Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2016 1:04 pm 
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HAILEE STEINFELD AND HAYDEN SZETO IN THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Girl troubles

The Edge of Seventeen is a good coming-of-age comedy, if you don't remember the Eighties. John Hughes, S.E. Hinton, and Coppola adapting Hinton did much, much better - more nerve, more wit, more color, and more a sense of the social world American teenagers live in - even when they are outsiders. Nadine (Lina Renna, then Hailee Steinfeld) is depicted as being one of those, virtually from birth. Why do I find that hard to believe? True, Nadine's dad (Eric Keenleyside), the most reassuring member of the family, drops dead, leaving her and her brother Darian (Christian Michael Cooper, then Blake Jenner of Everybody Wants Some) in the care of their ditzy, hysterical mom Mona (the somewhat-the-worse-for-wear Kyra Sedgwick). But Nadine has been adopted by the best friend a girl could ever have, Krista (Ava Grace Cooper, then Haley Lu Richardson). How many outsiders have an older brother as hunky, perfect, and decent as Blake Jenner? Or can persuade Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), the sexiest bad boy in the school, to want to have sex with her? Or is pursued by a buff, shy, sweet, and rich Asian boy, Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto, the standout cast member)? Or has a favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who while sarcastic, has plenty of time for her? It's true: Nadine doesn't seem to have any other friends. But she doesn't seem to need any. This picture of being an outsider suffers from its failure to depict the social world Nadine's being excluded from - the range of types and the teen cliques essential to The Breakfast Club, Heathers, or Mean Girls. Craig zeroes in effectively on Nadine, but doesn't depict high school life.

The big issue for Nadine is that Krista and Darian become an item. When her one friend is taken over by her brother, this understandably creates upheavals in Nadine. Their depths are not plumbed (even in passing) as a bolder or more thorough writer would do - considering that Nadine might perhaps now be jealous of her brother and maybe even be jealous of Krista. Nadine's sense of catastrophe seems to reflect American puritanism: it's just unthinkable (even though it's obvious) that attraction would strike so close to home.

Nadine gets over this partly through talking to Mr. Bruner, partly through a wrong step and a right step. She's lucky enough that after her grossly provocative text message brings on Nick Mossman ready to go, and she realizes she doesn't want to lose her virginity in his car, he obligingly, if sullenly, relents. And then she turns to Erwin, who's waiting and turns out, though rich, to be a talented budding animated filmmaker - and she can bask in his first success.

Despite my criticisms of The Edge of Seventeen, it is warm and direct. It's conventional, but avoids the smarm of movies like The Fault in Our Stars. To today's young people it may seem to possess an honesty that funnier, more ribald teen comedies have lacked. In a world of preposterously over-plotted movies like The Accountant, which wind up just being a total mess, its simplicity and focus and sincerity are winning. I'd not go as far as Richard Brody, who says that only Steinfeld's "committed performance" and Harrelson's "deft turn" "make this thin and cliché-riddled comic drama worth watching" and that the characters "don’t exist beyond their few foregrounded traits." But that comes close. More individuality, bravery, and social color should be part of any teen coming-of-ager.

And incidentally, Craig, though one hopes inadvertently, has stolen the title of David Moreton's 1998 Edge of Seventeen, without the "The" (written by Todd Stephens), which may be the best gay coming-of-age movie so far made in English. Watch that one to see how it can be done with rich color, personalities, social detail, and depth of emotion. Moreton's Edge of Seventeen is the real deal. It shows you what the word "edge" means. Craig's will do in a pinch. But teen girls really deserve better.

The Edge of Seventeen, 104 mins. debuted at Toronto Sept 2016; four other festivals. It opened in US cinemas 18 Nov. and comes to UK cinemas 30 Nov.

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