Top 5 feel good films on Netflix for stressed teens

A father and son riding horses in their urban area.

Image Courtesy of Tucker Tooley Entertainment, Green Door Pictures, Lee Daniels Entertainment, and Neighborhood Film Co.

Father teaching son about what it means to be a cowboy as they ride around their community in Philadelphia.

Alina Veliz, Staff Writer

Distance learning has taken its toll on many students. Students were working nonstop all while an ongoing global pandemic was occurring, stripping them of social interaction. With summer vacation soon approaching, what students need now more than ever is a moment of peace to relax. There are five films currently on Netflix that are bound to uplift stressed-out spirits.

Concrete Cowboy (2021)

This coming-of-age drama stars famed English actor Idris Elba, Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin, and Academy Award winner Jharrel Jerome.

The plot of the film begins with troubled teenager Cole (McLaughlin) being sent to live with his estranged father (Elba) in a community of black cowboys who have taken root in the unlikely urban neighborhoods of Philadelphia. It follows the cowboy subculture that has brought people together for over 100 years. Cole unfolds the hidden meaning behind what it takes to ride and uncovers the harsh realities and joys of friendship, trust, loyalty, and responsibility.

The film is cinematically beautiful with incredible acting and emotional plot points. A notable key point for this film is several of the actors in the movie are actual urban cowboys and cowgirls from Philly. Camera shots are creatively taken of the warm sun bouncing off the comforting haven of the horse’s bodies, and ruined city landscapes, juxtaposing both the comforts and challenges the world offers to whoever may pay attention.

Concrete Cowboy is worth the watch because it’s a beautiful story that takes on heavy issues like family dysfunction, poverty, racism, and gentrification in a unique way while hitting universal emotional chords. The interaction between each character is raw and real. It’s a story based on finding a balance of modern life in Philadelphia and the older, urban lifestyle of city cowboys, but ultimately, it’s about letting go of old wounds, renewing our spirits, and taking hold of that opportunity whenever we can.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)

Well-known comedic actor Paul Rudd stars as Ben, a writer who has recently taken over the job as a caregiver for physically challenged people out of financial desperation instead of commitment to the cause. Craig Roberts stars as Trevor, a young man suffering from muscular dystrophy who needs attentive care every day and hates every one of his apathetic caregivers. Selena Gomez is also featured, playing teen runaway, Dot.

The story shows Ben and Trevor getting used to one another by slowly uncovering their fears, secrets, and desires, as well as the wisdom each has gained from their individual paths. The film’s dialogue is marked by hilarious sarcasm and quick, snarky retorts. What could be a depressing film about two isolated outcasts is elevated by the comedic interaction and believable evolution of key characters.

Even when the plot lags, the chemistry between Rudd and Roberts is so interesting to watch. The characters begin to develop a relationship that ultimately changes their perspective of life. The film is a must-watch for entertainment value, as well as some wise points on making the most of our lives and the people around us no matter what their abilities may be.

The Half of it (2020)

This refreshing coming-of-age film follows Ellie Chu, a smart, lonely teenager who makes money off of writing other student’s school papers. It isn’t until she meets football player Paul Munsky where she discovers the true meaning of friendship and young love.

After noticing Ellie’s great writing ability, Paul asks her to write a love letter to his school crush Aster Flores. As the two grow closer, Ellie adjusts to the feeling of having her first real friendship and Paul realizes how to create solid connections with people other than his typical jock friends. The story gets even more interesting when Ellie discovers she has feelings for Aster as well.

The protagonist goes through several difficult moments throughout, but over time, learns how to overcome each conflict. What’s amazing about the movie is how director Alice Wu shapes the story by handling race, sexual orientation, and language in a positive, sensitive way. The plus is also by casting actors who actually fit the teenage role.

The film is uplifting, funny, and ultimately satisfying even if it doesn’t give us every outcome we want. Maybe that’s because, at the end, we get the film’s message that, however different we may be from those around us, we have to find the courage to be honest about who we are.

Moxie (2021)

Directed by famed SNL cast member and comedy film star Amy Poehler, Moxie is about 16 year old Vivian (Hadley Robinson) who gradually becomes more aware and concerned about the sexism happening every day at her high school.

As Vivian’s eyes continue to open about the injustice, she decides to take things into her own hands by writing an anonymous magazine speaking about these issues. Vivian discovers new meanings of advocating, boyfriends, and being torn between old and new friendships. As her anonymous activism gains momentum and support, Vivian realizes, doing the right thing isn’t as simple as it seems.

What was great about the movie was the way it represented relevant, relatable issues many young women face, as well as the issues young feminists may encounter due to differences in culture, race, income, and personal experience.

Although some of the situations or dialogue can come off a bit strong or preachy, the intention of the film is admirable and the performances are strong. As artificial as some of the plot developments may be, the teens look their age, feel like real teens, and even when their reaction seems unrealistic, you enjoy the confidence they display onscreen.

This film is worth the watch especially after the Me Too movement left many of us wondering how to move forward. It guides us through those issues in an overly calculated, yet pretty painless and often amusing way.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Starring Hailee Steinfield as Nadine, a teenager who’s gone through a very traumatic life experience, The Edge of Seventeen takes us on a journey that’s surprisingly enjoyable.

Nadine is that smart, likable, yet curmudgeonly character we root for. She hates everyone around her and thinks everything sucks. To make matters worse, her best friend begins to date her older brother. Nadine has a hard time relating to other students and finds comfort in venting to her school teacher. The film follows the rough patches Nadine faces between her mom, brother, and best friend.

What is great about the film is the realism. The teen characters say what many high schoolers say in real life. There isn’t an attempt to censor anything. It’s mature writing targeting older teens and even adults who’ve experienced the harsh reality of high school. As a viewer, you can tell the film is directed with lots of passion.

In the end, it’s Nadine’s isolation that makes us feel a little better. Ironically, as we identify with her, we realize we are far from alone. So many teens feel like they can’t relate to anyone and have a tendency to keep it all in. So, we’re not weirdos, we’re just going through it. And, if we can just make a few connections to other like-minded people, we won’t be so alone after all.

These five movies are all positively rated by critics and address real issues teenagers face every day. They are different in ways, but all comedic and entertaining. If you eventually have an hour and a half to spare, watching any of these movies can truly put you in a better mood.