It may be hackneyed to say this, but college really does go by in a blink of an eye. One minute you’re shading your eyes on your New Student Orientation campus tour in 95 degree heat, maybe a little hungover. Four years go by and the next moment you’re scrolling through Indeed job listings in your first apartment. One thing is certain—grappling with adulthood is hard.
Like the humanities student that I am, my favorite way to deal with impending postgrad angst is watching movies about the subject. Here are my top six movies that deal with the job hunts, family drama, friendships, and romances that come with adulting. Whether in the form of a thoughtful rom–com or an edgy social critique, these movies encapsulate the young adult experience, and they make you feel a little more prepared for what awaits after your degree.
— Anna O’Neill–Dietel
Frances Ha encompasses all of the struggles and delights of life after college. The plot follows Greta Gerwig as Frances Halladay, a semi–employed dancer living with her college pal in New York City. While Frances' character errs on irritating, Gerwig steers her characters’ mishaps in job hunting and making rent towards endearing. Any viewer is silently rooting for her as she drifts out of touch with her best friend and strained romantic relationships. This movie effortlessly captures the sometimes–fragile love between best friends and the less than graceful moments of postgrad life. Whether Frances is running to an ATM in the middle of a dinner date because she still doesn’t have a credit card, or slinking back home to live with her parents, you just want to give her a hug and tell her that life will work out for her—even though you aren’t sure that it will.
Equal parts hilarious and unsettling, Sorry to Bother You is the surrealist social critique you didn’t know you needed to watch before entering the workforce. The film takes us along 20–something Oaklander Cassius “Cash” Green’s fever dream of ascendance from telemarketer to millionaire. The twisting plot provides commentary on race, organized labor, and capitalism. The world–building in the film is worth a watch alone, and you’ll laugh (if uncomfortably) at a possible indentured servitude ring, a Wipeout–like reality TV show, and animated horse monsters. You find yourself both rooting for Cash as he climbs the social ladder, and wishing you can reach out and tell him to retreat to the safety of his garage bedroom as he grows closer to the top.
What’s more adult than grappling with mortality? That question is at the center of Lulu Wang’s film, based on her true–to–life radio story What You Don't Know. Wang’s movie follows a Chinese American family who learns that their grandmother only has a few months left to live. The film stars Awkwafina as Billi, an aspiring young writer living in NYC. The movie opens with Billi licking her wounds after a rejection for a Guggenheim Fellowship. When her parents inform her that they are not telling her grandmother about a terminal lung cancer diagnosis and instead are visiting her in Changchun, China, Billi is skeptical. What follows are painfully awkward family gatherings as Billi’s cousin decides to hold her wedding in Changchun in order to provide a reason for the family to gather. While the premise of Billi’s family’s gathering may seem outlandish, the movie reflects the universal experience of finally being “let in” on family secrets.
Though it's a popular required text in US high schools, I promise Into the Wild is worth revisiting post–AP Lit in the context of postgrad life. Within the first ten minutes, it flips adulting on its head and tells the story of surviving. Based on Jon Krakauer’s non–fiction book of the same name, the movie chronicles the life of free spirit Chris McCandless. The film opens with Chris, played by Emile Hirsch, at his Emory graduation. To his parents' dismay, McCandless decides to leave behind the promise of a reputable job. Burning his social security card and driver's license, he travels across the country with the ultimate goal of reaching rural Alaska. The movie begs the question of what should be sacrificed for a dream, and who is worth keeping in your adult life.
While it basically functions as a playbook for the manic pixie dream girl trope, (500) Days of Summer earns its place on this list. As long as you can overlook the lack of depth of the female love interest, the movie is a poignant depiction of young professional love. The movie follows Joseph Gordon–Levitt’s Tom, a white–bread greeting card designer and self–described “perfectly adequate handsome” guy. He falls head over heels for Zooey Deschanel’s commitment–weary Summer. When she rejects him after 500 days, ahem, the title, he makes it his mission to retrace their relationship. The movie captures the struggles of pursuing a dream career, and the sometimes magical, sometimes doldrum moments of young adult love–and how it feels to overanalyze them.
This groundbreaking romantic comedy is perhaps “the” adulting movie. Based on the 1963 novel of the same name, it stars Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate who returns to his family’s Los Angeles home, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. His uncertainty is heightened by the suggestions from well meaning (and–well–to–do) adults in his life. He begins an affair with a married woman, Mrs. Robinson, spending his days at his parents' pool and his nights with her. But things go awry when he violates Mrs. Robinson’s only demand: that he not date her daughter. This movie has all of the hallmarks of a romantic comedy: enemies to lovers, grand declarations of love, and an interrupted wedding. But the movie is more than that. With a satirical bite, it lampoons young adult yearning and the unnecessary pressure on graduates to determine their life courses. With playful cinematography and a killer soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, The Graduate is a delight to experience, despite Benjamin’s icky advances. Whether you find Benjamin to be an insufferable creep, or a little too relatable, you need to watch this movie.