Review – A Sharp ‘Edge…’ (“Edge Of Seventeen”)

Late writer/directer John Hughes is resurrected again through the brilliant writing and direction of relativity newbie Kelly Fremon Craig, whose only other work, until now, has been two other films you’ve never heard about. But this dramedy will definitely put her on the fast-track in Hollywood with its sharp, incisive script and outstanding cast.


*

Hailee Steinfeld (in her best role yet) is Nadine Franklin, a 17-year-old high school misfit who doesn’t fit in with the others. She talks in long, unfiltered, rambling  sentences, dresses in mismatched clothes, and has only one best friend since the second grade, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). We learn through Nadine’s narrative flashback that her life sucks; her loving father died, her mother’s (Kyra Sedgewick) a wreck, and her perfect jock brother, Darian (Blake Jenner) is too good-looking for words. And her life is about to go sideways… again. In a shocking turn of events, Krista suddenly falls for Darian, leaving Nadine to shun their friendship after decades.

Then there’s hottie Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert) that Nadine is pining after and accidentally sends a rather racy text to him in a moment of despair. She confides in her trusted, but somewhat loopy history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) about the text and her long-winded suicidal rant. His answer? He’ll join her in peaceful death because his lunch time keeps getting interrupted! But during all this turmoil she meets sweet Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto – perfect), an awkward film nerd that takes a shine to her.

Life spirals in and out of control for Nadine with parties where she’s invisible, almost getting date-raped by the boy she thinks she loves, going out with someone she cares about, and having painful arguments with her brother and mother. There’s a happy ending, of course, but it’s a struggle to get there, just like real life. If you’ve ever watched any of John Hughes canon of films, you’ll recognize these people, but here they’re much more than the caricatures you’ve seen like in movies like Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles.

Written and directed by Craig, not only does she show an incredible flair for writing like Diablo Cody did for Juno, but her direction is like that of a seasoned pro; not playing it safe with the camera, which is rare for someone so relatively new. The story is solid, grounded, and doesn’t slip into the crass or silly like Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Instead, you have a funny, surprisingly thoughtful, and realistic look at teenagers without fart jokes, overt nudity, or stupid dialogue.

And the acting! Steinfeld is exceptional here with her expression-filled face and those haunting eyes that convey SO much with just a glance. Harrelson is also great NOT playing a stoner, lunatic, or idiot, but a compassionate teacher that understands his students. And then there’s Szeto (his first film role!) who is so natural and likeable, he’s going to be the next “it” guy in Hollywood, you just watch. Overall, a terrific film you should not miss.

Sixteen Candles  (1984)

John Hughes. Just say his name and you know who he was and what a treat his films are. In his illustrious career, he made some of the funniest movies ever and launched SO many actors careers into the stratosphere, it’s ridiculous. It was a tough one to call, but I picked this one to compare to Edge of Seventeen.

Hughes’ golden girl, Molly Ringwald, plays high schooler Samantha “Sam” Baker who is frustrated that it’s her 16th birthday, and her whole family has forgotten it! Why? Well, it’s because her older sister, Ginny (Blanche Baker), is getting married the next day. AND if weren’t bad enough, she’s infatuated with a popular and attractive senior at school, Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). Problems get worse when Sam’s grandparents show up (Edwards Andrews and Carole Cook) with their very weird foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Geede Watanabe in his signature role).

At her senior dance that night, to Sam’s amazement, it takes “The Donger” only five minutes to find a girlfriend, but she’s all alone. Well, not quite ALL alone. There’s Ted, a skinny, pimply-faced geeky freshman (Anthony Michael Hall) who tries to win a bet with his friends by continually (and unsuccessfully) trying to woo and sleep with Sam. Needless to say, Sam hates this little wimp… until she finds out that Ted is BFF’s with Jake! Upon hearing this, Ted tells her about a “panty wager” he has with his friends, which sets up a hilarious bathroom scene later on.

Once Jake gets interested in Sam, an after-party bash is the setting for mayhem and Jake’s very drunk loser of a girlfriend, Caroline (Haviland Morris) who needs to be driven home. Who better than Ted who has no license and driving a Rolls Royce? Perfect! The ending has Jake desperately seeking Sam and, thinking she’s getting married, races to the church to find her. Ah! True love prevails. And Ted the geek gets Caroline as well!

Written and directed by Hughes in the zenith of his craft, he kept on making hit after hit with his stable of actors which, to him, were his good-luck charms. Sixteen Candles not only launched Ringwald’s and Hall’s roles, but the careers of many, many others in the years to follow. The writing was simple, funny, silly, and sometimes even had a dramatic edge to it, like in The Breakfast Club or Some Kind of Wonderful.

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