High schools can be portrayed in an exaggerated manner in the entertainment world. The distinct, contrasting colors and clean faces from director John Hughes’s work or Netflix’s recent teen drama “13 Reasons Why” create romanticized ideas about a campus atmosphere that, by most people, is not actually experienced in reality. On Thursday, April 13, UCSB’s Pollock Theater presented a Script to Screen for director Kelly Fremon Craig’s 2016 film “The Edge of Seventeen,” which portrays high school slightly more honestly.
This film follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) as she tries to navigate her junior year of high school. Various conflicts or situations involving her brother (Blake Jenner), her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson), a few classmates (Hayden Szeto and Alexander Calvert and one of her teachers (Woody Harrelson) arise and help her break out of her introverted, envious personality to become a more open-minded person.
With her character’s personal problems well established, Steinfeld is able to convey the struggles experienced by average high school students, showing passionate emotions on screen. Craig attended a Q&A discussion that occurred after the screening, and a part of the filmmaking process she extensively talked about was casting and working with the actors, especially Steinfeld. Craig explained that little touches, such as a look or an aside, really distinguished Steinfeld from many other actresses of her age. This was so special to Craig when considering how stressful the casting process was for her up until Steinfeld came to audition.
“I spent a year seeing it and thinking … I don’t think we can make the movie because we just can’t find her,” Craig explained to Pollock Theater director Matt Ryan during the discussion.
With regards to the supporting actors in the film, Craig seemed to have an easy time working with them, whether this was their first film or one of many projects. She discussed how some of the better moments in the film, from a remark concerning a Ferris wheel to a pencil sharpening, came about because of the actors’ improvisation.
Explaining the way she worked with the actors, she told Ryan, “The greatest thing is when you haven’t said anything and then they do something that [makes] you go, ‘Holy shit! That’s so much better,’ so I never want to step on that moment. I ended up not doing a lot of rehearsal.”
This work mentality displays the good results that come about when actors and directors collaborate well with each other when making the film.
Craig illustrated the complexity of these characters when Ryan asked her about any advice she would give to aspiring screenwriters. She explained that thinking about how the film would be if a side character was the main character can provide you with a perspective on what they want. “A lot of times, when you’re writing those peripheral characters, it’s easy to just think about whatever you’re trying to accomplish with the main character [with] these people helping you with it,” she explained. She talked about how imagining them as the hero is important to make them more complicated.
It is important that the characters be this intricate and complicated because the actor’s delivery and expressions are crucial to having the audience truly feel the message of the movie. Given the setting, the message of the film is relatable to anyone who has ever been through high school. The idea that students believe they know everything about people and think they are alone is a problem that can mentally affect them. There are students who may feel as if they do not belong to a certain graduating year or group of friends because of assumptions they build up about their peers.
Craig explained how this theme tied back to Nadine’s character arc, saying, “Particularly at that age, you can really feel like that’s the truth, and then you start to realize that everybody in the world is carrying some sort of pain. Everybody’s been through something tough regardless of how they present [themselves].”
While the film does have a central message it wants Nadine to realize, Craig also uses moments in Nadine’s arc to address other problems or illustrate tropes associated with the current generation’s high school environment.
Certain turning points in various relationships Nadine has with other supporting characters are also executed while showing a certain contemporary idea. For example, the film deals with the modern issue of sexual assault in high schools. When shooting a scene involving this topic, Craig had a conversation with the two actors involved before filming it because she wanted to be as honest about the situation as possible. She wanted to show the scene in such a frank way because she believed “if you’re tiptoeing or you’re awkward it just makes the whole thing awkward.” Indeed, to address a problem this tragic, one would not want to shy away from depicting the moment.
Craig clearly showed both passion and dedication to this project, going so far as to spend six months in a high school to truly capture the spirit of the modern teenage environment. “The Edge of Seventeen” brought a fresh new look into a genre of films that have been known to have many clichés attached to them.