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Student blog: portraying female adolescence in film

BA (Hons) Acting student Cordelia Majgaard joined NUA from Denmark and is in her first year of study. Here she shares her top female performances that capture female adolescence. 

Growing up isn’t easy. You’re stuck in between that grey area of being too old to be called a child and to young to be seen as an adult.

It’s a weird, unusual, and long place to spend time in because of the pressure of wanting to have structure and independence but also the need to hold onto childhood freedom. Which is exactly why it’s such a common theme to explore in film, while deriving some of the most powerful performances from young actors due to the relatable nature of the theme.

Everyone experiences change, struggle, heartbreak, and hope. But it’s how we deal with those changes that make those coming-of-age performances so poignant to the human experience. Because of this I’ve gathered a few favourite female performances (due to my own knowledge of female adolescence) in film that perfectly capture the essence of adolescence within the female perspective.

“They’re fully rounded-out characters with flaws and insecurities.”

1. Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird)

Ronan’s ability to effortlessly display the warmth and comic/cynical commentary of a 17-year-old girl going through the final year of high school gives a new take on the regular coming-of-age story.

But I think the real talent lies between the mother-daughter dynamic of ‘Lady Bird’ and her mother Marion, as the onscreen chemistry that Ronan has with the supporting cast gives the role a more subtle yet authentic and charming performance – you really feel the impact of the character’s choices as she transitions into adulthood.

2. Hailee Steinfield (Edge of Seventeen)

Steinfeld’s performance in the 2016 film explores a more domestic view of changing family dynamics, and how one fits in when no one is nearby to fit in with.

Steinfeld’s role is selfish and frustrated but tragic enough that you can’t help but feel empathetic towards the character, despite all the mistakes she causes.

3. Florence Pugh (Little Women)

Although set in 19th century Boston, Massachusetts, Pugh’s role and performance creates a modern take on the inequalities of growing up as a woman rather than a man.

Her integral monologue ends in the statement “I want to be great or nothing”, perfectly demonstrating how tough the world is on ambitious girls: you don’t have time to rest or you’ll miss your chance. I love the resilience and dedication of her character, even though she had flaws and acted “spoilt” and “bratty”.

The reason I’m drawn to the female performances on this list is because they’re fully rounded-out characters with flaws and insecurities (not perfect or glamourised), which is exactly what adolescence should be: messy, exciting, and with room to make mistakes in order to grow.

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