Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Hailee Steinfeld”

The Edge of Seventeen

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th January 2017

3 stars, Rated M, 104 mins

When you’re a teenager, films about teenagers totally speak to you. You’re like “OMG, finally!” Someone who understands what it’s like dealing with raging hormones and being unpopular and the traumas of high school life is putting all that up on the big screen and showing you it’s all gonna be OK.

edge-of-seventeen

If you’re reading this as a child of the John Hughes era, you know what I’m talking about. Hughes was a grown-up filmmaker with an incredible memory of what it was like to be young. His films may have been all-American but his characters were universal. Or at least, aspirational. He gave us losers who became winners in their own way. That’s still an important message for the youth of today.

To this end, The Edge of Seventeen will speak to today’s teens and they should totally go see it. If, however, you find the whole teenage thing too angsty to take seriously, or too excruciating to revisit, you may want to give it a miss.

Written and directed by relative newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig, the film stars True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld as the fraught Nadine, who lives in the shadow of her football-playing stud of an older brother (Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some!!) and therefore falls apart emotionally when her best friend Krista and brother fall in love. Nadine is the type of teen we all recognise (and since I work with hundreds of teens every day, I see her in many of them) – earnest about the state of the world and her place in it; anxious about fitting in socially; smart and perceptive; and she has a great wardrobe of hi-top sneakers. (Actually, the sneakers are my favourite thing about her.)

Steinfeld plays Nadine the only way she possibly can with such an on-the-nose script – slightly over-the-top, eye-rollingly dry, lots of “OMG!” moments that verge on slapstick. Woody Harrelson provides a nice counterpoint as the very still, ironic teacher to whom Nadine takes all her problems. Harrelson says all the things teachers cannot, but wish they could, say. (Cute as it appears in the script, no real-life male teacher would read aloud a sexually explicit text message or jokingly encourage suicide.) Their odd-couple tête-à-têtes provide some of the film’s highlights.

But the Best Thing Ever is Hayden Zseto’s unlikely romantic lead, Erwin – the nerdy, easily-flustered classmate who takes a shine to our heroine. Stealing every scene and putting the Adorable into the story, Zseto is going to be a big star.

Overall, the story gets rather tiresome. Don’t get me wrong! I spend all day with teens, and their concerns are real. Just sometimes tiresome. But hopefully watching The Edge of Seventeen will make them feel better.

Begin Again

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th July 2014

Every now and then a clichéd poster and a trite movie title prove to be completely misleading as to the actual quality of a film. If the thought of watching a singing Keira Knightley and a (typically) dishevelled Mark Ruffalo pick apart their despairing lives while bonding over jazz instinctively turns you off, let me quickly assuage those misapprehensions – because Begin Again is in fact a smart, energetic and largely unpredictable take on the “starting over” story.

We meet Knightley in a New York nightclub, reluctantly pulled on stage by her fellow British expatriate (One Chance’s always delightful James Corden) to perform a melancholy acoustic number she has penned about being alone in a strange city. For reasons not yet shared with us, she’s not had a good day. Then, evoking the film’s title but thankfully eschewing a Groundhog Day sensibility, Ruffalo’s (typically) dishevelled music exec pours out of bed in his scruffy apartment on the morning of the same day, before driving his Jaguar through Manhatton streets, hiffing rejectable demo tapes out the car window in a growing rage. Life doesn’t seem to be going well for him, either.

These two characters’ lives become inevitably entwined, but what makes the film so engaging and rescues it from formula is the deft handling of all of the relationships – romantic, paternal, platonic – which are bolstered by a strong, energetic script and natural performances. Knightley, a fine but oft-maligned actress, is simply excellent – mature and self-assured without being haughty, retaining her native accent and delivering witty banter with Ruffalo (who is also terrific once his character’s “boozy loser” cliché bucks up its ideas and reveals his natural charm). Indie favourite Catherine Keener is reliably dry as the scathing ex-wife, while True Grit’s ingénue, Hailee Steinfeld, is all grown up and well and truly out of pigtails.

Core to the charm of Begin Again are the musical preoccupations of its creator, Irish writer/director John Carney whose smash hit Once charted the burgeoning relationship of two young musicians in Dublin. While this latest tale has been transposed to the sharper streets of NYC and is faced by big-name stars, the creation of music is still the film’s central thread rather than merely a flimsy backdrop for romance. Knightley sings for real as a gang of talented misfits employs a delightfully punk rock way of making non-punk rock music. Even the casting of hip-hop artist Mos Def and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine works out OK – granted, Levine is better is scenes where he gets to play the superstar which clearly comes naturally to him, but his acting doesn’t make you cringe.

Begin Again could have done with a better title, but it is nonetheless a lively, fresh story created by a band of true professionals.

Ender’s Game

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th December 2013

Apparently Harry Potter is bespectacled because his creator, J. K. Rowling, was fed up with never seeing a hero wearing glasses. In keeping with the ethos that heroes come in many forms, young Ender Wiggin (sporting a bullyable name as well as a wispy physique) is not only the brains of the outfit, but proves to be the brawn as well.

As the lead in Orson Scott Card’s eponymous novel, Ender’s character is an object lesson for today’s youth – instead of embracing the weapons-skilled Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, they can turn their allegiance to a preternaturally talented man-child who favours strategy over bloodshed. As played with big blue-eyed charm by Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), Ender makes a surprisingly engaging protagonist – his trials and tribulations mix teenage concerns about popularity with the invidious honour that his brilliance at videogames makes him humankind’s last hope in its fight for survival against an alien species.

South African director Gavin Hood has followed serious films like Tsotsi and Rendition with his own adaptation of Card’s popular teen novel, and with echoes of Tron: Legacy in its aesthetic and a grown-up orchestral score, Ender’s Game works pretty well for adults, too. Granted, the plotting is predictable, but the telling is assured. Interestingly, all the action happens on board the spaceship where Earth’s brightest kids are training at Battle School, switching the usual sci-fi tropes of starship explosions and alien shootouts for beautifully gentle, balletic battle scenes that favour mind over body.

Wimpy, weedy Butterfield comes off as smart and steely, more than holding his own in scenes with Harrison Ford and the great Sir Ben Kingsley (rendered slightly less great by an unconvincing South African/New Zealand accent and a brief backstory purporting Maori parentage). Oscar nominee Viola Davis steps in to provide maternal support but this film isn’t ultimately about the adults. Serious teen actors Hailee Steinfeld (who made such an impression in True Grit) and stalwart Abigail Breslin fill out the youthful cast, which is at least one concession when at the end it is made patently clear that Ender’s game is far from over.

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