'The Spectacular Now' and other films coming of (a new) age

"I think we glorify these characters that are essentially narcissists that refuse to grow up," said Ponsoldt, who previously wrote and directed the indie "Smashed," about a married couple whose love of drinking rivals their love for each other. "If you've been raised by one of those guys, if that guy divorced your mother when you were 9, or you're a woman and were left by guys like that, cheated on by guys like that or abused by guys like that, I think you have less of a threshold for it."

Looking for guidance

That theme of teens being raised by immature adults is also taken up in the recently released "The Way, Way Back." Faxon, 37, and Rash, 42, the screenwriting duo who won an Oscar with Alexander Payne for 2011's "The Descendants," penned the script about a teenager trying to find his identity during a summer vacation with his mother and her new boyfriend.

Their hero, 14-year-old protagonist Duncan (newcomer Liam James), is given few role models to emulate. His mother's jerky lothario boyfriend played by Steve Carell is callous and self-centered, so he gravitates toward Sam Rockwell's sweet-natured but emotionally stunted water-park manager Owen. It's a character Faxon and Rash based on Bill Murray's charismatic camp counselor from the 1979 comedy "Meatballs," but this time it's not played only for laughs. Duncan's real father lives on the other side of the country and isn't very interested in his son's life, while mom (Toni Collette) is far more interested in her own reinvention.

"Duncan becomes stuck without a guide," said Rash of his main character, who longs to be with his real father. "We wanted this kid to maybe be the smartest person in the room in his observations — which I think a lot of kids tend to be. We often don't realize just how much they absorb."

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None of these coming-of-age movies are destined to be blockbuster hits. While last year's heavy, male-centric drama "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" grossed close to $20 million, "The Kings of Summer" earned just $1.2 million despite debuting to positive reviews and a high-profile sale at this year's Sundance Film Festival. "The Way, Way Back," which cost around $5 million to produce, has had greater success, earning $1.9 million since it opened two weeks ago.

But the filmmakers have other goals in mind beyond success at the box office. Each one created their film with a purposeful timelessness in the hopes it could become more than the disposable popcorn fare that typically dominates the summer moviegoing season.

If they are really lucky, their movie posters may even make it onto the wall of a teenager's bedroom, proof they had something insightful to say to an audience desperately looking for connection.

"I wanted to make a movie that kids will watch and believe in," said Ponsoldt. "And I wanted to make a movie that is not so obsessed with the newness of 2013 or thinks that anything is different. Because I don't. Things are not that different."

nicole.sperling@latimes.com