Movie Review – The Edge of Seventeen

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EXPECTATIONS: A truly special teenage comedy/drama, with a standout performance by Hailee Steinfeld.

REVIEW: Teenage films have been quite a huge staple for me in the past decade. Whether they would be quality films (like Heathers, Stand By Me), plain fun (Mean Girls, Easy A, Say Anything etc.) or just plain silliness (Porky’s, American Pie), I’ve always found some enjoyment for entertainment reasons as well as nostalgic reasons.

But the past few years, the portrayal of teenagers have gotten a lot more artificial, a lot more fake to the point that it becomes obvious that these aren’t real characters, but caricatures. The situations and dialogue would comprise of many moments that could have only come out of committee meetings. Basically, teenage films are more about what people want to hear and see, instead of getting to the nitty-gritty of it.

Now we have the latest teenage dramedy The Edge of Seventeen, written/directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, starring the Oscar-nominated actress of the True Grit remake, Hailee Steinfeld and is produced by the renowned James L. Brooks. Will the film end up fixing the problems of portrayals of teenage life?

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Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a 17 year-old high school junior who is currently living the life of awkwardness as she trudges through high school. Saddled with a dramatic past, a much more successful sibling of a brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), a stressed out mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and her lack of social skills, her one solid rock in life was always her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), whom she’s been friends with since childhood.

That is until one day, Nadine’s life is about to take a turn for the worst when she finds out that Darian is dating Krista. Feeling more alone than ever, she again crawls through the excruciating minutiae of high school, with only a huge crush with the handsome boy at school, Nick (Alexander Calvert) to distract from her current situation.

That is until she develops into a relationship with myself a stuttering, yet thoughtful classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and along with having so-called help from her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), does she gradually realize that there might be hope ahead after all.

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When I heard that this film was written and directed by the screenwriter that wrote Post Grad, I have to admit, it did temper my expectations. But I am wholeheartedly happy to report that The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best films I have seen all year. And all of this goes down to Craig‘s grounded direction, her witty and authentic script and the wonderful performances of the entire cast.

What is great about the direction of the film is how authentic the script and the storytelling approach is. Most characters interact like real people and thankfully, teenagers talk like actual teenagers, which lead to some unapologetic and politically incorrect dialogue. And most of it is hilarious, witty and appropriately, real.

The only time that the film ends up sounding like a movie is whenever Woody Harrelson as the incredibly droll teacher, Mr. Bruner, shows up. But Harrelson slums his role (really, he looks like he’s putting zero effort into the role) so well, that he steals the show with his hilarious interactions with Steinfeld.

Another factor I liked about Craig‘s direction is how she either lends a soft touch or subverts the cliches and tropes of the genre. For example, the supposed jerk of the film is cleverly subverted, since the motivations of the character is actually quite understandable, if not quite respectable. Another example is that some of the conclusions in the final act are executed in the subtlest of ways that rings true, like the arc between Nadine and her mother.

And the best of all is that Craig and Steinfeld never soften the character of Nadine to the point where the character strives to be likable. Nadine is shown warts-and-all and the reasoning for her behaviour is also dealt with subversively, due to the fact that her behaviour was always present, and not suddenly triggered by some dramatic event.

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But none of the storytelling and direction would work if it weren’t for the fantastic performances. Finally having a lead role she can sink her teeth into since True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld nails the role of the highly opinionated, angst-ridden and socially awkward Nadine. Nuanced, genuine and sympathetic, Steinfeld shines whenever she’s on screen, which is awesome because she’s on it 95% of the time.

There’s a scene where Nadine reluctantly goes to a party with Krista and Darian, and when the two leave her to socialize, Steinfeld acts out loneliness and heartbreak without a single word. It also helps that she also works her comedic chops with aplomb, even when saddled with the most abrasive or the lamest insults involving calling someone out with a huge head.

The supporting cast are no slouches in their department. As already mentioned, Woody Harrelson is a hoot at Mr. Bruner, as he has some great interactions with Steinfeld and he does it so effortlessly, you’d have to wonder if he just performed the role in his sleep. The same goes for Kyra Sedgwick, who has played this type of role a thousand times, and is still great as the increasingly stressed out mother.

Haley Lu Richardson makes her role of Krista easy to understand why Nadine care so much for her as her best friend while Blake Jenner is convincing as Darian, particularly during the scenes he shares with Steinfeld. The sibling relationship between the two is nicely developed and it pays off in a emotionally cathartic fashion that honestly made me shed a tear of two.

And last but definitely not least, there’s Hayden Szeto as Erwin. He completely sells the anxiety, awkwardness, the nervous tics and subtle longing, that I thought I was watching myself on screen. It was actually slightly scary, to be honest.

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As for flaws, there aren’t really that much, except for the story being slightly predictable once you see the pieces of the puzzle being set out. But the tropes are all dealt with nuance and subversiveness that the storytelling feels refreshing and new again.

Insightful, thoroughly well-written, amazingly well-acted, deservedly touching and downright hilarious, The Edge of Seventeen needs to be seen if we want to get more movies of this quality. Highly recommended!

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Quickie Review

PROS

Refreshingly honest approach to portraying teenage life

Fantastic performances from the cast, especially Hailee Steinfeld

Earns all of its emotional beats effortlessly

Easily subverts cliches of the teenage comedy genre

Hilariously acerbic and politically correct humour hit their targets

CONS

The story is quite predictable

SCORE: 9.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Haley Lu Richardson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Screenwriter: Kelly Fremon Craig

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 4)

I swear, this will be the last part of the long list of films I’ve enjoyed in 2016. This is the list I came up with and I’m sticking with it. If I rewatch any of the honourable mentions, even they might make it on the list, so no changes! Again, none of these are in any particular order.

Here’s Parts ONE, TWO and THREE for my other best films.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Aquarius, Wet Woman in the Wind, The Love Witch, The VVitch, Bitter Honey, Port of Call, Carol, Elle, Tale of Tales, The Brand New Testament

 

21. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Now this was one of most fun experiences I’ve had while watching a film this year. It’s just unfortunate that I did not watch this in the cinema. Alongside The Nice Guys, this is the best buddy comedy duo of the year. Sam Neill is just a grouchy delight while Julian Dennison is so cute as the rebellious Ricky. And I will always cherish the presence of Rima Te Wiata in anything due to my love of Full Frontal. Alongside Sausage Party, the film contains one of the best references to Terminator 2 ever.

 

22. THE AGE OF SHADOWS

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Kim Jee-woon’s Korean comeback was long-awaited since his venture into America with The Last Stand and it was worth the wait. Technically masterful, fine performances, thrilling setpieces (the train sequence is one of the best scenes of the year) and such an assured hand from Kim that he melds genres of action film, period drama, espionage thriller with ease. Gong Yoo had a fantastic year in 2016 while Song Kang-ho proves once again that he is one of Korea’s best actors.

Read the full review here.

 

23. GIRL ASLEEP

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A lovely comedy, a great coming-of-age film and a wondrous fantasy, Girl Asleep is a hard one to categorize and yet it was so easy to enjoy. I was giggling and dancing like a lunatic in the film’s infectiously funny first half and I was thrown off and hooked in the fantastical and surreal second half, appreciating all the depth and surrealism the film entailed. I also appreciated the practical effects during the fantasy sequences, which gave the film a refreshingly rustic approach.

Bethany Whitmore is incredibly appealing and likable in the leading role while Harrison Feldman is a hoot as the hilariously pure-hearted love interest.

 

24. GREEN ROOM

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If I ever watch this film and The Wailing as a double-bill, my nails would never grow back after the searing tension and gripping suspense. With enough claustrophobia that you would need an oxygen tank; with enough gore that you would need a shower afterwards; with enough acting/directing chops that it would make you stay, Green Room is an experience that is both amazingly repulsive and rapturous.

 

25. TONI ERDMANN

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For a film with a story that sounded cliched and quite annoying, I wasn’t really looking forward to the film that much. But thankfully, Toni Erdmann lives up to the huge hype. The film achieves a perfect balance of humour and poignancy while providing wonderful characters guided by incredibly game performances, but what really impressed me was despite the ridiculous antics and hijinks, there is always a palpable throughline of realism that immerses the audience into relating to these characters, leading to great payoffs in the final act which I didn’t expect.

 

Well, that’s the end of the list, everyone! Hope you like my choices and if you didn’t, you can have your choice of my worst films of the year; maybe those would be to your liking.

 

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 3)

For those wondering how many films I am planning to post over, it’s gonna go up to the grand total of 25. I just enjoyed so many films this year, even though the blockbuster season was a disappointment. Anyway, onward and upward. Here’s FIVE more films on the list that I enjoyed and highly recommend.

Here’s Parts ONE and TWO for my other best films.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Star Trek Beyond, I Am a Hero, The Mermaid, Love & Friendship, Certain Women, Your Name

16. SING STREET

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Although La La Land may be winning all the accolades and critical acclaim, I think that Sing Street is the musical of the year. With incredibly catchy songs (like Drive It Like You Stole It), lovable characters, a perfect balance between social realism and wish fulfillment fantasy and fantastic performances (Jack Reynor steals every scene he’s in), Sing Street is John Carney’s best film. The movie was a fucking jet engine!

17. PETE’S DRAGON

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The film that The Jungle Book (2016) should have been. Pete’s Dragon is the perfect remake that instills the director’s distinct touch, changing the genre to make the film stand out while retaining the heart of what made the original stand out: the relationship with Pete and Elliot. It’s also very rare these days to see a family film that is both understated and heartfelt and I admit, I was a little misty by the film’s end. If there’s one Disney film you have to check out that came out in 2016, let it be Pete’s Dragon.

18. TRAIN TO BUSAN

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If anyone thought that the zombie genre was being hacked to bits due to the over-saturation of it, Train to Busan is the one film that re-energizes and reinvigorates it. Under Yeon Sang-ho’s direction, he turns the genre on its head by skewering the portrayals of monstrous people, changing cliches as to who survives and providing a refreshing social and claustrophobic bent to the proceedings. And like most Korean films, it’s emotionally exhausting, as it should be.

Read the full review here.

19. HIME-ANOLE

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Hime-anole is this decade’s Audition; a film that will shock and surprise you if you go in without any prior knowledge. The performances are fantastic, the production values are thankfully down-to-earth and the direction by Keisuke Yoshida absolutely pulls no punches, especially during the second half of the film. Seriously, avoid any plot details and the trailer, just see it.

Read the spoiler-free review here.

20. THE LOBSTER

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With such an absurd premise, hilariously deadpan performances, a profoundly distinct portrayal of dystopia and a sharp satirical look in the social constructs of life, The Lobster is somehow a compelling love story that had me savoring for more. I absolutely can’t wait for Yorgos Lanthimos’ next film!

By the way, it features Ariane Labed dancing, which is worth the price of admission alone.

To be concluded…

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 2)

Continuing from the last list, here are FIVE more of the best films I’ve in 2016. And there are even MORE honourable mentions. I just couldn’t leave any film out that I immensely enjoyed.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Evolution, Trash Fire, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sausage Party, Emi-Abi, Time Renegades, Mohican Comes Home

11. ONE NIGHT ONLY

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This was another huge surprise for me, since I knew nothing about it and I only watched it because it was a Taiwanese film, meaning it was a respite from terrible China-market fare. But the film was so unabashedly romantic and fantastical, that I was swept up by it, despite the contrivances and cliches. But the final act ties all of that, leading into an emotional finale that had me shed a tear or two.

It also helped that Aaron Kwok gives one of his best performances and Yang Zishan again showed why she’s a rising talent. A fantastic directorial debut from actor Matt Wu, who happens to be Yang’s husband. Who just so happened to having cast his wife as a hooker. Hmm…

I mean, where else will you get a romantic comedy/drama that has kickboxing, blindfolded drag-racing, gambling, hookers and references to Federico Fellini?

12. THE NICE GUYS

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Now this was a film that I was waiting for since it was given the greenlight and it was entirely worth the wait. Fantastic chemistry between Russell Crowe and a energetically comedic Ryan Gosling, a sharp and witty script from Shane Black and a star-making performance from fellow Aussie actress, Angourie Rice, makes this film one of the most fun films I’ve seen in 2016.

It’s a damn shame that very few people saw this film. We need more films like this.

Read the full review here.

13. SHIN GODZILLA

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When you hear that the creator of landmark anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion is going to make the latest Godzilla film, it is normal for one to just wig out at the news. And the the film arrived. And it left me breathless. It was almost nothing like I expected and yet, I was completely satisfied with the end result. Riotously satirical of democracy while providing a haunting metaphor for the natural disasters Japan had gone through, in addition to giving the best Godzilla action in recent memory, Shin Godzilla proves that reboots can still be great.

Read the full review here.

14. TOP KNOT DETECTIVE

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Now this was probably the biggest surprise for me this year. An extremely entertaining homage to cult TV shows before the rise of the Internet as well as shows/films showing on SBS. Clever, hilarious, ridiculous and surprisingly heartfelt, this is a mockumentary that more should watch. I really wish that Top Knot Detective was a real show and I really hope that the director’s next project (which is hinted at the end of the film) will come to fruition. For Australian viewers, it’s out on SBS On Demand, so please check it out. You will not regret it.

Read the full review here.

15. THE WAILING

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The most disturbing film I saw in 2016. I was left breathless, mindless and hopeless when I left the screening, and I loved it to death. The acting was spectacular, the mood and atmosphere was pitch-black and the vice-grip direction by Na Hong-jin was so incredibly effective that myself and another audience member yelled out “What the fuck?” several times during the screening I attended. No joke.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any humour in it, since there are many amusing asides like how a character constantly throws stones at the main lead, that had me laughing out loud.

Read the full review here.

To be continued…

Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 1)

With every dark moment in our lives, usually there are moments that there are some moments that make life worth living, and in the case of movies, alongside every disaster, every atrocity, every travesty, every film that is witless, hopeless, lifeless, gutless, mindless and pointless; there are films that are stir you on every positive whim and in 2016, there are many films that did that to me. So much in fact, that I have to expand my list to 25 entries with a boatload of honourable mentions. Here’s the first part of my jive top films (in no particular order) that I truly loved in 2016.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Deadpool, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, Creepy, Hush, Blue Jay, La La Land, Over the Fence, The Tenants Downstairs and many more…

1. THE RED TURTLE

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One of the most beautiful experiences in the cinema I have ever witnessed. This isn’t a film that captures you from the very first frame, but if you allow it to flow through you and you embrace it, you’ll never want to leave. Such a simple story told with this much beauty and this much heart within such a short running time, I knew from the second the end credits started, I knew this film would be on the list. Exploring themes of existentialism, survival, courage, love through a dream-like lens and even with childlike wonder, The Red Turtle is a film that I wish I watched more than once in the cinema, because I don’t think a home viewing would cut it for me. It’s that beautiful.

2. MUSTANG

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I absolutely loved this movie. The acting was great, the storytelling was incredibly immersive and Erguven’s direction was great with adding realism and poignancy to the lives of these young women. I also appreciated that this is not a completely dour experience, as there are many moments of mirth that make it entertainingly endearing i.e. like how the aunt goes to great lengths not to have her nieces caught out. Wished that I could have watched this earlier during Sydney Film Fest, but luckily it was released in cinemas.

3. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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The best film about teen film about coming-of-age in recent memory. I loved everything about it. The fantastic performances from the cast, the sensitive direction from Kelly Fremon Craig, the subtle subversiveness of teenage film tropes, the realistic approach to the storytelling and  the characters, the laugh-out-loud comedy, the poignant dramatic arcs and the fantastic music choices, like the use of a song about certain dickheads fits the scene so perfectly. It’s just a shame that very little saw the film when it was released. Let’s hope the Australian release, people will flock to it. See this film!

Hailee Steinfeld should’ve been a star already and this film just clinches her talent. As for Hayden Szeto (who is barely marketed in the promotions at all), he’s a revelation.

4. SOUL MATE

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This was a film that I expected very little from, considering that films from the China-market just irk me, despite my better judgement. But this film surprised me in almost every single way. The story involves the typical tropes that come with youth dramas like love triangles, jealousy, friendship, love, but director Derek Tsang’s approach to the material is thankfully subversive to the point that it almost turns the genre on its head. Like how there’s no passive-aggressiveness whatsoever and how cliched scenes deliver a surprising punch to the gut.

But the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is without the astounding performances from both Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun. The two both won Best Actress at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards and rightfully so.

Read the full review here.

5. AMERICAN HONEY

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Probably the most euphoric film I’ve seen all year. If director Andrea Arnold was given a chance to make her own Disney Princess film, American Honey would be it. More fantastical than her previous films while also retaining the requisite themes of approaching adulthood and finding love in hopeless places and getting terrific performances out of non-actors (Sasha Lane truly lives up to her character’s name), American Honey is my type of honey. And don’t get me started on the brilliantly well-chosen soundtrack. Seriously, don’t.

Read the full review here.

6. THE HANDMAIDEN

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The steamiest and extravagantly melodramatic film of the year, The Handmaiden had me grinning from beginning to end. With sumptuous cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, a lovely musical score by Cho Young-wuk, the fantastic use of dark comedy sprinkled throughout and the incredibly game and spirited performances from the four leads. Kim Tae-ri, you may be a handmaiden and a petty thief in the film, but you are a star in my eyes.

As for the sex scenes, they are illuminating in both prurient terms as well as in puritanical terms. The arcs of the characters are all felt in these scenes and it’s all thanks to the actresses as well as Park Chan-wook’s approach in showing the characters in positions that are more about unification as well as titillation.

Read the full review here.

7. ANTI-PORNO

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A list of mine wouldn’t be a list without a Sion Sono film and again, he enthralls me. His latest film is a pinku film with all the trappings until it turns meta to the point that it gives a huge middle finger to female objectification and sexism. Hell, he also gives a huge middle finger to the tropes of Roman Porno itself, and it’s fascinating, haunting and joyful to watch. There is a dinner scene in the film that both made me laugh out loud and gasp in awe of how incredibly frank it was.

Read the full review here.

8. HOOLIGAN SPARROW

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I knew the huge problems and outrages in Communist China, but I didn’t even know how deep it went and director Wang Nanfu captures it with startling results. With thrilling and gripping footage that looks like it is straight out of a [REC] film, Wang bravely shows the incredibly seedy and corrupt side of Communist China. How she got away with the footage she got is just miraculous, let alone getting it out of the country. My hope is still with Ye Heiyan (the subject of the film) and the crusaders of her plight.

Read the full review here.

9. UNDER THE SHADOW

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I re-watched the film for the second time and the film improved quite a bit. I was able to appreciate the film more than just a pure exercise in scares. Not only does it utilize its setting and backdrop seamlessly into the story, they both add unpredictability and refresh horror genre tropes. The film also manages to take its influences (like Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion etc.) and manages to make it new again. And with stellar performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, and wonderfully assured direction from Babak Anvari (his approach on less-is-more is masterful), Under the Shadow is the dark horse of horror in 2016.

Read the full review here.

10. I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY

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As much as I hate Chinese film censorship, some films out there thrive upon it as the restrictions improve on one’s creativity. And that’s where I Am Not Madame Bovary fits in. With Fan Bing Bing giving her best performance yet (she certainly plays up to the ridiculous proceedings with gusto) and Feng Xiaogang applying his trademark dry and satirical humour, it is a hilarious experience.

And yet, Feng stretches his directorial chops and aims for a more arthouse experience, and it adds to the story that it makes it feel more like a fable, rather than a dark comedy. The circular and the scroll aspect ratio certainly add to the feel. The downright cruel skewering of the Chinese government is just icing on the cake.

Read the full review here.

To be continued…