Austin Film Festival 2016 Review and Interview: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B

There are many teen movies that have been created in the past couple of decades, some more memorable than others. The young stars go on to have extended careers for their performances, as well as those of the adults who star alongside the young leads in each film. Many of the stories can be cute, but predictable, or maybe the audience does not find enough reason to care about what is happening with the main character in that particular story. In the new feature film, “The Edge of Seventeen” starring Oscar® nominees Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) and Woody Harrelson, writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig has created a very engaging story about a high school teen who is smart and charming, yet seems to do everything to keep people at arm’s length, in fact, to the point of alienating most everyone who she comes in contact with. Viewers can’t help but wonder what Nadine (Steinfeld) really has going on, to the point of almost disliking her in many ways, yet she also has a good side to her that can’t be missed. She is not a character to easily dismiss and Craig has done an excellent job creating Nadine in first feature film, along with a world that viewers may be able to identify with in one way or another.

Home life is not peaceful with Nadine. She has a good looking and athletic brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), who has so much positive energy and charisma going for him, she clearly has it out for him. Her own mouth gets in her way when she blurts out what she feels and she ultimately ends up looking bad, even if she is right in some instances. As for life with her mama, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), the friction has been there since elementary school, yet she would do anything for her Daddy, Tom (Eric Keenleyside) until his health took a toll on him and passed away. I clearly understand that bond with a father, the unbearable loss and change to my world. For Nadine though, it seems like his death is the fuel that ignites her personality to kick in even stronger over the four years. By the time she finds that her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) has established a relationship with her brother, she is at the point where she can’t seem to take life anymore. She thinks she has reasons to end it and some scenes with Harrelson as a cynical high school teacher are very humorous.

Steinfeld is excellent in this role and alongside Harrelson as Mr. Bruner, and Sedgwick as a young, working widow, their performances make this a film not to be missed. There are some very good laughs and tender moments between Nadine and her classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who she does not know is an animator and fails to see signs of his interest in her. I definitely enjoyed Szeto’s comedic and serious scenes and anticipate seeing him in more roles with his talented acting range.

The film closed the Toronto International Film Festival and during the Austin Film Festival, the coming-of-age dramedy, “The Edge of Seventeen” was the Centerpiece selection on Monday October 17th. Both Craig and lead producer James L. Brooks (“As Good as It Gets,” “The Simpsons,” “Terms of Endearment”), were in attendance to present the film at AFF and take part in a conversation afterwards.

INTERVIEW: Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig was available for a brief time during the AFF and shared some interesting thoughts about creating the film.

She shared that she organized a group of 50-60 teens to come together and discuss many topics and at times it was like a “therapy session” as they discussed how they felt “most alone in life, what to wear to prom, who understands you” and similar themes. From this, Ms. Craig stated a “cool part” of this was that the teens “were grateful that they were being asked” for their opinions and insight.

I asked her how they reached out to gather this set of teens and the director stated, “I asked everybody that I know that has teens, friends of theirs, etc.”

James L. Brooks stated he became involved with this film when “the timing had to be right” and the character that Ms. Craig had created. It took a number of years before the final script was finished. She also stated the script is not autobiographical, but “had friends like Erwin who can fly under the radar” like this character.

As for Nadine’s character, and as Ms. Craig stated, “Really, with all the characters,” she shows the viewers “what is the messy, messy truth. They are this and they are that.” She was “trying to embrace the messiness.”

She gave kudos to Haley for an “incredible” audition out of the one thousand actors that were auditioned. “She got it!” and further described how she was able “to shift from a funny moment.”

My question to each of the filmmakers was to identify one experience that stands out from this production.

Mr. Brooks – Got to be a part of the process with what Kelly came with in the final script – exquisite.

Ms. Craig – It was Haley walking through the door after one year of auditioning

The MPAA rating for the film is R and has a running time of 102 minutes. The film opens in Austin on November 18th and check your local listings for show times and theaters.

Source: STX Entertainment

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