Youth-obsessed performers led the way in the plastic surgery craze, and TV reality shows seem obsessed with cosmetic and fashion makeovers. But a handful of memorable films focus on characters who experience true renewal: renewal of the spirit and the soul.
These are typically small films about characters and families who are in some way broken, stalled and unable to live the lives they’ve always dreamed of. Just as the characters in these films break free to discover their inner strength and sense of self, the films often feature actors who prove their star quality, then break through to greater stardom.
“Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” reveals a grim aspect of urban ghetto life that had never before been seen on film. In the title role, Gabourey Sidibe plays an overweight teen who suffers every form of abuse imaginable at the hands of her parents, but finds hope and self-worth through education at an inner city alternative school.
The film turned the unknown actress into an overnight, Oscar-nominated star and earned richly-deserved Supporting Actress awards (including the Oscar) for comedian Mo’Nique as the girl’s monstrous mother.
“Pleasantville” is an ingenious fantasy that stars the pre A-list Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon as suburban teens who are transported into the black and white world of an idealized 1950’s sitcom.
What begins as an amusing fish-out-of-water tale gradually becomes an inspiring meditation on individuality, sexual freedom and civil rights, as the modern-day teens bring life, and color, to this black and white world.
Some of the characters in these tales of renewal make both figurative and literal journeys towards self-discovery, including:
“Thelma and Louise” stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as two stalled Southern gals who discover their inner strength (both kick-ass and otherwise) while on the lam from the cops. This girl-power classic also features a then-unknown Brad Pitt as a shady boy-toy hitchhiker.
The heroines’ climactic act of defiance and freedom is one of the most controversial yet memorable endings in all of modern film.
“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” follows three down-and-out Aussie drag queens on their trek through the Australian Outback. Along the way, they overcome fears and prejudice, and discover the value of their own friendship and self-worth.
The film not only spawned a stage musical, it put stars Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce on the international movie map.
“Little Miss Sunshine” follows a family of misfits in their cross-country quest to enter their chubby but sunny daughter in a kiddie beauty pageant. The movie’s best running gag, and visual metaphor, is that they all have to push their broken down VW van to get it going.
The film earned Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and for Alan Arkin as the salty grandpa, and it made young stars of Abigail Breslin and Paul Dano.
Each of these films provides a sense of renewal not only for the characters, but for the audience as well. So when you’re feeling stalled, down or frustrated, any one of them is certain to inspire.