The Jewish month of Elul is here, and that means it’s time for a break from last-minute beach trips, checking off the last few items on your “Summer Goals” list, and dealing with the onset of panic once you realize summer is nearing its end. Instead, turn up your AC, turn on Netflix, and begin to undertake some deep Jewish contemplation. Wait, what?
Let me explain: the Jewish month of Elul is comprised of the 29 days before the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) begin. In many Jewish communities, these days are a time to reflect on the past year, seek teshuvah (repentance) from yourself and others, and begin to identify your goals, hopes, and aspirations for the year to come.
The Hebrew letters that comprise the word “Elul”—aleph, lamed, vav, lamed—are an acronym for a verse from Song of Songs, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” meaning “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.” Traditional interpretations of the verse refer to the relationship between “I” and “beloved” to be between two lovers, or God and the Jewish people. Call me a millennial, but I understand the verse as reaching toward a more self-directed place—between the two versions of yourself that are in conversation during this moment on the Jewish calendar. The “you” from the past year, comprised of whatever messy, complicated, or happy memories you hold, and the “you” that will emerge in the next year: bolder, wiser, and hopeful for change.
While we’re not all going to blast the shofar for each day of Elul, there are certainly ways to explore personal transformation during this time. My favorite way? Through films.
From silly to serious, this list of films for each day of the month of Elul offers 29 female protagonists undergoing powerful journeys. There’s something for everyone.
(They’re all available for rent, and we’ve included streaming links where relevant.)
1. Pariah (2011)
This coming-of-age movie about queer identity and exploration of first love explores the question: how much can you reconcile who you are with who others want you to be?
Watch if you’re into: art films, queer movies, and amazing cinematography
Stream on: Netflix
2. Girlfight (2000)
This sports drama features the acting debut of Michelle Rodriguez as a badass boxer who throws vulnerability and strength in equal punches.
Watch if you’re into: underdog sports movies, Sundance, or boxing.
Stream on: Crackle
3. Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep kill it in this “big girl office job” movie about figuring out your work-life balance and why getting bangs is the makeover you never knew you needed.
Watch if you’re into: romantic comedies, Meryl Streep, iconic one-liners, Vogue, did I mention Meryl Streep?
Stream on: HBO
4. Harold and Maude (1971)
Strap on your seatbelt for a ride with 79-year-old Maude, whose exuberance for life and playful antics will cheer, sadden, and inspire you to “make the most of [your] time on earth.”
Watch if you’re into: cult classics, Cat Stevens, and intergenerational romantic relationships.
5. Bridget Jones Diary (2001)
With the help of friends who love her “just as she is,” Bridget Jones is trying to figure it all out and love her imperfections, just like the rest of us.
Watch if you’re into: romantic comedies, a young Colin Firth, a young Hugh Grant, British quips and insults like this one: “My mum, a strange creature from the time when gherkins were still the height of sophistication.”
Stream on: HBO
6. Roman Holiday (1953)
This movie will make you want to cut your hair, take a Vespa ride around Rome, and indulge, even if just for a day, in the pleasures of life outside the expectations put upon you.
Watch if you’re into: classic movies, Audrey Hepburn, and summer in Italy (….who isn’t?)
Stream on: Starz
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Benh Zeitlin’s film uses the bold imagination and creative spirit of its five-year-old protagonist, Hushpuppy, to confront the challenges of poverty and climate change in New Orleans.
Watch if you’re into: films that make you cry plus political commentary.
8. Juno (2007)
Juno MacGuff’s pregnancy journey is as witty, bizarre, and hilarious as the protagonist herself, as she tries to understand the challenges and relationships of adulthood.
Watch if you’re into: Diablo Cody, high school movies, Ellen Page, and fantastic indie soundtracks.
9. Yentl (1983)
Barbra Streisand serves as director, writer, producer, and star in this move that contains everything your mother secretly loves—the song “Papa Can You Hear Me?,” forbidden love in a 19th-century yeshiva, and being true to yourself despite patriarchal restrictions.
Watch if you’re into: Jewish classics, history, Isaac Bashevis Singer, musicals, and movies you can watch with your mom.
10. Mustang (2015)
This film about five Turkish sisters trapped by their family’s traditions captures the intimacy of sisterhood in like no other movie, and the ending will leave you both heartbroken and hopeful.
Watch if you’re into: foreign films, international award-winners, or the movie Boyhood.
Stream on: Netflix
11. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
When I first saw this movie, at six years old, it seemed perfectly normal to leave home at thirteen, move to a city with nothing but a broomstick and a cat, and save the residents from a escaped airship. Now, it seems like a bold move.
Watch if you’re into: Hayao Miyazaki, anime, and kids movies that will definitely make you tear up.
12. Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s film about mothers, daughters, romance, and friendship will sweeten your memories of getting through your teenage years, whether or not you were stuck at Catholic high school in Sacramento.
Watch if you’re into: best friends and/or Beanie Feldstein.
Stream on: Amazon Prime
13. The Breadwinner (2017)
Set in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, this animated film weaves lush fairy tales with harsh reality, displaying the power of storytelling through visual and narrative landscapes.
Watch if you’re into: serious animated films, Academy Award nominees, or the film The Secret of Kells.
Stream on: Netflix
14. Whip It (2009)
Did I know I was queer when I first watched this Ellen-Page-joins-roller-derby comedy? Not…yet. But I was inspired to buy some second-hand skates, consider (briefly) moving to Austin, and think hard about how to build a better relationship with my mom.
Watch if you’re into: roller derby, movies-that-seem-queer-but-actually-aren’t, Landon Pigg, or movies about Texas.
Stream on: HBO
15. Thelma & Louise (1991)
The exhilarating freedom from men pursued by the title characters is imbued with humor and seriousness, and becomes as far-fetched as it is alluring in this road movie directed by Ridley Scott.
Watch if you’re into: road trip buddies, revenge flicks, and The Grand Canyon (but I won’t spoil the ending).
16. We Are the Best! (2013)
This Swedish film features three 13-year-olds who challenge everything from condescending teenage boys to organized religion to patronizing youth counselors to heckling audience members in their pursuit to create their own punk band.
Watch if you’re into: foreign films, School of Rock, amazing style inspiration, or poorly-played punk music.
17. Dirty Dancing (1987)
While it’s easy to get summer style inspiration from Jennifer Grey’s high waisted jean shorts, Dirty Dancing is also the quintessential summer movie about figuring out how to live—and dance—with strength and authenticity.
Watch if you’re into: 80s movies, Patrick Swayze, or movies that will make you want to go to dance camp in the Catskills (as if).
18. Wild (2014)
Cheryl Strayed’s story about grappling with the death of her mother and dissolved marriage by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail places the natural entanglements of grief and healing beside the wonder of nature itself.
Watch if you’re into: Reese Witherspoon, films about self-discovery, and movies with amazing soundtracks.
19. Kill Bill Volume I (2003) and Kill Bill Volume II (2004)
There’s a two-part quest to seek revenge, and then there’s Uma Thurman on a two-film journey to kill the team of assassins who wrecked her life and claim the chance at motherhood she thought had been lost.
Watch if you’re into: Quentin Tarantino (obviously), action, badass women, and grindhouse cinema.
Stream on: Netflix, Showtime
20. Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Jess and Jules play soccer like nobody’s business, so it’s no surprise that they have to confront disapproving family expectations and romantic rivalries once they step off the field.
Watch if you’re into: British teen romances or Kiera Knightly.
21. Moonstruck (1987)
Cher plays a cynical Italian-American widow who gets a new lease on life when she is swept up in a passionate affair with a young, hot, bread-baking, one-handed Nicolas Cage.
Watch if you’re into: Cher. Everything Cher. Also opera. And the moon.
22. The Princess Diaries (2001)
Featuring a classic makeover scene and the indefectible Julie Andrews, this early 2000s film is perfect for an easy night where you can kick back and dream about starting anew with the help of your long-lost royal grandmother.
Watch if you’re into: Anne Hathaway, movies based on YA books, and watching princess fantasies come true.
Stream on: Netflix (yes, it’s on Netflix!!)
23. Before Sunrise (1995)
Stepping off a train with a stranger to wander the streets of Vienna might not seem like a good idea initially, but for Céline and Jesse, it leads to a night of wanderings, introspective conversation, and a connection that lingers long after the movie ends.
Watch if you’re into: Richard Linklater, movies that take place in a day, international travel, and 90s romances.
24. Fame (1980)
The protagonists of Fame may sing, dance, and act with the zeal that only characters from 1980s high school musicals can, but they also wrestle with their identities, families, and relationships on the path to receiving a diploma.
Watch if you’re into: Irene Cara, you once were a theater kid, and you want to see the original High School Musical.
25. In Her Shoes (2005)
This movie offers a surprising amount of care in its portrayal of two adult sisters longing for a mother, and a grandmother yearning for her daughter. Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, and Shirley McLaine play women flawed and yet whole in their identities as they struggle to fit into each other’s lives.
Watch if you’re into: family dramas, mother-daughter-grandmother movies, and reading poetry aloud.
26. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The Hoover family fight, drive, dance, and unpack their family trauma on a road trip from New Mexico to California, held together by their collective love and support for the pageant queen dreams of 9-year-old Olive.
Watch if you’re into: road trips, dysfunctional family dramas, Toni Collette, and, importantly, soundtracks featuring Sufjan Stevens.
27. Coraline (2009)
Moving into a new house riddled with secret passageways and mysterious amusements, Coraline must free her family from malevolent forces, leaving childhood fears and insecurities behind in the process.
Watch if you’re into: low-key creepy kids movies, animation, Neil Gaiman, talking cats, or spooky dolls.
Stream on: Netflix
28. Whale Rider (2002)
12-year-old Pai fights for her right to lead her Māori tribe despite customs of patrilineal descent. Prophecy, tradition, and a delicate relationship between grandfather and granddaughter are interwoven through Pai’s search for approval from her family and community.
Watch if you’re into: inspirational women, whales, New Zealand, and coming-of-age tales.
Stream on: Showtime
29. Blancanieves (2012)
This retelling of Snow White follows the story of Carmen, a bullfighting prodigy who gets adopted by a troupe of bullfighters. Though filmed in black and white and silent, this film speaks an international language through its sensuous cinematography and striking performances.
Watch if you’re into: foreign films, the 2011 film The Artist, or fairytales.