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Films I Neglected To Review: Just Like The White-Winged Dove
by peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Christine" (no, not that one), "Edge of Seventeen" and "Raising Bertie"

Christine Chubbuck was a television news reporter in Sarasota, Florida who entered pop culture infamy in 1974 when a combination of personal difficulties and professional dissatisfaction regarding her inability to win a promotion and her station’s turn towards sensationalized reporting eventually led to her committing suicide during a broadcast by shooting herself in the head in front of her horrified audience. (It is rumored that the film ''Network'' was at least partially inspired by the incident.) ''Christine,'' one of two films opening this year related to Chubbuck (the other being the odd documentary ''Kate Plays Christine,'' which follows an actress preparing to play her), is a docudrama focusing on what would prove to be the last few weeks of her life to illustrate what would drive a smart and ambitious young woman to do such a thing. The problem is that the screenplay by Craig Shilowich does not have any particularly interesting insights into that question that might make the film seem like something other than an exercise in queasy exploitation. It doesn’t and as a result, people who go into it knowing the details of her story will be sitting in their seats waiting to see a troubled young woman blow her brains out and those who don’t know the story wondering why anyone would bother to make a movie about her in the first place.

The one thing about ''Christine'' that does work—and it works considerably, if not quite enough to single-handedly make the film worth watching—is the captivating performance by Rebecca Hall as Chubbuck. She has been turning in strong performances for several years now in films like ''The Prestige,'' ''Vicky Cristina Barcelona,'' ''The Town'' and ''The Gift'' (though she is probably best known for her least interesting performance, her supporting term amidst the chaos that was ''Iron Man 3'') and this might be her best work today—her work as a woman determined to succeed at all costs but crippled by emotional problems that she tries and fails to repress is captivating to watch and becomes increasingly heartbreaking as the film marches towards the inevitable conclusion. If only ''Christine'' had tapped into Chubbuck as well as Hall did, it might have resulted in a movie that really mattered instead of a vaguely distasteful work that is only partially elevated by one great performance.

Movies about teenagers have never held a huge amount of appeal to me—I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago during the Eighties and still found most of the John Hughes oeuvre to be kind of unbearable outside of the Molly Ringwald stuff in ''Sixteen Candles.'' However, when a genuinely good one comes along--a ''Fast Times at Ridgemont High,'' a ''Say Anything,'' a ''Heathers,'' a ''Clueless''--I have no problem with embracing it and that is certainly the case with the wonderful new comedy ''Edge of Seventeen.'' The film stars Hailee Steinfeld as Natalie, an awkward high school junior whose life is thrown into further disarray when her all-star senior-aged brother (Blake Jenner) begins dating her best friend, Krista (Hailey Lu Richardson). This development knocks her for a loop that she is unable to fully grasp--though she discusses it endlessly with her not-exactly-enthusiastic history teacher (Woody Harrelson, who pretty much steals every scene he is in)--and sends her off in pursuit of the jerky guy that she has a crush on without realizing that the equally awkward classmate (Hayden Szeto) has feelings for her as well.

The film marks the directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, whose previous credit was as the screenwriter of the incredibly forgettable comedy ''Post-Grad'' and the difference between the two movies could not be greater. While the earlier film trafficked in sitcom-level cliches and one-dimensional characters doing implausible things for easy laughs, this one avoids all the expected cliches in order to present viewers with characters and situations that they will instantly recognize from their own adolescent misadventures. There are big laughs to be had but at no time does the film sacrifice believability in order to score a few yuks here and there--there is nothing here that is too jokey to be believed. In ordinary circumstances, a performance like the one that Steinfeld gives would be considered a breakthrough but when you score an Oscar nomination at the age of 13 for your big screen debut, as she did with the ''True Grit'' remake,” I guess one can’t really say that. Nevertheless, she is a delight here as one of the more fully developed teen girl character to appear in a film in recent years--smart, funny, sad, conflicted about the world and, perhaps most importantly, someone whose anger and confusion towards her friend and brother leads her to make mistakes that are not instantly forgiven or ignored. I don’t know if ''Edge of Seventeen'' will go on to be a classic on the level of the other films I mentioned--it could be too smart for its own good--but I promise you that the people that do drift towards it and who appreciate its charms will find it to be a movie worth treasuring.

Over the years, Kartemquin Films has produced some of the most powerful and fascinating documentaries of our time--''Hoop Dreams,'' ''Stevie,'' ''Life Itself'' and ''The Interrupters'' among them—and their latest release, ''Raising Bertie,'' deserves a place among them.Although the title makes it sound like a dumb family comedy involving little kids and wacky hijinks, this is actually a powerful and incisive work following three African-American boys over the course of six years as they grow into adulthood in the rural community if Bertie County, North Carolina. The three all attend The Hive, an alternative school run by director Vivian Saunders that seems to be making genuine headway in navigating the various personal and educational pitfalls that they encounter and so it is almost inevitable that the school is threatened with a shutdown by a school district who only look at the place in terms of dollars and cents. Making her directorial debut, Margaret Byrne has made a powerful and empathic film on the importance of family, education and self-determination that is epic in scope, powerfully intimate in the way that it details the lives and struggles of its subjects and as dramatically engrossing as any conventional feature film.

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originally posted: 11/19/16 02:16:48
last updated: 11/19/16 02:37:09
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