Review: “The Edge of Seventeen”

Screen-Shot-2016-09-10-at-3.11.39-PM-980x539You’ll see yourself in The Edge of Seventeen.

In her directorial debut, Kelly Fremon Craig pays homage to the John Hughes teen comedies of the 1980s, as charmingly though not in the ironic way Easy A, the modern reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, did in 2010.

Rather than another adolescent flick about getting pregnant, laid, or shit-faced (maybe all three), going to prom, or chasing a crush, The Edge of Seventeen is about what it’s like just to be yourself. It’s maybe the most sincere teen comedy of the past 30 years.

You’ll be smitten by Hailee Steinfeld, playing Nadine whose tortured “Are you even up there (God)?” life as a loner starts to completely unravel when her best friend starts dating her older brother. She starts to find clarity from an unlikely friendship with her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) — Steinfeld and Harrelson’s comedic chemistry is one of the film’s many delights — and a mild-mannered boy (Hayden Szeto) in her class named Erwin.

I’m going on 27 years old, so the best the film could do for me was take me back to a time when I had more insecurities and was trying to figure it all out. But someone of the age is going to relate to this film instantly, and that’s essential.

“The Edge of Seventeen”: ★★★ 1/2

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Review: “La La Land”

mv5bmtkzote3mjuxml5bml5banbnxkftztgwndi2mzc2mdi-_v1_sy1000_cr0015041000_al_What I find most striking about La La Land is its beauty.

Damien Chazelle’s original Hollywood musical isn’t perfect. It has its share of head-tilting moments — an opening musical number which tests your commitment straightaway to what you think you’ve come to the theater to see — and it’s maybe not a movie I’d watch over and over, despite its leading lady. But it’s no less an awe-striking work of cinematography, with all of its vibrant color saturated in perfect light.

We see it throughout the film, in all of the smallest jazz clubs, but most admiringly in the film’s final musical number — co-stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s largest dancing sequence together in the film, bits of which you’ve seen in the previews but can’t begin to measure up to the end product.

Stone (as Mia, an aspiring actress) and Gosling (as Sebastian, a struggling jazz musician) are big dreamers testing the limits of love and ambition. In doing so, I also think the film tells a meaningful story about how love can help you become the person you’re meant to be.

Save the biggest praise for Stone. While both actors sing and dance, it’s Stone who seems to take her character to deeper, more vulnerable places emotionally, as Mia watches Sebastian find success which leaves her wondering if she’s good enough to find hers.

“La La Land”:  ★★★

Review: “Room”

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I never cry at the movies, so believe me. The preeminent, powerful impact of “Room” grabbed my heart and I wiped away tears

I was so overcome with emotion during the deeply moving film about the bond between a young mother and her five-year-old son, who’ve been held captive in a small shed for seven years, and their struggle to get reacquainted, or introduced in the boy’s case, with life outside after escaping.

Emma Donahue’s novel and the screenplay she’s written from it are plotted out in those two parts, life in and out of Room. The end of Act I, so to speak, involves an escape scene so heart-pounding, from the time Ma introduces the idea through its execution, that completely took my breath away and brought on an outpouring of relief the moment Ma is reunited with her son, Jack. I watched through tears.

Brie Larson, as Ma, has raised her game by seemingly finding a place where she can portray a beautiful relationship between a mother and son. We already knew she was a tremendous actress, especially by her work in “Short Term 12,” and here she draws from both her dramatic and comedy sides to create the best Ma.

The character has chosen to raise her son Jack, played astonishingly well by Jacob Tremblay, in Room as if it is the only world. She does this to protect him and to raise him in a place he feels is safe and good. She’s even determined to protect him from their captor, and in one heartbreaking scene this comes to light. A curious Jack comes out of the wardrobe where he sleeps every time Old Nick comes to Room, he approaches him in the bed and Old Nick opens his eyes and speaks to him. Ma burst out of her side of the bed and pushes Jack aside — “Don’t touch him!” she screams repeatedly. Jack runs and Old Nick chokes Ma, face down into the bed, before storming out.

So well, Larson understands the complicated balance of her character, a loving mother but one whose still grappling with the childhood that was stolen from her. Her admission to Jack about what really happened to her is about as heart-breaking as anything else, especially with Jack’s resistance to the story.

After escaping, Larson’s performance is just as great as Ma goes through the process of facing her very real issues in reacclimating to the world. But what this story, so intimately pictured through director Lenny Abrahamson’s scope, comes down to is the bond between Ma and Jack because it’s ultimately the reason they survive.

That aspect may best be summed up in an exchange they have late in the film.

“I’m not a good enough mom,” Ma says, sitting on her bed with Jack.

“But you’re Ma,” Jack replies.

“Room”: ★★★★