Transitioning from college to the real world can be rough. Whether you’re moving into your own apartment with a job or moving back into your parents’ house, the shift from being a student to a full-blown adult is momentous. As we struggle with the things we can no longer get away with, we can take comfort in the fact that we’re not the first, and won’t be the last to deal with the leap from collegiette to graduette. And while pop culture may have led us astray in some instances, these eight movies capture the quarter-life crisis perfectly; letting us know we’re not alone.
1. Tiny Furniture
Lena Dunham gets what it is to be a millennial woman. Before she began perfectly portraying early twenties life in Girls, she wrote, directed, and starred in Tiny Furniture, a movie about recent grad Aura’s first months out of college. “I’m in a post-graduate delirium,” Aura says as she moves back in with her successful artist mother and overachieving younger sister. Aura reconnects with childhood friends, gets a job as a hostess (that she ultimately quits, justifying giving up by saying, “It was really s***** and boring and I have a college degree”), and deals with the difficulties of not having her life together immediately after graduating. With familiar faces from Girls, Gossip Girl, and New Girl (to cover all our favorite shows with “Girl” in the name), Tiny Furniture manages to portray the reality of moving home after graduation. The tagline reads, “Aura would like you to know that she’s having a very, very hard time.” That’s something we can all relate to.
2. Liberal Arts
Liberal Arts may not be about a recent college grad, but it captures the longing for everything that college stands for. Thirty-five-year-old Jesse returns to his alma mater and meets a young student, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of our childhood favorites Mary Kate and Ashley). The movie follows both the romantic friendship that develops between Jesse and Zibby, and the supportive one that Jesse fosters with a troubled student named Dean. Over the course of the movie, Jesse finally begins grow up.
For recent grads, one of the most poignant parts of the movie occurs when Jesse is talking to Zibby about being in college. “I think one of the things I loved the most about being here was the feeling that anything was possible. Just infinite choices ahead of you. You get out of school and anything could happen,” Jesse explains. Whether it’s been six months since you were a student or six years, that can be a hard thing to let go. Liberal Arts is a film you won’t want to miss after graduating (plus, Zac Efron makes some unexpected appearances, which we can’t complain about).
3. Post Grad
From her years as Rory Gilmore, to her time on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Alexis Bledel has been there for us every step of the way (she even made a few thoroughly grown-up appearances on Mad Men). In Post Grad, she plays recent graduate Ryden, a girl who has always had a life plan. Good grades in high school, a college scholarship, and a great GPA in college were all supposed to lead to getting a job at a top publishing company in L.A. As you can imagine, things don’t quite go as planned. While she lands an interview, she does not get the job and must move home. Ryden deals with problems concerning employment, love, and the reality that her life is not coming together as she’d hoped it would. She is easy to identify with, and many recent graduates will understand when she says, “This whole post graduation thing is not exactly turning out the way I planned. I just thought I’d be doing something amazing by now. Or at least doing something.”
Be inspired by Ryden’s spontaneity at the end of the movie and know that your ‘life plan’ may not end up being as fulfilling as you imagined. Embrace the opportunity to go in a different direction after graduating; it may be the only time you have the freedom to do so.
4. Legally Blonde
The first thing that comes to mind when you think of Legally Blonde may not be “recent college grad,” but this classic chick flick is ultimately about Elle’s first year in graduate school. Whether you’re headed to law school, med school, or pursuing a Masters, let Elle be your inspiration not to let anything stop you from reaching your full potential.
In the movie, Elle deals with transitioning from her undergraduate years where she was popular and successful, to Harvard Law where she’s a little out of her element. Despite those who look down on her, she uses her unique perspective and experience to prove her professors and classmates wrong.
As she grows throughout the movie, Elle’s responses to Professor Callahan and (ex-boyfriend) Warner are empowering. She uses her detractors as motivation to buckle down and study harder than she ever has. In the end, she realizes she’s worth far more than Warner can offer. Take a leaf out of Elle’s book: Ignore those who don’t expect much of you and learn to trust and believe in yourself. Legally Blonde is the perfect pick-me-up during a quarter-life crisis.
5. Take Me Home Tonight
Set in the 1980s, Take Me Home Tonight focuses on recent MIT grad Matt, who, despite his potential, has moved back in with his parents in L.A. When his high school crush, Tori, comes into the video store he works at, he pretends to be an investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Tori invites him to a party with their old high school classmates and the movie follows him as he tries to win her over. Eventually the lie is revealed and Matt has to face the fact that he doesn’t know what he wants to do or where to start.
While Matt’s struggles are the main focus of the movie, we also follow his twin sister Wendy and best friend Barry, both of whom are dealing with their own quarter-life dilemmas. Wendy is dating the stereotypical jock, but we find out that she secretly applied to graduate school at Cambridge University in England. After accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal she finally reveals to him that she applied. Dismayed with the prospect of losing Wendy, Kyle almost gleefully delivers the news that she did not get in, helping Wendy realize that Kyle is not who she wants to share her future with. Meanwhile, Barry, who didn’t go to college, goes through a serious crisis (stealing cars and doing drugs included) before coming to the conclusion that maybe he should go to college to find himself and figure out what he wants to do.
Take Me Home Tonight is a fun movie that portrays many aspects of life after graduation: parental expectations, moving back home, trying to look like you have everything together, not knowing what you want to do, finding someone to support your dreams, and leaving those who do not, behind.
6. Kicking and Screaming
This classic '90s movie opens at a college graduation party and follows four graduates over the next few months of their lives. Grover struggles with his girlfriend’s abrupt move to Prague, as the rest of the group has a hard time moving on from their undergrad days. While not as uplifting as other movies on this list, it accurately portrays the difficulty of moving on after college and feeling old compared to (current) college students.
Grover, Max, Otis and Skippy haven’t done anything or really even attempted to do anything after graduating, and that may be the biggest takeaway from Kicking and Screaming. It’s easy to get stuck feeling nostalgic (“We graduated four months ago. What can you possibly be nostalgic for?” Skippy asks Max at one point), but the worst thing you can do is nothing. If you’re stuck in a rut post-graduation, take your life into your own hands (as Grover finally tries to do at the end of the movie) and do something with your degree, and yourself.
7. The Graduate
As millennial women, we may not have much in common with Ben Braddock (a very young Dustin Hoffman), but The Graduate is perhaps the best known movie about a recent college grad. This classic is a good one to have in your film arsenal and what better time to watch than as a recent graduate yourself? While Ben is a young man struggling with an illicit affair in the 1960s, the insecurities and sentiments he expresses about having just graduated still resonate today. At one point Mrs. Robinson asks Ben if he’s upset, and his response perfectly sums up how many of us feel: “I’m just a little worried about my future. I’m a little upset about my future.”
Many of the scenes hit a chord with recent grads. At one point, Ben is relaxing and floating in the pool. His dad approaches and asks him what he’s doing, to which Ben replies, “Well, I would say that I’m just drifting.” While he’s referring to his position in the pool, the metaphor is apt. Later on in the scene, his dad asks him, “Would you mind telling me, then, what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work?” Ben wittily replies, “You got me.” This movie may be 48 years old, but recent grads today are still wondering the same thing.
8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Okay, so Holly Golightly isn’t a recent college graduate, but she is a twenty-something trying to find herself and make it on her own in New York. And what’s a quarter-life crisis if not a bad case of the ‘mean reds’ (being afraid but not knowing what you’re afraid of)? We’re all just looking for a real life place that makes us feel like Tiffany’s and, in the mean time, it’s comforting to watch someone as glamorous as Holly Golightly struggle a little with getting it right.
There’s something relatable about leading-man, Paul Varjak, as well. A struggling writer, he shows the excitement for getting paid for his work and finally begins to take his writing career seriously. After uncertainly telling Holly he’s a writer, Holly asks why he hasn’t written since 1956 (six years earlier), to which he replies, “I’m supposed to not fritter away my talent on little things. I’m supposed to be saving it for the big one.” Many of us feel that way when we don’t immediately have our dream job after graduation but, as Paul learns, we must pay our dues as we work our way up.
If we can learn anything from these movies it’s that everyone getting their start in their twenties isn’t quite where they expected to be, and that it’s all part of the process. So calm down, watch one of these films, know that you’re not alone, and that everything will work out. Quarter-life crisis averted.