The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

The_Edge_of_Seventeen_2016_film_poster.jpgThere’s a moment in Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen where Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) suffers the ultimate humiliation third wheeling with her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and her (former) best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Needless to say, the evening is less than stellar but it gets worse after Nadine feels like she’s been totally betrayed. She’s been hating her brother recently and her best friend is dead to her now. The fact that she sets up an ultimatum doesn’t make things any better.

It only gets worse when a fellow partygoer notes Nadine’s sibling relationship reminds her a little bit of the movie Twins — if Nadine was Danny Devito and Darian was Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a perfect illustration of how she feels.

Growing up is never easy for anyone and it’s little different for Nadine. Mean girls at school. No friends. Until the fateful day when she got one but by the time high school hits everyone’s doomed. Hailee Steinfeld manages the tall order of portraying this maladjusted, histrionic, neurotic teen with a pitch-perfect pout.

She’s simultaneously our Lloyd Dobler and our Molly Ringwald in any of the John Hughes vehicles and yet none of those things because she’s come out of a different millennium. She must put voice to every thought and emotion that comes ricocheting through her head as much as she constantly yearns for the not so pretty boy on campus to notice her existence.

Her family life is little better. The death of her father still lingers with hurt. Her brother is the devil’s incarnate (at least to her) and her mom (Kyra Sedgwick) is a little ridiculous–not to be taken seriously in the least. Did we mention that her best friend is hooking up with her brother?

What the film grasps so impeccably is that the teenage years are often defined by one word: Awkwardness. This film is the creme de la creme of awkward and for a coming-of-age film that’s very much a compliment.

There so many awkward conversations to be had. Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson share some of the best because she comes like a hurricane of emotion and he gives her nothing — only the driest retorts as her smart-aleck history teacher. Equally enjoyable is the budding friendship between Nadine and fellow classmate Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto) who makes no attempt to hide his crush on her.

It’s easy to quickly assume Erwin is in the tradition of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles but a particular Ferris Wheel conversation throws all those conventions out the window for good with a few self-aware lines of dialogue. It’s a pleasant surprise that this relationship is rife with laughs but not at the expense of the characters. Only in the sense that we have the age-old conundrum of the friend zone, still fretted about by teens to this day.

She thinks he’s nice but isn’t attracted. He thinks she’s the greatest girl in the world and dreams of making it into something. He takes all her signals to heart. She doesn’t. The Edge of Seventeen feels very genuine in these respects and the beauty of these themes are their universal quality. This isn’t just about a girl and a guy–one Caucasian the other Asian–they are two people just like us. It’s the universal unifier. We’re all human.

That’s one of the relationships modeled by Nadine in the film. But there’s another one that is far more unpleasant. The one involving her own crush on Nick a seemingly unextraordinary teen male that Nadine for some inexplicable reasons seems batty over. So much so she wants to get with him and sends him the longest, most explicit, and regrettable text message of her life. Still, it gets her some results–a ride in his car with some extra-curricular activities. Whether it’s exactly what she wanted is another thing entirely.

It’s sad really. Our culture is so saturated by sexual images teenagers think there is a need to play into those expectations, to use those same methods to get others to like them and be with them. When, in reality, that’s not right at all and the funny thing is that isn’t even what we want. It’s fairly clear Nadine finds this out firsthand. She doesn’t want just the sex in the first five minutes. She wants more. Conversation. Relationship. Intimacy. To be known. Anything would be nice. And that’s what we all want to some degree but we have an inherent ability to chase after the imposters and the imitations. They seem so nice and yet leave us with nothing.

We’ve been taught we need to lead with what’s on the outside — it’s our body that matters — as our hearts slowly die on the insides because we feel like no one understands us. Our family is made up of psychos and we have no friends. That’s part of what makes this film so revealing. But also the very fact Nadine, despite all her teenage drama, certainly has her moments.

Speaking into her mom’s life with certain candor at least on one occasion and actually opening up to Darian in a way she’s never been willing to do before. It’s the fact that she and Mr. Bruner can joust and yet by the film’s end you know full well they genuinely enjoy each other. It’s true that the acrimonious relationships with teachers somehow are the ones we remember and ultimately invest in most deeply. It’s those interactions that redeem Nadine and help her figure her life out, even if it’s only a little bit.

My only reservation is that although we greatly enjoy their characters, because of their economical amounts of screen time, it feels a little bit like Nadine’s dad and her best friend were used solely for the sake of the plot.

Still, the film’s ending makes no attempt to suddenly discover the meaning of life in some lightning rod of an epiphany. Instead, it contents itself in concluding its story not so much with endings but with the hint of new beginnings and that is oftentimes so much more rewarding. Can I simply end by saying Erwin’s quite the filmmaker?

4/5 Stars

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

everybody wants some 3“Things are only as meaningful as the meaning that we allow them to have.” ~ Beverly

How can Sisyphus and baseball be connected? Budding lovebirds Jake (Blake Jenner) and Beverly (Zoey Deutch) tackle this question as they float contentedly in inter-tubes with college just beginning. Sisyphus is, of course, the mythical figure who tragically spent his entire existence pushing a boulder up a hill. How does that relate to baseball? Just like anything, if it becomes our sole focus, it takes on immense meaning. Looking at it one way or another it can either be seen as a blessing, a curse, a chance at a singular purpose or even an obsession. But without question, each individual person has a chance to latch onto what they find meaning in as they float through life fluctuating between contentedness and discontentedness. That’s not only what college but, what life in general, is all about.

But that’s enough waxing philosophical because as Richard Linklater has the penchant for doing, Everybody Wants Some is a romanticized, idyllic visual collage, of what it is to be in college, what it is to be a baseball player, what it was like to do all those things in the 1980s. Some will look at it disinterested because it seems to be a pretty narrow lens but as we already acknowledged, Linklater’s films always carry a fondness for their subjects — oftentimes capturing moments, little snapshots of time and space, the building blocks of life really.

We can even look at Richard Linklater, his past, his pedigree and there’s no doubt that this is another meaningful film for him. For some, there will be a similar meaningfulness to this time capsule of his. However, even for those who are not quite sold, there’s something deeply personal and heartfelt about his work that’s hard to take away from him. In that respect, his work is always universal.

In truth, Linklater follows in the tradition of many of the great European filmmakers where Plot is certainly not king. Because anything in screenwriting 101 or out of the Hollywood milieu emphatically declares that conflict is key. Watch most anything from the Texas native and the normal plot conventions go out the window since that’s not where his interest lies. And yet Everybody Wants Some still remains diverting during its entire run.

It follows in the footsteps of Dazed & Confused over 20 years its elder and it’s a film similarly ripping at the seams with song and dance. It’s another one of the vignette movies basking in nostalgia whether it’s Van Halen, Twilight Zone anecdotes, Gilligan Island punk music or any number of other things. These boys spend, not the last night after high school, but the waning days before college sitting around their house talking about who knows what, getting sky high, hitting golf balls off rooftops and taking part in endless competitions in ping pong, knuckles and anything else that can be needlessly turned into a game.

But to a lesser extent, Linklater’s latest film also has ties to Boyhood because although it might take place decades before, it picks up where the other film left off. It’s easy to forget but a big part of Everybody Wants Some!! is about a boy meeting a girl in the first days of college.

There’s still so much to be done and the film only briefly brushes on what it means to be in college but that’s not its main objective. Anyone who has played sports or went to college can identify with the camaraderie of being part of a team or the elation of all the excitement laid out in front of you the next four years.

Everybody Wants Some!! uses the typical Supers onscreen to denote the countdown until reality hits and school and sports begin for real. There’s a brevity to the moment that this film captures. Sure, in many ways, it’s filled with raunchiness and raucous fun but it also signifies a carefreeness that is very rarely realized at any other time in your life. It brings to mind one of the ballplayers Willoughby. It comes out that he faked his transcripts and is actually well over the playing age. Why would he do such a thing? We would think it’s for some competitive advantage, but no,  he just wanted to prolong this little piece of paradise. Partying and playing baseball with the world as your oyster.

Because whereas this is the beginning for some like Jake, it’s also nearing the end for others. That’s the scariness and in some senses the beauty of life. All of us are walking along our own roads like passing ships in the night but that does not mean we have to go it alone. The key is finding community and honing in on a purpose that gives our lives meaning. We have to live for the moment because those moments are transient and before you know them, they’ll be gone. Make the most of them. Enjoy them. This year as well as next.

3.5/5 Stars