Dec 02

“The Edge of Seventeen”: We’ve Been There

This is a movie about a teen, first and foremost, rather than a “teen movie,” and that’s exactly what makes it feel like a peerless example for the genre. David Sims, The Atlanticregarding The Edge of Seventeen

The official description of The Edge of Seventeen may at least partly explain why many potential viewers haven’t been flocking to theaters to see it—it just sounds so, well, teen-movie-like:

Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who is already at peak awkwardness when her all-star older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy (Hayden Szeto) gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.

The following excerpt, however, adds more depth and interest (Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times):

…Nadine has always resented Darian for his favored-child status with their mother (Kyra Sedgwick), a feeling that has only intensified since the sudden death of their father (Eric Keenleyside) a few years earlier…

Its verbal style informed by numerous interviews that [writer] Fremon Craig conducted with teenagers nationwide, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ never descends into a ‘Juno’-esque quirkfest…

(See my previous post about Juno.)

Critics, in fact, have generally heaped high praise, declaring Hailee Steinfeld to be a gem and the story uniquely told. A sampling of reviews:

  • The teen cult classic you’ve been waiting for (Nico Lang, Salon)
  • No one experiences self-loathing as intensely as a teenager, and I’ve never seen it so well-reflected in a movie before (Molly Eichel, Philly.com)
  • A deceptively funny depiction of teen anxiety and depression (Zach Schonfeld, Newsweek)
  • The rare coming-of-age picture that feels less like a retread than a renewal. It’s a disarmingly smart, funny and thoughtful piece of work, from end to beginning to end (Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times)
  • Thanks to its edgy sense of humor and achingly accurate poignancy, the flick will touch a nerve with anyone who has ever had to ride that tidal wave of teenage angst. By the way, that’s everybody (Maria Reinstein, Us Weekly)

Nadine’s Character

David Sims, The Atlantic: “Nadine is prone to moments of cruelty or gracelessness, and proves at times to be incapable of self-awareness, despite her obvious intelligence.”

Katy Waldman, Slate: “…a beguiling blend of charisma, lancing intelligence, and hostile insecurity.”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com: “She’s capable of laughing at herself for her frequent follies, but her default mode is misanthropy, and she doesn’t suffer fools. She can be mean and impulsive and she’s often the victim of her own undoing. Steinfeld makes this intriguing jumble of contradictions feel real and alive. She doesn’t seem interested in making us like this girl who’s perched on the edge of womanhood. She just tries to make her feel true—and that’s what makes us love her.”

Other Notable Characterizations in The Edge of Seventeen

Stephen Holden, New York Times: “If ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ were a run-of-the-mill high school melodrama, Krista would be revealed as a selfish, scheming vixen and Darian as an arrogant jerk. But they are smart, sensitive people who care about Nadine. Krista, with her sunny temperament and gentle disposition, has been the light of Nadine’s life since they were children, while Darian has assumed the role of a surrogate patriarch since the death of their father…”

David Sims, The Atlantic: “As the straight-arrow Erwin, who’s clearly interested in Nadine but has no idea how to snap her out of her various reveries, Szeto is a delight, as well as a refreshing choice for a romantic lead in a genre that usually relegates Asian performers to sidekick roles.”

Ella Taylor, NPR: “The life lessons, such as they are, flow from [teacher] Bruner [Woody Harrelson], but less from what he says than in the understanding he extends toward this floundering young bigmouth…All along this taciturn man has offered her what every teenager needs — acceptance, the gift of listening, and a sly nudge down a path along which she can take the reins.”

Aug 28

“Hateship Loveship”: Quiet Caregiver with Interpersonal Issues

In Hateship Loveship, a movie adapted from a short story by Alice Munro and directed by Liza Johnson, quiet and naive Johanna Parry (Kristen Wiig) starts working for a gruff elderly man, Mr. McCauley (Nick Nolte). His teenage granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), who lives with him, cruelly tricks this new caregiver into believing that her father Ken (Guy Pearce) has romantic interest in her.

An important piece of the back story: Sabitha’s mom is dead because of an incident in which Ken was drunk at the wheel.

Justin Chang, Variety, explains how Sabitha’s con has roots in Ken’s kindness to Johanna: “…(H)e leaves the new housekeeper a note of encouragement — a nice gesture that Johanna, unaccustomed to being treated kindly or flirted with, takes it upon herself to answer. But her letter is intercepted by Sabitha and her troublemaking best friend, Edith (Sami Gayle), who, rather than mailing it as promised, write back to Johanna pretending to be Ken. With the unthinking malice that can come so easily to teens with technology at their disposal, the girls initiate a friendly and increasingly intimate email correspondence with the unsuspecting Joanna, who becomes thoroughly smitten with the man she thinks is keeping up his end of the conversation.”

Other notable characters in the film include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ken’s drug-addicted girlfriend and Christine Lahti as a bank employee who might become a romantic interest for Mr. McCauley.

Watch the trailer below:

JOHANNA

Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com“She has worked in the service of others, as a housemaid/nanny/nurse since she was 15. Her voice is soft and flat, and when she speaks, she uses functional practical language. She has feelings about the families with whom she lives, but you would never guess any of it looking at her face. She has no self-pity. And so, when Johanna suddenly awakens to love, early on in ‘Hateship Loveship,’ it is both electrifying and perilous. She is not used to being overwhelmed with feelings, sexual and romantic, and she doesn’t know how to behave; she doesn’t know where to put it all.”

Justin ChangVariety:It’s an on-the-nose metaphor, perhaps, but for this quietly capable woman, cleaning house isn’t just a responsibility but also an escape, a form of therapy, and a far more practical solution than sulking or lashing out.”

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “…(W)e’ve never seen a protagonist quite like Johanna, who on the one hand personifies female self-abnegation at its most domesticated, but on the other embodies the sheer will at its most stubborn. She knows the value of elbow grease, whether she’s redeeming a dirty kitchen floor or even a scruffier human soul.”

KEN

Sheila O’Malleyrogerebert.com: “His kindness to Johanna is not targeted or creepy, but automatic and casual. He is filled with self-loathing over his mistakes: his drug addiction, being a terrible dad unable to take care of his daughter, and knowing that everyone thinks he is a loser….’Hateship Loveship’ lets him be complex. It doesn’t ask us to come down on one side or the other. His actions are often reprehensible. And sometimes he is beautifully warm and accepting. Both are true.”