and generational gaps between a son and his immigrant mother — and the great amount of love in the space between. Available in person and online.

Girls Will Be Girls (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) — Sixteen-year-old Mira (Preeti Panigrahi) has a crush. And even though her strict Himalayan boarding school disapproves of such teenage tendencies, Mira’s burgeoning romance grants her new agency and confidence in rebellion against her patriarchal environment. However, as her sexual awakening takes flight, tensions rise with her mother (Kani Kusruti), who was deprived of the chance to have that same awakening in her youth. Available in person and online.

Good One (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — Some teens might cringe at the thought of a camping trip with their dad, but aside from a few affectionate eye rolls, Sam (Lily Collias) is pretty easygoing about the idea. But when her dad’s volatile, newly separated friend shows up without his own son in tow, she becomes the uncomfortable middle of an ego-fueled power dynamic at odds with the idyllic Catskills landscape. With piercing intimacy, India Donaldson’s feature directorial debut tracks Sam’s shifting perceptions of what it takes to be “the good one.” Available in person and online.

How to Have Sex (Spotlight) — With exams in the rearview and the future on the horizon, best friends Tara, Em, and Skye have high expectations for their party resort holiday on the picturesque shores of Crete. But after the inexperienced Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) has a questionably consensual sexual encounter, she struggles to make sense of her experience. In her feature directorial debut, Molly Manning Walker (cinematographer of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize–winning Scrapper) empathetically captures Tara’s confusion, examining sexual consent, party culture, and the nuances of the trio’s friendship with shattering honesty. Available in person.

In The Summers (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — In her poignant feature debut, writer-director Alessandra Lacorazza chronicles multiple pivotal seasons in the lives of sisters Violeta and Eva as they visit their divorced father, Vicente (René Pérez Joglar, aka Residente). While Vicente loves his daughters and tries to create an exciting world for them, his struggles with addiction and depression creep into the edges of their trips. As the years pass, Violeta and Eva grapple with their fragmented upbringing. Available in person and online.

My Old Ass (Premieres) — What if you had the chance to talk to your future self? It’s a fantastical idea, yet the fantastical comes true for Elliott (Maisy Stella) during a fateful mushroom trip the summer before college. But her older self (played by Aubrey Plaza) has a peculiar message: Stay away from your crush. Writer-director Megan Park puts an irreverent spin on the time-travel genre and teenage romance alike for this comedic yet heartfelt look at the uncertainty of growing up. Available in person.

Out of My Mind (Family Matinee) — A curious, bubbly nonverbal wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, sixth grader Melody Brooks (Phoebe-Rae Taylor) has an awful lot on her mind: school, friends, boys. The only problem is, not everyone is willing to listen. As she strives to receive mainstream education at her public school with her parents, a new ally, and some assistive technology by her side, Melody relishes the opportunity to make herself truly heard in this compelling tale of belonging directed by Amber Sealey. Available in person.

Sujo (World Cinema Dramatic Competition) — Filmmakers Astrid Rondero and Fernanda Valadez reckon with cycles of family and violence in this evocative portrait of a cartel gunman’s son. Sujo loses his father when he is only four years old. As he comes of age in rural Mexico, amid the violence that took his father’s life, Sujo (Juan Jesús Varela) must contend with his developing morals and determine whether he will follow in his father’s footsteps or carve his own path. Available in person and online.

Suncoast (U.S. Dramatic Competition) — Due to her brother’s serious illness and her mother’s preoccupation with his care, awkward teenager Doris (Nico Parker) finds herself with a strange, double-edged freedom, leading to new friendships and an unexpected connection with an eccentric activist. Set in 2005 Florida against the backdrop of a landmark medical case, this deeply human story of a mother and daughter facing the inconceivable draws inspiration from writer-director Laura Chinn’s own upbringing. Trust us, bring tissues. Available in person and online.

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