Tag Archives: Haley Lu Richardson

The Fault in Our Script

Five Feet Apart

by George Wolf

Haley Lu Richardson is a very talented young actress. Director Justin Baldoni seems to have very good intentions. Neither can save Five Feet Apart from crawling through the heap of Young Adult angst as the unholy love child of Nicholas Sparks and Lars von Trier.

Richardson is Stella, an optimistic cystic fibrosis patient who vlogs about her experiences with an encouraging smile. Hospitalized for a new drug trial, she meets fellow “CF’er” Will, a dreamboat with an attitude and a darker prognosis.

Fears of  bacteria bring strict orders for Stella and Will to always remain at least six feet apart. But when love blooms…..

Stories of young forbidden love have been sprouting since the Capulets and Montagues, but the biggest surprise in Five Feet Apart is that it didn’t start as a YA novel. Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis wear the hats, here, working through as many formulaic and manipulative opportunities as possible.

Though many health care issues are conveniently skirted, some honest moments about the struggles of CF patients find a mark, thanks mainly to some warm chemistry between Richardson (Columbus, The Edge of Seventeen, Split) and Sprouse (Big Daddy, TV’s Riverdale). But as the overly orchestrated suffering continues to mount, the entire CF storyline starts smelling of the easiest path to teenage tears.

Baldoni, whose My Last Days web series benefits a variety of charities, may have his heart in the right place. And there is certainly talent in this cast, which Richardson leans on to deliver the line “Thank you for saying something real!” without a trace of irony.

But the boxes for plaintive music, closing narration, and the gay best friend are all checked. Plus, the life lessons that are dictated to us because that’s easier than building a story that resonates strongly enough to let us realize things on our own. So much YA drama is anchored by this cheap enlightenment, and there is plenty here to wallow in.

So depending on your side of that fence, the bar may have been raised. Or lowered.

But Haley Lu, though.

Death and the Malkin

Operation Finale

by George Wolf

“Whom did you lose?”

“We lost six mill-”

“I’m asking about YOU!”

Operation Finale may be an often gripping take on the hunt and capture of elusive Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann, but it finds emotional power in the intimate characterizations of two truly gifted actors.

Sir Ben Kingsley is Eichmann, the SS “Head of Jewish Affairs” who lived under a false identity in Argentina until an Israeli Mossad unit tracked him down. Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent who entered into a psychological duel with Eichmann while negotiating his extradition for trial in Israel.

Director Chris Weitz handles well the shifting timelines and changing locales, propping the historical dramatics up with tense staging reminiscent of Argo. And, as he’s not had any recent head injuries, Weitz knows when to stay out of the way and let his two leads do the masterful things they do.

The trouble spots in Operation Finale come mainly from Matthew Orton’s script, which is ironic because many isolated moments are quite effective.

Much of the dialogue is breezy and even funny, which humanizes the supporting characters (with fine work from an ensemble including Melanie Laurent, Haley Lu Richardson and Nick Kroll) but can feel a bit flippant inside such weighty history.

And in weighing that history, Orton’s first feature screenplay aims for meaningful statements on the casualness of evil and the moral ambiguities of war, but settles instead for well meaning generalities that don’t amount to any unique vision.

Kingsley and Isaac (who also earns a producer credit) provide their own. Their scenes together become a richly-drawn cat and mouse game, a face off between personifications of genocide and exterminator. Somehow, they make subject matter this unpleasant a joy to watch unfold, elevating Operation Finale with a moving contrast of soul.




High School Confidential

The Edge of Seventeen

by George Wolf

Even if you had a good time in high school, let’s be honest. Would you really want to go back?

Doubtful. And The Edge of Seventeen is another reminder that one time through a battlefield littered with drama, hormones, benzoyl peroxide and general awkwardness is plenty, thanks.

Oregon teen Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is navigating that struggle with a standard mix of panic and self-absorption. She feels like a social outcast, is convinced she’s an old soul, resents the golden boy status of her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and has one real friend in Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Just as Nadine is plotting a strategy to catch the eye of her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert), she catches Krista and Darian canoodling, and dramatically issues the “him or me!” ultimatum.

It doesn’t go well.

In her debut as writer/director, Kelly Fremon Craig crafts a “Nora Ephron for teens” type of vibe, and buoys Steinfeld’s terrific lead performance with just enough refreshing frankness to offset the standard teen cliches.

We get voiceover narration, forced quirkiness and the nice boy who waits while Nadine chases the bad boy, but we also get commitments to a layered main character and complicated relationships. Nadine doesn’t give us many reasons to like her, and though you know this is going to change, her journey to the edge of maturity feels more real than most.

Her theatrics are undercut by the amusing reactions of Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), a history teacher who’s seen way too much of her kind and is more concerned about Nadine’s run-on sentences than her latest social suicide. After dismissing Bruner as an out of touch fogey, Nadine’s peek inside his home life is an effectively subtle wake up.

Even better, Fremon Craig uses the friction between Nadine and Krista as a nice metaphor for leaving childhood things behind and moving on.

The Edge of Seventeen is not without its own growing pains, but much like Nadine, it accumulates enough moments of depth for a well-earned resonance.