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THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN review: Sweet Sharp-Edged Cinema

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If any of you people have more than five years in the rearview mirror of leaving yourself at seventeen behind, let me remind you.  It isn’t any kind of fun.  I mean, Janis Ian’s song says it all.  In case you’d like a refresher, this week’s release THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is ready and able to take you back to the discomfort, awkwardness, and heartbreak of being a late teen.  Gratefully, the film does it with the kind of humor, authenticity, and quirkiness that probably got us all through being that age in the first place.

First time feature film director Kelly Fremon Craig helms this angsty, coming-of-age dramedy from her own script. When asked what inspired her, she said, “I started this project in an effort to try to capture this particular age and generation as truthfully as I could, and with a respect for the complexity and messiness of it all.  Passing from youth to adulthood is intense and terrifying and beautiful, and in many ways the experience of anyone, any age, shedding their old self and becoming new.  I wanted to explore that.”

Central to that exploration is lead character Nadine, who is played by Oscar-nominated Hailee Steinfeld.  She did so while she herself was still a teen.  Nadine, who offers insights via voice narration, has been getting steadily more awkward since elementary school, but is buoyed by her steadfast best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson of the indie horror film THE LAST SURVIVORS).  When Krista starts dating Nadine’s popular brother Darian (Blake Jenner of EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!), her life starts to completely unravel.  It doesn’t help that both Nadine and her brother have to play parent to their single mom, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick, vying for the “Most Negligent, Self-Indulgent Parent Award”).  One bright spot in her life is her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who listens to her daily dramas and plays the surrogate parent and voice of reason she sorely lacks.

Right here, I’d like to supply a trigger warning, however politically correct that may seem.  As someone who lost their parent to cancer as a teen, and someone who knows a number of friends who lost their dad to heart attacks, I’d like to mention that Nadine’s beloved father does indeed die of a heart attack in from of her early in the film.  That experience informs her perception of the world, as well as her relationship with her brother and mother.  It isn’t a long scene, but I like to make sure those of you with a history of parental loss, however distant or recent, are aware and prepared for that part of the story.

Nadine makes a lot of mistakes.  She sometimes sees the entire world as adversarial, and as such tends to, metaphorically speaking, shoot herself in the foot.  A lot.  However, almost all the scenes, however dark, are written and acted to show at least some humor.  The audience can laugh at the tragicomic aspects with which many can commiserate.

Hailee Steinfeld herself should be a major draw for of THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, because she brings an authenticity to her character, and the situations Nadine finds herself in that pulls viewers of every age completely to her side.  Even when she is making very bad choices, the script and her portrayal will have us rooting for her to survive the embarrassment, or actual physical danger, and learn from it.  By the time she makes her biggest mistake, we are so fully with her, so on her team, the audience will have to overcome a visceral desire to scream a warning at the screen.  We want her to be happy.  That’s the great partnership of Steinfeld as lead actress and writer/director Fremon Craig at work.  Co-stars Haley Lu Richardson and Blake Jenner also have the opportunity to show why they are both stars on the rise.  Woody Harrelson seems to elevate all the films he’s in, regardless of the genre or the character he plays.  As the cynical, yet compassionate teacher Mr. Bruner, Harrelson portrays the sort of role model that may seem a throwaway, but represents someone that many can point to from their teen years as having made the difference between survival and suicide.

Technology plays an important part in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, as it should.  It’s telling the story of gaining some of the wisdom of adulthood at a time when social media can make or break you.  Its part in how teenagers interact and grow wiser in today’s world aside, some things about becoming an adult never change. The first experience of loss, of heartache, first love, alienation, finding your tribe, making mistakes and admitting them, the standing up for yourself, or not standing for yourself or others, and what that means, these are universal, unchanging aspects of coming-of-age.  That’s what makes THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN worth seeing again and again, much like other examples of teens navigating the dark waters towards the shore of adulthood now seen as classics of the genre.  We want to see them grow, because we’ve all been there.  Oh Nadine, we have so been there.

Hollywood insider James L. Brooks was convinced to become one of the producers of the film when Fremon Craig said “No one will ever work harder than I do”.  This is something heard a lot from women both above and below the line in the film industry.  Women work harder.  Regardless of the success or failure of a film, or even if a film ultimately gets made that’s the rallying cry of so many women in film.  it’s a wonderful thing, then, that THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN promises to become, for many, a new favorite film.

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This Weekend The Middleburg Film Festival Celebrates Women in Film

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This Weekend The Middleburg Film Festival Celebrates Women in Film: A wide range of films and panels feature women in front of and behind the camera.

2016 has been a topsy-turvy year for women. On the one hand, it’s possible we’ll elect the first female president in history. On the other, disrespect and ignorance around women’s issues have been in the news all year, with the insults during the election, sexual exploitation by celebrities, the questioning of women’s stories of abuse, and more, making the headlines. One subject that has gotten positive attention is the importance of and genuine interest in balancing the numbers of women working in Hollywood, both in front and behind the camera. The Middleburg Film Festival, happening this weekend from October 20th through the 23rd, is playing a powerful and positive role in highlighting the best women working in all roles both inside and outside the studio system.

Since their beginnings only a few years ago, Middleburg Film Festival has always paid attention to the best films in which women play an essential part. Seven films out of the featured 25 are directed by women, but when asked if that’s a conscious effort, executive director Susan Koch said, “We think about it, but we don’t make our selection just because it’s directed by a woman. I think what we’ve found when you look at the statistics, when only 4% of films in Hollywood are directed by women, and we have over 25%, we’re really happy about that. The films we have also hail from all over the world. They just show you the women are out there are making great films. We like to mix it up, not just showing Oscar buzz films, but the independent gems, and especially when you’re talking about women, they often have to do the independent, smaller films, because they’re not given the break to do the larger studio films.

Some of the highlights supporting women in film include the seven films directed by women:

  • Certain Women: a feature film directed by Kelly Reichert, starring Laura Dern and Michelle Williams
  • Toni Erdmann: a feature film directed by Maren Ade about a father attempting to reconnect with his estranged adult daughter, which has already won awards including Best Film at Cannes this year.
  • A Classy Broad: a documentary directed by Anne Goursaud about Marcia Nasatir who was a powerful woman in film and the Vice President of United Artists in the 1970s.
  • The Man Who Saw Too Much: a documentary directed by Trisha Ziff about a tabloid photographer in Mexico.
  • Sonita: a feature film directed by Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, which won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary, about an undocumented Afghan refugee women living in Iran who dreams of being a rapper.

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  • The Edge of Seventeen: directed by Kelly Fremon Craig starring Hailee Steinfeld.
  • L’avenir (Things to Come): directed by Mia Hansen-Love, who won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, stars Isabel Hubbert as a Parisian philosophy teacher who finds herself having to start again.

There are also films featuring a diversity of women onscreen:

There are also a number of films featuring women in lead roles, including Aquarius, starring Sonia Braga, Custody, starring Catalina Sandino Moreno in a courthouse drama, Jackie, starring Natalie Portman, about Jackie Kennedy, a documentary about a 13 year old eagle hunter in Mongolia, the first ever in her region calledThe Eagle Huntress, and Loving, co-starrring Ruth Negga about the landmark case that changed the laws for interracial marriage that took place in Virginia.

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Panels and discussions with powerful allies of women in film are also a highlight of the festival:

There is a panel discussion called Women in Film: Changing the Numbers on Friday morning, with high-profile female producers including Angie Fielder (Lion, Wish You Were Here) and Lauren Versel (Custody, Arbitrage) as well as Cassian Elwes (Blue Valentine, All is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club) one of the most powerful independent producers in Hollywood. About the panel, Koch says, “We think that you can’t talk enough about it. We have one male on that panel, Cassian Elwes, who is a very well known producer. The reason he’s included is because he has a mentoring program and he’s bringing in his mentee. When we talk about how to solve the problem, it’s not just the women who are going to solve it, the whole industry has to step up and make a commitment to change these numbers”.

The keynote address for the Middleburg Film Festival is being delivered by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs on Saturday, and there’s “Wine and Conversation” with Oscar nominated Production Designer Jeannine Oppewall (Seabiscuit, LA Confidential, Pleasantville) also featuring Anne Hornaday, Chief Film Critic of the Washington Post. About the subject of women in film, and creating equality in Hollywood, Sheila Johnson, Founder of the MFF says, “We’re two pretty powerful women and we go after what we want. We have Sheryl Boone Isaacs coming in also and we’ll be talking more about all this and i’m very excited.”

Film lovers in the area, as well as the increasing number of fans who are making an effort to get here, should also be excited, too. Those who want to see more diversity in storytelling, portrayal, and film artistry will benefit from the festival’s natural inclination to be more inclusive. As to expanding awareness and being ever more inclusive, Johnson believes “the word is getting out there. We have female filmmakers now calling us wanting us to show their films, because they know we are so inclusive of them, and really do want to celebrate women in film. I think that reputation is out there, so I think it will keep getting easier and easier for us to attract women doing film.”

The Middleburg Film Festival runs from October 20th to October 23rd in Middleburg, Virginia, which is located one short hour from the center of Washington, DC. For more information, visit: www.middleburgfilm.org.