Meta thriller features a great cast and compelling story — pay attention to everything, because it...
Best Picture Oscar nominee “Arrival” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
It’s not easy being a teenager. The combination of surging hormones and experiencing some of life’s difficult challenges for the first time can create a frenzied state in which the good experiences are great, and the bad experiences feel like the end of the world. Most teens get a mix of the highs and the lows that keep them somewhat balanced so they make it into their twenties okay.
Then there’s Nadine, the heroine at the center of “The Edge of Seventeen.” She only seems to get the low points and nothing else. At least she sees it that way. After her father dies of a heart attack, she’s left with her emotional wreck of a mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and her so perfect and happy it’s sickening older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). The only happiness in her life comes from her best (and only) friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). But one night after a wild party, Nadine catches Krista in bed with Darian—and they aren’t just lying there. This is too much for her to take.
As if things aren’t bad enough, she accidentally sends a very forward text message to school bad boy and her personal crush Nick (Alexander Calvert). Now she’s in a panic. Seeking counsel from her favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), she finds nothing but tough love. Bruner begrudgingly listens to her story, reads the text she sent, then chides her about run on sentences. Not only is it a funny moment, it is also exactly what Nadine needs. She spends way too much time wrapped up in negativity and thinking the world is about to end. It does no good to just sit there and listen to it—that type of thinking requires push back, and Bruner knows it. Nadine is a classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. Absent an actual father in her life, Bruner is the next best thing to a father figure who will put his foot down and not put up with any of her nonsense. It’s refreshing, and I loved seeing him give her large, heaping doses of reality, rather than trying to psycho-analyze her, which would have been death knell if this movie went there. Thankfully, it did not.
I was also refreshed by Nick’s reaction to her text, and I liked the fact that the movie stayed grounded enough in reality to recognize that if he is going to react that way, then he is going to take the text literally—and not in the deeply emotional and romantic way that Nadine had in mind.
For that type of romance, we need to look at Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a brainy, artistic kid and gentle soul with a crush on Nadine. Of course, she can’t see how much he likes her because she is too consumed by her own problems and caught in a fantasy crush on Nick. The forest for the trees, remember?
Sharply written, emotionally stirring, funny, and warm, “The Edge of Seventeen” is the kind of movie that John Hughes used to make pretty regularly in the 1980s. The great thing about his movies is the way that they still resonate thirty years later. The clothes, hairstyles, and music may all change over time, but being a teenager is a timeless experience. It doesn’t matter the decade, being a teen and going through all of the emotions and experiences therein is relatable from one generation to the next. With “The Edge of Seventeen,” Kelly Fremon Craig pulled off the hat trick of being producer, writer, and director of one of the best movies about being a teenager to come along in a while. Buy it on Amazon: The Edge of Seventeen (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Also New This Week
As a critic, I watch movies with a skeptical eye—it’s the job. I know that I’m supposed to be watching for what happens in the movie itself, but sometimes real life creeps in and separating the movie from the outside influences regarding the movie becomes impossible. My thoughts on the 2016 “Ghostbusters” is a good example of this. Since I can’t stop it, all I can really do is be up front and honest about it in my writing.
So I have to be up front about something that really irked me about “Arrival.” Put simply, it’s the Chinese. It’s no secret that China has been buying up Hollywood. This makes sense. The Chinese are Communists, and Communists are notoriously heavy-handed propagandists. It’s also well known that one of the best ways to influence culture is through media—movies included.
So here we have in “Arrival,” an otherwise heady science fiction story about communicating with aliens, a movie in which the United States blindly follows the lead of the Chinese. The Chinese try communicating, so the U.S. tries communicating. Of course, the Chinese are way ahead of the U.S. in what they discover, so when China goes for the military option, the U.S. then goes for the military option. By the end of the movie, barely seen Chinese leader General Shang (Tzi Ma) is in many ways just as much of a hero as linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who deciphered the alien language for the U.S. I recognize that I may be reading too much into it, and I’m not saying that the U.S. has to be number one in everything—this isn’t a Michael Bay movie. However, given what is happening on the business side with the movie studios, I can’t help but be skeptical about an agenda being pushed amidst the drama and special effects.
Best Picture Oscar nominee “Arrival” can best be thought of as the thinking person’s “Independence Day.” A bunch of alien ships land in various spots all over the Earth, but this time, they don’t blow things up. Rather, they seek to communicate with humanity. The problem, of course, is the language barrier.
This is where Banks and Donnelly come in. Their job is to help the base commander, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), figure out why the aliens are here and what they want.
One thing I wish I could have seen more of in “Arrival” was the actual process of deciphering the alien language. Yes, there are scenes where certain aspects are explained, and we see Banks constantly working on the alien writing, but I feel like the movie jumps from point A to point D in terms of what the humans know. What happened to B and C? How are they so sure that the symbols the aliens are using mean what they think they mean? I think it’s possible for this to have been done in a dramatic way, without slowing down the story, if there wasn’t so much focus on CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) and this ongoing concern with what the Chinese are doing.
“Arrival” ends with a decent enough twist. Nothing Earth shattering, and enough hints are given along the way where you can get the idea before the big reveal so it won’t be that much of a surprise. My biggest objection to it is in regard to the music playing during the end scene, which is one of the most oppressive and annoying arrangements of sounds I’ve ever been subjected to by a movie. The treacle is groan inducing enough, but having to listen to that just about pushed me over the edge.
That said, “Arrival” isn’t a bad movie on the whole. It has great performances and an interesting concept. I also appreciate that it took the high road, and a movie was created about aliens that didn’t involve laser fights and tentac—oh wait, tentacles are involved. Oh well, it gets half marks in that regard. For the rest, if you can stomach the Chinese propaganda, medicore twist, and terrible music at the end, it is worth checking out. Rent it.
More New Releases: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” about an infantryman who recounts the final hours before he and his fellow soldiers return to Iraq; “Priceless,” about a desperate man caught up in a shady cross-country delivery; “Stake Land II,” sequel to a mediocre vampire movie; and “Kiss of Death,” great film noir movie with a scene so infamous (Richard Widmark’s ruthless villain character pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down some stairs) that it’s on the front cover.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.