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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REVIEW: The Humbling

11 05 2015

The HumblingImagine the script for “Birdman” fell into the hands of Woody Allen and then got made by a lesser director, and you essentially have what plays out in “The Humbling.”  Al Pacino, seemingly on a preemptive farewell tour, stars as Simon Axler, a self-absorbed chatterbox of a thespian who starts seeing his craft and the world a little too honestly.  Naturally, he cracks up.

But don’t worry, in the most Allenesque twist, the neurotic protagonist gets a salvo in the form of a friend’s younger daughter, Greta Gerwig’s Pegeen Mike Stapleford.  She reenters Simon’s frazzled life post-breakdown as a self-identified lesbian, but that does not last long as she finds herself seduced and destroyed by the sexual prowess of an older man that can “educate” her.

No matter what you think about Woody Allen’s off-screen relations with women of a certain age, he’s often able to present it as fairly normal in his films. (Or at the very least, it seems like a non-issue.)  In “The Humbling,” writers Buck Henry and Michal Zebede make the Pegeen and Simon relationship feel condescending, cocky, and perhaps even a little insensitive.

The film boasts any number of colorful characters parading across the screen, including Pegeen’s mother Carol, played with justified scorn by Dianne Wiest.  But director Barry Levinson never seems to orchestrate this circus well, leaving the brunt of our attention directed towards Pegeen and Simon’s core story.  Normally, drawing attention towards the centerpiece of the film would be a good thing, but it only compounds the problems for “The Humbling.”  C2stars