91. The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen was the release from last weekend that I was truly looking forward to most (which makes sense, seeing as how it was number six in my list of 10 Fourth Quarter 2016 Films to Be Excited About).  Due to the schedules of my local theater, it made more sense for me to catch Fantastic Beasts, first.  But there was little doubt that this one was the main event; between the cast (Steinfeld is an unappreciated talent), the fantastic trailer, and the astounding reviews, The Edge of Seventeen has positioned itself as must-see for any true film lover.

And must-see, it is.  On occasion, there are movies where one can just tell within the first minute or two that it’s going to be something terrific.  The Edge of Seventeen was one of those for me.  Immediately, the dialogue and characterizations grab the viewer, supported by the charismatic yet believable performances of the flawless cast.

And let me start there.  Hailey Steinfeld is a top talent in the business, regardless of age, gender, filmography, or any other qualification people often attempt to place upon talent.  No.  Her talent is simply pure and very much unqualified.  This entire film rests on her shoulders and she balances it with the ease of Atlas.  Throughout the film, she effortlessly stings us with sharp comedic timing and delivery, brings us to tears through stark emotion, and often toes the line between the two.  She has been doing pretty well for herself on the pop music scene (her voice is flat-out tremendous) but I really hope she keeps acting her top priority.  I selfishly want to see more of her in the movies and more performances like this one.  She has proven that her Academy Award nomination at the age of fourteen (Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, True Grit, 2011) was no fluke.  In a fair world, Steinfeld would be a huge star and the general public would be unable to recognize Kristen Stewart.

As a teacher, I will state that Woody Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner might be my favorite movie character of the year.  Oh, how I feel his pain.  But I also feel his joy and his willingness to help.  Steinfeld’s Nadine is having trouble coping with loss and abandonment and this teacher is the only one she feels she can turn to.  Their interactions are a highlight of not only this film – but of the entire year in film.  They play off of each other so naturally that it almost turns into a high school version of Lethal Weapon whenever they speak.  I want them both to be in a Marvel film, together – Steinfeld as a fresh young hero (Squirrel Girl?  I know, Anna Kendrick wants it, and I like her.  But Steinfeld is better.) and Harrelson as her mentor.  This is easily my favorite performance from Harrelson and my only regret is that his part wasn’t bigger.

But Steinfeld and Harrelson couldn’t have done it alone.  This film is astoundingly the first film to be directed (and second to be written) by Kelly Fremon Craig.  Well, I hope she stays around.  I have zero criticisms.  None.  The wit, the heart, the characterization, the story – all of it is perfect and on point.  Every line has meaning.  Every joke lands.  Every scene has weight.  Every relationship matters.  This is filmmaking at its best.  Welcome to the movies, Ms. Craig!

The Edge of Seventeen is everything we say we want from the movies.  This film is basically everything that I lamented about Fantastic Beasts not being.  Interesting dialogue, endearing characters, relatable relationships, laughs, fun, tears, emotion . . . all the stuff that matters.  This is a down-to-earth film about realistic people trying to figure out the basics of life.  Just like the rest of us.  None of the principle characters are villains.  They aren’t bad people.  They’re just trying to live their lives and, sometimes, that means getting in the way of other people who are simply trying to do the same.  And when those people are people that you love, it makes life difficult.  Tricky.

But here’s what shouldn’t be difficult or tricky: the choice to see The Edge of Seventeen.  As an audience, we (and by “we” I mean “most of you”) failed Kubo and the Two Strings.  Don’t fail this one.  Reward success and talent.  Go see The Edge of Seventeen and revel in a film that is simultaneously art, entertainment, and a reminder that we’re all in this thing called life together.

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