Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Teenage Movie Poster Image
Insightful docu traces historical evolution of adolescence.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 78 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The take-away from Teenage is that adolescents are no longer thought of as adults in the way that people in their teens used to be considered. Because of societal changes like industrialization and labor laws, children no longer work, and many teens are allowed years in which they're free from true adult responsibilities. Also, youth movements have made a huge difference in either resisting or supporting political regimes (for example, the Scouts movement fostered patriotism, loyalty, and courage), and teens can and do make important contributions to art, politics, and history.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many of the featured teens are brave and bold and question established ideas about what youth culture should and can be; some of them protested or resisted tyrannical or discriminatory regimes, and others fought for their nation, while some just enjoyed being "bright young things" -- rich kids who partied all the time. The film establishes the importance of youth movements and depicts how young people can mobilize to make a huge difference in changing society.


References to both World Wars and how they affected a generation of young men (and women). Photos, videos, and dramatizations of Hitler Youth, fascists, radicals, socialists, and war in general. Young soldiers, gangsters, and criminals are also shown. Labor camps are also depicted, and young dissenters are executed in Nazi Germany.


Photos and old footage of teens skinny dipping (naked behinds visible), singing, carousing, and kissing (both same sex and opposite sex). Discussion of how teens in the golden inter-war period became more daring, sexually active, and uninhibited. A teenage boy reveals in letters that he's had sex with a girl. An English socialite is known for being promiscuous and has an abortion.


Hate-speech from Nazi propaganda, such as "race defilers," "fornicators," "negroes," and "Jewish filth."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion and photos of teens who smoked cigarettes (back in the decades when that was the style), drink to excess, and even take popular drugs (like morphine). Bright Young Thing/socialite Brenda Dean Paul is referred to as a morphine junkie. American teens smoke pot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Teenage is a documentary that combines historical footage, narrated letters, and dramatized recreations to illustrate that adolescence is a relatively new construct that allows many children to have several extra years without adult responsibilities. The film follows key moments in modern history in which youths made a notable contribution to promoting social change, creating popular culture, resisting tyranny, supporting fascist regimes, or protecting/defending a nation. Given the subject matter, the movie is most appropriate for viewers who are already fully teens (or older) themselves, as there are some heavy themes; infrequent strong language; references to sex, abortion, and drug use; a brief glimpse of naked behinds as teens go skinny dipping; and potentially disturbing historical images (like Nazi propaganda or child labor photos).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byphuzzyday January 1, 2015

More nudity than indicated here

The nudity mentioned also includes full frontal female nudity, showing breasts and pubic hair on a few women. It is non-sexual, and lasts for about 5 seconds.

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What's the story?

TEENAGE isn't a straightforward documentary about the rise of adolescence as a socially accepted rite of passage between childhood and adulthood. It's a high-concept compilation of archival footage, dramatized reenactments, and Ken Burns-esque celebrity narration (of letters and commentary) based on Jon Savage's nonfiction book Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945. The only thing that's missing is expert interviews, which seem to have been omitted in favor of a more artsy, lyrical depiction of the rise of the teenager. Filmmaker Matt Wolf follows the creation of the Boy Scouts, the Bright Young Things in inter-war England, Hitler Youth, the Harlem Renaissance, Swing Kids, and more. Actors like Jena Malone, Alden Ehrenreich, and Ben Whishaw provide voice-over.

Is it any good?

For documentary lovers who appreciate a straightforward approach to historical material, Teenage might be a bit too artsy with its dramatizations and lack of expert commentary. It certainly won't feel like a film that you'd see at a modern art museum. but rather on PBS or HBO. But there's something appealing about the way the focus jumps in time and place, highlighting how youth culture affected or scandalized or changed the dominant society, whether it was the bohemian Bright Young People in 1920s England or the subversive Swing Kids in Nazi Germany who dared to eschew Hitler Youth in favor of attending underground dance and music clubs.

America, which is basically responsible for the rise of teen culture, is featured as well, conflated with racial segregation, discrimination, and the Harlem Renaissance. There's a lot of material to cover, and it might be confusing to teens who are unfamiliar with the subject matter or who can't distinguish the archival footage from the recreated dramatizations. But Teenage should spark fascinating conversations and an interest in history, as well as give current teens the valid (if oversimplified) impression that young people have always raged against their elders, pursed their own pleasures, and felt alienated. Watch it and then encourage deeper research into the parts of the documentary that speak loudest to your own teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the historical impact of adolescence and how teen culture has changed from generation to generation. Are you surprised at what hasn't changed (sex, drugs, music, pop culture)?

  • What are some of the different ways that teens reacted to oppressive governments? Why do you think some teens were eager to follow Hitler, for example, while so few were willing to resist?

  • The filmmaker uses an artistic approach to the documentary rather than a straightforward one. Do you think the reenactments were confusing, or did they add to your enjoyment of the film?

Movie details

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