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Friday, March 03, 2017

Screen Savor: Seaworthy

Written by  Gregg Shapiro
Lucas Hedges as Patrick in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ Lucas Hedges as Patrick in ‘Manchester by the Sea’

Not to be confused with the classic 1998 gay movie Edge of Seventeen, The Edge of Seventeen (STX / Universal), now available in a double-disc blu-ray version, is the directorial debut by writer / filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig. The Edge of Seventeen is a good example of a movie that, upon its initial 2016 theatrical was well-received by critics, so much so that one might be led to believe that it’s better than it is.

Mostly it’s sloppy and meandering, beginning with the narration near the opening of the film that is abandoned shortly thereafter. As a second grader, Nadine (Hailee Sternfeld) realized there were two kinds of people – those who radiate confidence and naturally excel at life and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion. Nadine’s older brother Darien (Blake Jenner) fits into the first group while the socially inept Nadine belongs to the second.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nadine and her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) are always at odds. Mona’s on team Darien. Nadine’s father Tom (Eric Keenleyside) is on her team, that is until he dies. Additionally, Nadine is bullied at school. She’s friendless until she meets Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), and the two outcasts help get the other through the next few years. Adolescence isn’t much better, as Darien kept getting better looking, while Nadine goes through a series of awkward stages.

At 17, and as high school juniors, Nadine and Krista are still friends. Nadine has an antagonistic relationship with her favorite teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). She flirts with classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and crushes out on fellow student Nick (Alexander Calvert). Nadine’s home life is messy, too, with her widowed mother attempting to meet men online. However, it’s when Darien starts dating Krista that Nadine’s world really begins to collapse.

Craig has said that she found inspiration in the films of John Hughes, but there is such a lack of humor or insight here that it’s hard to see the connection. Not even the chance to gaze at Blake Jenner’s chiseled features makes it worth watching The Edge of Seventeen. In other words, don’t believe the hype. Blu-ray bonus features include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Writer/director (and occasional actor) Kenneth Lonergan has an ear for dialogue and the proven ability to transfer the way in which people speak and interact with each other from the page to the screen. It was vividly on display in his 2000 film You Can Count on Me, for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Everything you’ve heard about Lonergan’s latest, the Oscar-winning Manchester by the Sea (Lionsgate / Amazon Studios), which earned Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay trophies, is true. Devastating, raw and real, the film features searing performances by Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges.

Manchester by the Sea weaves back and forth from the present to the past, in long and short sequences. In the present, Lee (Affleck giving the performance of his career) works as a handyman/janitor at an apartment building near Boston in Quincy. He shovels snow in the winter, fixes leaky sinks, and so on. He leads an almost monk-like existence in his basement apartment, although he has a tendency to drink too much at the neighborhood tap and get into fights.

The death of Lee’s older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) in seaside Manchester, although not unexpected (he had been living with congestive heart failure for some time), still deals a blow to the younger brother. The brothers had been through a lot together, including the end of Joe’s marriage to alcoholic Elise (Gretchen Mol), the mother of Joe’s son Patrick (Hedges).

The brothers were also as much comfort to each other as they could possibly be following an unthinkable tragedy that struck Lee, his wife Randi (Williams) and their three young children. It is this horrifying event that both dissolves Lee’s marriage and leads him to move more than an hour south to the Boston area. Now Lee is forced to return to Manchester to not only take care of the arrangements for Joe’s funeral, but to tend to other matters. Among those matters is a meeting with Wes (Josh Hamilton), Joe’s lawyer, who informs Lee that he was named Patrick’s guardian in Joe’s will, something of which he was previously unaware.

Patrick, who has lived in Manchester his whole life, has no interest in relocating. Because of this, and the fact that he’s a teenager with raging hormones (and two girlfriends), an active social, musical and sports circle, Patrick is constantly butting heads with Lee. To add insult to injury, Randi (who has since remarried) re-enters Lee’s life. The scenes between Lee and Randi, both pre- and post-tragedy, are the stuff of acting legend, with both performances achieving an aching authenticity.

Manchester by the Sea is heavy duty and unflinching. Don’t watch it without a pocketful of tissues. Nevertheless, Lonergan finds ways to incorporate humorous touches throughout that allows his characters, as well as the audience, to breathe just a little easier. Blu-ray special features include deleted scenes, a featurette, and a conversation with Lonergan.

Based on gay playwright Tarell McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight (A24), which took home Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay awards, is nothing less than a breathtaking cinematic achievement. Presented in three separate chapters, Moonlight tells the heartrending story of Chiron – as a child, a teen, and an adult – growing up gay in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.

In the chapter titled “Little,” Chiron (Alex Hibbert) is rescued from school bullies by drug kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali), and fed and comforted by Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). Juan returns the painfully shy young Chiron to his single mother Paula (Naomie Harris) without so much as a thank you from her. Meanwhile, Chiron’s best friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) takes it upon himself to try to toughen him up.

Chiron’s living situation is increasingly unpleasant, so he begins hanging out at Juan and Teresa’s. Juan takes him to the beach and tries to teach him to swim. At home, Chiron discovers his mother doing drugs with a strange man. Things come full circle when Juan catches Paula freebasing in a car with the crack she bought from one of his sales associates. What follows is a devastating confrontation scene where Paula makes fun of Chiron as Juan defends him.

Shortly after that, there is a scene at Juan and Theresa’s, where Chiron asks Juan “What’s a faggot?” To say that what follows is handled with grace and maturity is an understatement.

Set during his high school years, the “Chiron” segment finds Chiron (Ashton Sanders) relentlessly bullied by Terrel (Patrick Decille). At this point, though Juan is dead, Kevin (Jharrell Jerome) is still his best friend. He continues to spend time at Teresa’s as his home situation deteriorates due to Paula’s increased drug use.

Essentially homeless and sleeping where he can, Chiron runs into Kevin at the beach. With a delicate touch similar to the earlier “What’s a faggot?” scene, the sex scene that occurs is as erotic as it is sophisticated and artful. But such intimacy doesn’t last long when Kevin is pressured to beat up Chiron by the ever-bullying Terrel. The next day at school, Chiron finally explodes and assaults Terrel, and is arrested.

In “Black,” the third and final section, set in Atlanta, the adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is a fierce and muscular force, with a mouthful of gold fronts. He has taken up where Juan left off in terms of running a drug dealing operation. As a nod to Juan, he even has a similar crown-shaped air freshener on his dashboard.

Kevin (Andre Holland) tracks Chiron down by phone and apologizes. He tells Chiron he was reminded of him when he heard a song on the jukebox at the diner where he is a cook. He invites Chiron to come down to Florida and see him. The call has an immeasurable effect on him.

Following an emotional visit with Paula, who is in rehab, Chiron heads to Kevin’s place of work. From the moment of recognition that occurs between them to their reacquaintance, Moonlight shines brightly as it not only redefines gay cinema, but also black cinema in ways that must be seen to be believed. Suffice to say, that there’s not a false move or performance in the film. DVD special features include deleted scenes and three featurettes.

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