By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton
Coming of age has always been a popular genre among film but it tends to always be about the same thing. A light hearted drama about a suburban teen who struggles to find their identity while exploring the many aspects of growing up. Occasionally, you’ll find a darker approach to this subject such as Girl, Interrupted and The Virgin Suicides. But those films were made possible because of the unconventional 1995 film, The Basketball Diaries.
It centers on a young basketball player Jim Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) who lives in the rough neighborhoods of New York City with his single mother. After the death of his best friend, Jim soon spirals into the dangerous world of drugs, prostitution, homelessness, and theft.
Jim’s story is one that many would rather not tell when it comes to adolescents. He doesn’t come from a middle-class home and doesn’t have the same opportunities as other kids. He’s poor and comes from a neighborhood that is infested with drugs and crime. Kids, like himself, have dreams and goals but sometimes their environment swallows them whole and they’re pressured into the life that they wanted to escape.
Jim wanted to be a writer and he was obviously gifted, which is evident through the narration of his diary entries. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in the rough scene of New York City and his dreams become non-existent.
But that isn’t all that the film shows. It also gives us a look at the coming of age story for boys, which we don’t often see. Girls and boys have different versions of growing up, that is a known fact.The Rumspringa of a boy’s life is especially unique as it consists of rebellion and proving your manhood through sex and violence. Jim deals with these complexities while also having an addiction that leads him to stealing and selling his body for the money that pays for it.
So, why is this important?
Well, this story changes what being a teenager means. It doesn’t always involve a first car, dating, prom, or graduation. For most teens, it’s darker and more life-altering. They don’t get to grow up like the rest of us. For them, growing up is more like a shortcut to adulthood. Jim Carroll is of the many teens that these things happen to and they don’t just exist in 1995. They exist here and now in 2018.
The Basketball Diaries forced the industry to look at and tell the stories of people who aren’t as privileged and give the Jim Carroll’s of the world a voice. It affected the coming of age films to follow and proved to everyone that they could be just as successful as a John Hughes movie.