REVIEW: The Edge of Seventeen

14 12 2016

“I’m going to kill myself,” proudly proclaims the protagonist of “The Edge of Seventeen,” Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine Franklin … as her first line. At such an early stage in the story, it’s hard to tell whether we should take her literally or seriously. By the end of the film, however, we get our answer: neither.

Pardon the brief soapbox moment, but teenage depression and even suicide are not matters purely relegated to the realm of fiction. I’ve known people who struggled after a tragic loss like Nadine’s (her beloved father at age 13), taken pain medications and seen therapists. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen a fair share who took their own life.

These are real issues that rarely get honest depictions on-screen, and writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig might have been wise to lean into them. Instead, Nadine is a character who gets all the narrative benefits of an outwardly depressed character while “The Edge of Seventeen” on the whole skirts responsibility for dealing with the seriousness of the problem. Craig bends over backwards to make sure we know that she’s not like regular teenagers, she’s a justifiably angsty teenager! Yet once it becomes clear that she really needs professional help, the film makes it all too easy for one kind act to lead to a personal revelation that turns back time.

It’s really too bad that “The Edge of Seventeen” lacks the teeth in its bite because Craig is unapologetic in making Nadine one of the meanest main characters in recent memory. She is incapable of leaving a conversation that she has not “won,” and if she cannot achieve victory on the strength of her own arguments, Nadine will kamikaze by lobbing a vicious insult. Around the point when she defeatedly declares, “I have to spend the rest of my life with myself,” I realized that she is essentially Anna Kendrick’s Twitter feed personified – just with double the self-loathing and half the self-aware charm.

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“How Do You Know” Poll Results

4 01 2011

We all make dumb predictions; it happens to everyone.  I called picking “How Do You Know” as one of my 10 predicted Best Picture nominees back in November one of my 10 dumbest of the year in my “10 for ’10” series.

Here’s how I stacked up the movie in my Oscar Moment back in November:

“I think comedy has some unfinished business with the Academy, and ‘How Do You Know’ could provide that perfect mixture of comedy and drama to score big with the voters.”

Well, the 36% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes didn’t do much for it, nor did the box office, which will struggle to top $30 million.  For a movie that cost over $100 million to make, this is not good.  The domestic grosses will be able to cover salaries for Reese Witherspoon ($15 million), Jack Nicholson ($12 million), and Paul Rudd ($3 million).

People didn’t think this could take a road worse than “Spanglish,” which made modest box office returns (about $55 million adjusted) in the same timeframe but no awards headway.  With less money in the bank and not even a Golden Globe nomination to its name, it appears that the only recognition “How Do You Know” will receive is going to





REVIEW: How Do You Know

23 12 2010

I sure wish “How Do You Know” knew what it wanted from the beginning.  James L. Brooks’ latest comedy is a study of three people uncertain of what they want for their futures.  Nervous, frantic, and anxious, they each search for the answer to the questions they pose about their lives.  But no one ever seems to find an answer, just a new question to occupy their thoughts.  This makes for dynamic and neurotic characters, all portrayed with gusto by the sensational cast, but the movie feels like it’s running  in circles around the same issues.

Lisa (Reese Witherspoon) is looking for a new life direction after her softball career is abruptly ended.  George (Paul Rudd) is unsure of the next step in his life after being served an unexpected indictment.  Serving more as comic relief, Matty (Owen Wilson) is an organized womanizer trying to figure out whether he loves Lisa enough to change his ways.  “How Do You Know” is really the story of Lisa and George, though, as they actively seek conviction in their life choices and wind up finding each other.

The two are incredibly vulnerable and emotional train-wrecks, never certain of where they are headed even when they begin a sentence.  It starts out with George, caught between a rock and a hard place with pressure from his dad (Jack Nicholson) mounting as his head is about to be served on a platter to the prosecutors.  But when the two meet on a blind date, all the neuroses transfer over to Lisa, who becomes increasingly unsure of her decision to move in with Matty and unable to remain committed to anything.  While George’s options become more black and white, he is still just as lost as Lisa, and the two manage to find comfort in their mutual wandering.

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Oscar Moment: “How Do You Know”

5 11 2010

No one knows much about “How Do You Know” at the present moment.  But any movie that comes from director/writer/producer James L. Brooks has to be considered given the man’s 60% track record in scoring Best Picture nominations for his movies.

I’ve only seen his latest two movies, “As Good As It Gets” (which I totally adore) and “Spanglish” (which is still good although to a much lesser degree).  But the man has directed a Best Picture winner with “Terms of Endearment” and picked up a nice Best Director trophy for himself while he was at it.  Brooks is an incredibly influential figure in comedy, and as I pointed out in my column on “Love & Other Drugs,” that’s not an incredibly popular genre with the Academy.  To land three movies in the winner’s circle is a pretty huge accomplishment.

So what’s he up to now?  A comedy with comedic actors laced with drama.  His previous movies have starred, for the most part, dramatic actors – unless you dare to call Shirley MacLaine, William Hurt, and  Jack Nicholson comedians.  It will be interesting to see how critics and voters react to this shift in tactics.  “Spanglish” starred Adam Sandler, and they pretty much spat that right back out; will “How Do You Know” be any different?

To its advantage, it does have two Academy Award winners on the marquee: Reese Witherspoon as the headliner and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role.  I think wins are out of the question; Witherspoon because she won for a much more serious role, and Nicholson because he has enough with three.  The Golden Globes could nominate Witherspoon in a heartbeat in the musical/comedy category, and I could even see Jack getting an Oscar nomination because they love so darn much.

The other two leads are played by Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd, both of whom have a fair amount of respect compared to other similar performers (cough, Jack Black/Will Ferrell).  I think it would be pretty amazing for Owen Wilson to score an Oscar nomination given the field (assuming he competes in leading actor) and his often poor selection of films leading up to this (“Drillbit Taylor,” anyone?).  Paul Rudd, on the other hand, has picked movies that have gotten his comedic talents some good notes from high up.  And according to Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere, he could actually be a contender for this movie:

“The guy who delivers the goods is Paul Rudd. This will raise his profile to the A-list. This is a guaranteed Best Supporting Actor nomination.”

I’m a huge Paul Rudd fan, and I can probably quote every single line in “Role Models” that he utters.  So I’m all for him getting an Oscar nomination.  Best Supporting Actor has been particularly kind to comedic actors in the past decade with winner Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine” and nominations for Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” and Thomas Haden Church in “Sideways.”  My only worry for Rudd is that he could be pushed out by Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right,” which could be a stronger overall awards play.  But in my mind, the males of that movie were the weak link, and I don’t feel as much buzz around him as I do Bening or Moore.

As for the movie as a whole, I feel like Best Original Screenplay is a category that the movie could easily score in given the pretty slim field this year.  Best Director is not quite as likely given that Brooks has already won.  But Best Picture, now that’s an interesting proposition.

Smart comedy is something that many people speculated that the Academy would want to reward with the expanded Best Picture field.  They get their recognition at the Golden Globes, but very few find their way into the big dance (with a few notable exceptions over the past few years).  I think comedy has some unfinished business with the Academy, and “How Do You Know” could provide that perfect mixture of comedy and drama to score big with the voters.  Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly stood up for it in October, writing:

“Here’s the one case where I’m apparently the most alone in my thinking, as no other participant has the film on his or her list. But I have faith in the upcoming Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy based on writer/director James L. Brooks’ selected track record (‘Broadcast News,’ ‘Terms of Endearment’) and the positive buzz I’ve been hearing about costar Paul Rudd’s performance. Here’s hoping it’s not another ‘Spanglish.'”

Karger ranked it as his fifth selection, which shows a lot of confidence.  It’s hard to judge anything until the movie gets seen by a lot of critics, so right now all I have is speculation based on little substantive evidence.  But with James L. Brooks, we can make those guesses pretty educated.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Rudd), Best Original Screenplay

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson)