The Edge of Seventeen

Posted on November 17, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Copyright 2016 STX
Copyright 2016 STX
A psychiatrist once told me that just as an infant can have fevers that would be lethal in an adult, a teenager can have symptoms that would be evidence of psychosis at any other stage of life. Mood swings, the feeling that everyone is looking at you, disordered thinking, bizarre appearance: you might be having some sort of breakdown, or you just might be an adolescent. Stories about that intensely traumatic age connect to those of us who have been through it and those who are in the midst of it with a visceral sense of recognition, and, if we’re lucky, a bittersweet humor.

“Edge of Seventeen,” written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, captures the intensity and chaos and drama drama drama of this age. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, who, like many 17-year-olds, is certain that she is the only person on earth who truly understands what it is to suffer. She actually has experienced a terrible loss, the death of her father, which has left her remaining family fragile. Her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner of “Everybody Wants Some!!”) compensates by being perfect in every disgusting way possible, from Nadine’s perspective. He is handsome, talented, athletic, and popular. That leaves nothing left for her but to be awkward and miserable.

The only thing good in her life, she thinks, is her endlessly supportive and understanding BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who sympathizes with Nadine about the misery of having no father, a perfect brother, and a crush on an unattainable boy who works at Petland in the mall (Alexander Calvert as Nick). She also has a teacher named Mr. Bruner, played with perfectly dry, understated wit by Woody Harrelson, who knows teenagers well enough to understand that the best way to reassure Nadine is not to try to comfort her. When she trounces into the classroom where he is eating lunch alone to tell him she has to kill herself, he responds by noting mildly that in fact she has just interrupted his own creation of a suicide note. “As some of you know, I have 32 fleeting minutes of happiness per school day during lunch which has been eaten up again and again by the same especially badly dressed student and I finally thought, you know what, I would rather have the dark, empty nothingness.” She thinks she wants everyone to be as fraught as she is. He knows how to strike just the right balance of detachment and sympathy.

So when she tries to cancel a sexually explicit invitation to Nick but accidentally sends it instead, Mr. Bruner is there to take a look and point out that she should be more careful about run-on sentences. The reason she is talking to him about it instead of Krista is that Krista, the single good thing in her life, has committed the ultimate betrayal. She and Darien are in a relationship. Nadine is in such a severe state of collapse that she does not notice that there is a smart, handsome, very nice boy interested in her (Hayden Szeto in a star-making performance as Erwin).

The film itself has that same perceptive sympathy for the agonies of adulthood, allowing us to laugh at Nadine only because we know she’ll be fine — she’s going to grow up and make this movie.

Parents should know that this movie has very explicit and crude language, sexual references, and non-explicit sexual situations, a car accident with a sad (offscreen) death of a parent), and teen drinking.

Family discussion: How did Nadine, Darien, and their mother express their grief differently? Is it easier being the perfect one? What do you do to feel better?

If you like this, try: “Rocket Science,” “Thumbsucker,” and “The Duff”

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Comedy Coming of age Drama Romance School Stories about Teens

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Posted on October 6, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking (adult)
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, sad off-screen death of a child, parental abandonment and marital break-up, cartoonishly exaggerated adult villains, some misbehavior including vandalism and mayhem
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2016
Date Released to DVD: January 2, 2017 ASIN: B01LTHWXX4
Copyright Lionsgate 2016
Copyright Lionsgate 2016

This just might be the most accurate movie title of all time. Middle school is pretty much the worst years of everyone’s life. Terrible stress and tragedy happens at all ages, but it is the years from 12 to 14 where the internal turmoil and agonizing uncertainty are so acute that we still wince remembering them decades later. This film, based on the series of books by mega-bestselling author James Patterson (with Chris Tebbetts and illustrations by Laura Park) has some delightfully satisfying moments of fantasy revenge against a tyrannical, rules-obssessed principal and a borderline-abusive potential stepfather. But it sneaks in some quietly touching and surprisingly wise insights about loss and working with a “new normal.” Bright direction and an exceptionally engaging cast of kids make this film a genuine fall family treat.

Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) has been expelled from two schools (we never find out why) and has just one more chance. He would rather stay home all day and draw pictures in his notebook, where he has created a whole world of monsters and aliens, charmingly animated. “There’s a big world out there,” Rafe’s mother (Lauren Graham) tells him. “There’s a big world in there, too,” he says. And it is clear that is the world he prefers.

He does not even make it inside the building, though, when he meets the new school’s Principal Dwight (Andy Daly), who cares about just two things: his rules, and the school’s test score ranking. Dwight’s rules basically outlaw anything that is fun, friendly, expressive of individuality, or likely to keep the school from the #1 test score ranking Dwight cherishes so deeply that he has cultivated a number 1 bush by topiary in front of the school. Dwight’s consigliere/enforcer is Ida Stricker (“Parks and Recreation’s” Retta). So, bright, patterned shirts, talking in the hallways, even drawing in a notebook — all banned. There’s also a school bully who threatens to give Rafe “a wedgie so bad you’ll be able to taste your underwear.”

But there are three bright spots. Rafe’s best friend, Leo (Thomas Barbusca), is always there to make him laugh and spur him on. There’s a friendly girl named Jeannie (Isabela Moner), and a kind, sympathetic teacher (“Happy Endings'” Adam Pally) who uses the Drake and the Wu-Tang Clan to teach the class about macroeconomic trends. Rafe decides to take on Dwight by breaking every rule, with Leo’s help. Meanwhile, Rafe’s mom is getting serious with the boyfriend Rafe and his sister call “Bear” (Rob Riggle in his usual role of a walking Axe body spray).

The revenge fantasy is funny and satisfying, mostly about making the pompous Principal Dwight look silly. And it gives Rafe a way to begin to make new friends, to resolve issues with the school bully, and to think through the other problems in his life.

The film is bright and fun, like its sparkling soundtrack of pop songs. The young actors are refreshingly natural and Barbusca has great comic timing. Rafe’s sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) and love interest Jeanne (Isabela Moner) are real characters, smart and capable. When the more serious issues arise, it is organic and sensitively handled. The pranks are signed RAFE, which stands for “rules aren’t for everyone.” But this movie is.

Parents should know that this film includes schoolyard epithets, potty humor, references to death of a child, parental abandonment, and marital breakup, comically exaggerated adult villains, cartoon-style peril, and tween misbehavior including driving and mild vandalism.

Family discussion: What is the best way to challenge unfair rules? What school rules would you like to change?

If you like this, try: “Harriet the Spy,” “How to Eat Fried Worms,” and the book series that inspired the film

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Based on a book Comedy Coming of age DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues School Stories About Kids Tweens

Trailer: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Posted on August 17, 2016 at 8:00 am

The classic Katherine Paterson novel, The Great Gilly Hopkins, the story of an angry foster child who dreams of being reunited with her mother, is now a movie starring Oscar-winner Kathy Bates as a kind-hearted foster mother.

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Based on a book School Stories About Kids Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Trailer: Middle School – The Worst Years of My Life

Posted on June 17, 2016 at 3:34 pm

James Patterson’s rollicking best-seller Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, about kids who decide to break every rule in their school’s oppressive Code of Conduct, is now a film starring “Gilmore Girls'” Lauren Graham. Here’s the trailer:

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Based on a book School Stories About Kids Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Sing Street

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:28 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including strong language and some bullying behavior, a suggestive image, drug material and teen smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: A lot of smoking by adults and teens, some drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Bully, some fights, reference to sexual abuse
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2016
Date Released to DVD: July 26, 2016 ASIN: B01E698HZA

When you’re a teenager, suddenly, nothing you thought you knew seems certain anymore. Your parents do not understand you. Your siblings don’t understand you. Your teachers don’t understand you. You don’t understand yourself — everything outside and inside of you seems to be changing all the time.

Copyright 2016 The Weinstein Company
Copyright 2016 The Weinstein Company

Only one thing understands you: the music. For most of us, that means rock music. Somehow, those songs reach us when nothing else can. Improbably, they understand us, they accept us, and they believe in us and in unlimited possibilities for ourselves and the world we can hardly begin to imagine. That’s why the music of your teen years feels visceral in a way no other music can. No matter how much you love music you discover later in life, it is never a part of you like the music that helps you discover yourself.

“Sing Street” is the rare movie that not only recognizes and portrays this experience; it goes farther than that. It is as close to re-creating the experience as it is possible for a movie to be. Watching this movie is not like remembering what it is like to be 14 and have your soul restored through rock and roll. It is like being there, but having it all work out the way better than you could have wished.

Writer/director/lyricist John Carney, who showed a gift for movies about music and musicians with Once and Begin Again, says that this movie is inspired by his own teen years, but about what he wished had happened instead of what did. Like the main character, Conor (enormously appealing newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), Carney grew up in 1980’s Ireland, in love with the music of the era, and the soundtrack features a sensational selection from The Cure, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, A-Ha, Spandau Ballet, and The Jam, and dead-on instant classics from Carney and composer Gary Clark. Carney knows that when your feelings get too big for the song, you have to dance. When they get bigger than that, you have to make a music video. And when you desperately want to reach someone who is irresistible but apparently unobtainable, you just have to start a band.

It’s about more than music; it’s about how to respond to the toughest challenges life throws you, adolescence being just one of them. Music in this film performs the same function that the depiction of emotions did for a younger child in Pixar’s “Inside Out.” As Riley did in that film, Conor comes to understand how sadness and happiness need each other. And, after all, there’s no better place to combine them than a rock song.

As the movie opens, Conor is writing song lyrics based on the bitter fight his parents are having on the other side of the wall. They are having financial problems, which means Conor will have to transfer to a less expensive school. And they have run out of patience with one another and are close to splitting up. His new school is much rougher than his old one, both the teachers and the students. Across the street, though, there is a girl. She’s a year older than he is, which in teenage and gender years means that she is infinitely more sophisticated. Her name is Raphina (Lucy Boynton). When she says she is a model, he impulsively invites her to be in his music video (he has just seen Duran Duran’s seminal music video for “Rio”). When she says she might, he realizes that now he has to start a band.

With guidance from his older brother (a terrific Jack Reynor), who gives him albums to listen to and tells him to seize the moment, Conor puts together a band. The combination of the gritty reality of recession-era Dublin and the purity of the kids’ passion for what they are doing is just the right setting for the kinds of emotion that only rock and roll can express.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language and a racist term, smoking by adults and teenagers, drug use, some bullies and violence, and some sexual references including sexual abuse.

Family discussion: Why did Conor say he was a futurist? How did he respond to being bullied?

If you like this, try: “Once,” “School of Rock,” “The Commitments,” “Billy Elliot,” “Pirate Radio,” “We are the Best,” and the music of the 80’s

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Musical School Stories about Teens
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