“13 Reasons Why,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” and the Agony of Loneliness

A few months back, I was with my dad at a small Los Angeles cafe. My dad suddenly had a wide grin on his face. He recognized someone. I looked over at an older man holding his laptop. My dad said to him, “Excuse me, but are you Chuck McCann?” He smiled and replied, “I used to be.” We had a lovely twenty-minute conversation with him and afterwards I asked my dad, “Who is Chuck McCann?”

As a result of this unexpected interaction, my dad showed me a small, independent sixties film called The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. McCann has a small, but important role in the film. This was one of those times, just like with Caught, where I felt that click when you discover a forgotten film, when you’re genuinely moved and completely absorbed in the story that’s being told.

If you’re unfamiliar, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based on the novel of the same name by Carson McCullers follows John Singer (Alan Arkin), a deaf and mute silverware engraver. He lives a pretty quiet existence. His only real friend is a mentally challenged man named Spiros (Chuck McCann). When Spiros is put in a mental institution a few towns over, Singer uproots his life and moves into a family’s home where he befriends their sixteen year-old daughter, Mick (Sondra Locke). As usual, drama ensues…but this is slightly quieter drama.

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So polite and nice calligraphy, RIGHT?

Here are just a few reasons why you need to see The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

The Cast

Alan Arkin carries this film. At the time he made this, he was just starting out, having just made the film which made him: The Russians are Coming, the Russians are coming! He was an interesting choice for the part as we usually think of Arkin in a comic and verbal context…or maybe that’s just cause I know him best from Little Miss Sunshine. Either way, Arkin delivers possibly his greatest performance without uttering one word. He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in the film, but lost to Cliff Robertson.

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His expression is EVERYTHING

Sondra Locke is also a revelation in this film. At 21 years old, Locke gave Mick a vulnerability and toughness that I daresay, most actresses today don’t have. She was the perfect counterpart to Arkin. They complimented each other. Though she didn’t go on to be a movie star, she’s continued to work in the film industry as an actor and producer. Locke was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to Ruth Gordon.

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One of my favorite scenes in the film

Chuck McCann’s screen time may be a short, but he certainly makes his mark in the film. He was known for most of his career as a comic actor, but this film showcases his dramatic range. He is also famous for having a relationship with Stan Laurel. He apparently just found his number in the phone book and called him up. Fascinating…

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All Chuck McCann’s character wants to do this in this film is eat and I totally get it. 

Percy Rodrigues, Cicely Tyson, and Stacy Keach also give great supporting performances.

The Story

I had not read McCullers book when I saw the film, but feel compelled now to do so. Similarly to To Kill a Mockingbird, McCullers book discusses the South as well as racism and other social issues. To me, the film is ultimately about what it feels like to be lonely. It’s less about the plot and more how these significantly different people deal with their loneliness.

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No overacting. Arkin, man. He’s great.

In this way, the film reminds me of Netflix’s recent adaptation of the YA bestseller 13 Reasons Why. Everything Arkin’s Singer does is to bring people closer together. Even though ultimately, he’ll never feel that closeness with the people around him, he tries to help people where he can, even when he’s met with derision and anger. In 13 Reasons Why, the real message to take away is that our actions matter, both in positive and negative ways. We never know what anguish and pain the people around us are going through, but in our small way, we can do our part to make their lives a little brighter.

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“We have to do better.” – Clay

The Direction

In true indie style, you’ve probably never heard of the director of this film. I hadn’t. His name was Robert Ellis Miller and he actually passed away in January of this year. He directed the film very much like a play. He let moments play out organically. You never felt like you were being manipulated. It all felt genuine and real.

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So sweet

Carson McCullers

I think it’s amazing that Carson McCullers got this published at the age of 22. Her life was filled with pain. She attempted suicide, but was not successful. Carson had a tumultuous childhood and a rough adulthood, which was cut short when she died of a brain hemorrhage, just before filming began for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

As such, I think there’s a melancholy nature to all her works, but especially this novel. She took her pain and turned it into something meaningful, art that serves as a reminder that we all experience loneliness and that feeling that way is part of the human experience.

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She’s also famous for “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a poignant portrait of what it’s like to feel lonely.

It’s completely forgotten, but I don’t find its themes any less relevant than those expressed in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. We all get lonely to different degrees and we truly can all do our part to reach out and connect with the people around us. In this strange age we’re in, I think this film’s message is of the utmost importance.

 

Gifs and photos property of Warner Bros.

 

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‘The Edge of Seventeen’ captures the teenage female psyche perfectly

It’s been a shitty year for movies. It’s become kind of a slog to go to the movies. Most times I come out and think, That wasn’t really worth it. I almost exclusively write about classic films on this blog, but I needed to make an exception after seeing Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen.

The Edge of Seventeen reminded me of so many things I love, but what astounded me most about it was how completely it got into a teen girl’s mind. The only other project that came even close was the seminal 90’s teen show, My So-Called Life.

In case you’re not familiar, The Edge of Seventeen, written and directed by first time director Kelly Fremon Craig, follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, sarcastic, insecure, compulsive over-talking teen. She has a best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) who inconveniently starts dating her older, extremely popular brother (Blake Jenner). As a result, Nadine goes off the deep end, forced to face herself and her insecurities. MAJOR DRAMA ENSUES…

Here are just a few reasons you need to get your butt off the couch this weekend and see The Edge of Seventeen:

The Cast

I’m gonna be real with y’all. The most important role in this film is Nadine and Hailee Steinfeld knocks it out of the park. She’s so real and awkward and honest and just, agh, this was me in high school. No doubt she’ll be going on to great things…

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I wanna tear up just thinking about this scene. 

The supporting cast is also strong, especially when led by Woody Harrelson who plays her smart-ass teacher, Mr. Bruner. He’s his usual smarmy self. He brings out the major laughs of the film.

Additionally, Hayden Szeto is also wonderful as Erwin Kim, Nadine’s awkward, nerdy love interest. There are a few moments where he’s so sincere you’re like, Um, if she doesn’t want you, I’ll date you!

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A classic case of misreading signals…lol

Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson, and Kyra Sedgewick are good too. Unfortunately, they’re just not given much screen time.

Oh, and yes, that is Andi, aka Meredith Monroe, from Dawson’s Creek as Harrelson’s wife.

The Screenplay

Where do I start? I was lucky enough to read the script a few months back and even as a script, it was fantastic. The dialogue is witty and awkward and real.

The plot feels down-to-earth. This is, to me, what really separates it from films of the John Hughes ilk. I love those movies as much as the next girl, but I know I’m not watching reality. In this, every beat feels like it could really happen. And it doesn’t end with fireworks or a magical kiss, just our main character moving one step forward in her life.

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Just one of Nadine’s witty, totally adult retorts.

What the script also does well is comment on the loneliness of being a teenager. I know, I know. It’s been done before. But, for some reason this one really felt real to me. I think it’s partially because I’m similar to Nadine. I hide my awkwardness and insecurity with sarcasm and witty retorts. It all comes down to loneliness, not feeling like you fit in, thinking that you’ll never quite be normal.

Oh, and Nadine’s whole way of explaining her whole not driving thing…TOO CLOSE TO HOME.

The Direction

Kelly Fremon Craig also wrote the script for another coming of age film a few years back, Post Grad which starred Alexis Bledel. I remember liking the film, but feeling that it was just a bit forced which is the exact opposite of the feeling in this film.

Though the script was fantastic, it was Fremon Craig’s direction which brought this movie to life. Certain stylistic choices made all the difference. For instance, in a major showdown with her brother, Nadine reveals her true feelings quietly, no overly sappy music. She just quietly states how she feels and it breaks you.

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Don’t worry, my weekends were below average in high school too, Nadine.

There’s a sensitivity and an understanding of that age that Fremon Craig clearly has. Every problem feels like it’s the end of the world and Craig understands that and validates it.

The Music

This may be a bit dumb, but I really enjoyed the music. It’s an eclectic soundtrack, featuring Santigold, Angus and Julia Stone, and Aimee Mann.

It’s awkward, genuine, and poignant. 

The teen, or coming of age genre has been overrun by cliches in past years. And don’t get me wrong, this film has some of those cliches too. But, it stands out because it’s rooted in reality. I felt like it captured something special in its writing and direction as well as its performances, something human and completely relatable.

If you were an awkward teenager, this film is sure to resonate. I’m excited to see what films Kelly Fremon Craig goes on to make. So, if you’re looking for Thanksgiving weekend movies to see, please consider this one. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cringe. It’s got it all!

Images and gifs property of STX Entertainment.