High school: a place and time in many youth’s lives where nothing is right, everything is wrong, and the answer is usually “who fucking cares?” While that may not be the Oxford definition or even how the majority of people may have found it, writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig has patiently and thoughtfully created that sense with a delicate and surprising touch. Capitalizing on its talented young cast, as well as its industry veterans, the film is never less than substantial and completely heartfelt.
Anchored by the towering and increasingly confident Hailee Steinfeld, as high school junior and recently 17 student, Nadine Franklin, as her life goes from pretty upsetting to a load of… well I think you get the idea.
Steinfeld is able to communicate the fragility and confusion that comes from opening up to the world and having it spit back in your face that accompanies youth. Tackling serious topics as depression and social entropy, she delves headfirst into the material, never turning back from the awkwardness that (while comic) is always subdued in a sense of serving the characters rather than a punchline.
While the story assuredly rests on the shoulders of Steinfeld, every character stands apart in a unique way adding a layer of complexity missing from many modern teen movies from Nadine’s jock brother Darian to his new girlfriend and recent ex-best friend Krista. But as many have noted, the crackling and witty performance of Woody Harrelson taps into his raw charm that has also been missing from many of his recent roles.
What the Fremon has done with her characters is quite astonishing, given the minimalistic story and lack of any driving force other than Nadine’s downward spiral of awkward convos at house parties and accidental hookups to be had at Petland. We follow her as she makes bad decisions based on whims and jealousy, that serve to develop her into the portrait of someone dealing with personal demons rather than a silly caricature.
Let it be said that this film is as raw with its emotions, as it is quick firing and hopeful. It draws some parallels to last years equally impressive Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, while differentiating its tone by the spectacular central performance from Steinfeld. Her uncompromising dedication to the well thought out script marks as good a performance as she has done of late, and makes me even more excited to see where both her and Fremon will go next.