I’ve been looking for Hailee Steinfeld for a while. I thought I caught a glimpse of her as an unlikely bridge between Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce in the morose romcom Hateship Loveship. If she was in that Romeo and Juliet that no one saw with a Romeo no one has heard of, I wouldn’t know. I didn’t see it. Could that have been her in Ender’s Game, playing fourth fiddle to Asa Butterfield, something no one should ever have to do? 3 Days to Kill was a showcase for the easy cool of Kevin Costner’s post-leading-man charm, but wasn’t that her giving it a little emotional gravity to offset McG’s McGness?
I seem to recall she might have been one of the lost faces in that dull swirl of girl slop called Pitch Perfect 2.
Hailee Steinfeld was the reason the 2010 True Grit was so good. Until she came along, the 1968 story had been lost to time and John Wayne. Charles Portis’ deftly written novel about a girl demanding her place in a Western revenge yarn — much to the chagrin of the men who comprise Western revenge yarns — is a masterpiece of Americana. William Faulkner meets Diablo Cody by way of Mark Twain. As a John Wayne movie, it was more John Wayne than Charles Portis. It was followed by a sequel that decided the point of True Grit was John Wayne, so the sequel was just his character’s name: Rooster Cogburn. With very few exceptions, a John Wayne movie is a John Wayne movie above all else.
Eventually, the Coen brothers brought True Grit back to the screen. But Hailee Steinfeld brought it to life. With a fierce intelligence in her cat-like eyes, a grim scowl, and uncompromising pigtails, she steered that movie through a sea of celebrities, refusing to be deterred or upstaged. Not even by Jeff Bridges doing what Jeff Bridge does best: fucking around. Just as Mattie Ross demanded a place in this Western, Steinfeld demanded a place in Hollywood. Hollywood then disappeared her in a string of thankless roles.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s Edge of Seventeen is finally the movie Steinfeld deserves. This could have easily been a facile teen comedy. Another stab at Sweet Sixteen, Superbad, or Juno. But Craig’s greatest accomplishment is finding her own voice apart from John Hughes, Judd Apatow, or Diablo Cody. With her script and direction, she sets a tone not too self-aware, not too irreverent, not too nod-and-wink. This isn’t a precious little coming of age ditty. It’s a story about how difficult it is to love people who are difficult, about how adults and newly adult adults treat each other, about how moments of redemption don’t need dialogue. A hug is worth a million words.
The cast includes Blake Jenner, getting to show some depth after riding in on a tsunami of charisma in Everybody Wants Some!! Haley Lu Richardson shows a little weight beyond her usual job of being the cute oblivious sidekick in The Bronze and Split. Woody Harrelson, underplaying it for once, and newcomer Hayden Szeto stand out for being comedic relief that isn’t just comedic.
There are some forced bits in Edge of Seventeen, but Steinfeld commits completely and without hesitation, almost single-handedly smoothing out the bumps in Craig’s script. Here’s that singularly present little girl from True Grit, almost all grown up, halfway between cherubic and feline, commanding the screen with a radiance without artifice or glamour, the twin demons that have dragged down poor Chloe Grace Moretz’ once-promising career. Just look at the way Steinfeld’s character dresses. How many young actresses could pull that off without looking like they were dressed for laughs?
Edge of Seventeen
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