Suicide is Painless? My Two Cents on “Thirteen Reasons Why”

Greetings, bloggers! By now, the majority of the world has binged watched the new Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why”, based on the 2007 young adult novel by Jay Asher. Released on March 31st, and dealing with teenage suicide, the show instantly became popular, but just as quickly, sparked up a ton of controversy. It deals with not just suicide, but also bullying, self harm, sexual harassment, consent, sexuality, grief and rape. I was on the fence as to whether or not I was too late to share my thoughts on the show, but as I have some topics to bring up, I figured that I might as well jump on the bandwagon. As always, if you disagree with me on any of the topics, it’s perfectly fine, as it’s just a case of differing personal opinions. Also, I’ll be discussing some plot points in detail, so spoilers abound!

The show focuses on amicable high school student, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), as he tries to deal with his feelings following the aftermath of the suicide of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford). Before she passed, she recorded a series of 13 cassette tapes . Each tape chronicles the 13 people who triggered Hannah’s decision to take her own life. And Clay is one of them.

The tapes are passed from person to person, in a chain letter format. As Clay listens from Tape 1, Side A to Tape 7, Side A, and follows Hannah’s clues, he soon uncovers dark secrets about the students in his school, and the sinister lengths they will go to keep him quiet…

First, let’s mention the positive elements of the show. I enjoyed many of the flashback scenes, as they really fleshed out the characters, and explained the motivations behind many of their actions. The best flashbacks featured Clay and Hannah together, as their interactions were typically sweet and genuine. Hannah and Clay’s friendship is expanded more here than it was in the original novel, where they were distant acquaintances. They are depicted as having a closer banter here. Although Clay liked her, he held back admitting his feelings for her due to her exaggerated rumours about her alleged promiscuous reputation. In the present day scenes, Clay tries to seek out justice for Hannah, as he grows more unhinged while listening to the tapes.

Another positive that I wish to mention is the addition of story lines. As the book takes place over the course of one day, we really only get to hear Clay’s and a few other’s reactions to the tapes, and don’t get to see  how events play out afterwards. Here, we get to see Hannah’s distraught parents (Kate Walsh and Brian D’arcy James) come to terms with their daughter’s death, as they bring up a lawsuit against the school for not doing anything to help her when she was alive, and the many of the kids featured on the tapes trying to stop Clay from releasing the information to the public to save their own skins. These reactions helped to project the story with a dose of realism, and helped to embrace the repercussions behind their actions.

Now onto the negatives! As you can probably guess from a show about suicide, the mood is somber and bleak throughout, with melodrama added for additional angst factor. Many of the “subjects” of the tapes are downright awful people, adamant that they did nothing to warrant the blame. However, a select few do feel genuinely remorseful or try to atone for their actions. In fact, one culprit feels so overcome by their role in Hannah’s death that they end up attempting suicide themselves, with their fate left ambiguous by series’ end.

In one of the last episodes, viewers find out what Clay did to end up on the tapes. It transpires that unlike many of the others, his reason didn’t plunge her deeper into suicidal notions, but she still feels she owes him an explanation for acting weird at a party they attended. His only “crime”, so to speak, was exiting the bedroom when Hannah suddenly freaked out during a make out session, and she yelled at him to leave, as she recalled other traumas that had happened beforehand. Clay feels that had he stayed, Hannah might have lived. In my opinion, there was nothing that he could have done to help her, since she was so far past the point of saving. In a realistic sense, nobody in that situation would have stayed, and although Clay tried his best to console her, it was ultimately no use.

One thing that bugged me was Hannah’s motivations behind sending out the tapes. Yes, they were designed to make the subjects regret the way they treated her, but at the end of the day, suicide is a decision that a person makes themselves. No matter how despicable some of the “reasons” may have been, it did seem rather extreme to have many of these characters blame themselves for a choice someone else chose to make. Suicide is never anyone else’s fault, and it is never a way to get revenge on those who have wronged you. The show does a good job in demonstrating the affects of suicide on the victim’s friends and loved ones, and how there’s usually more questions than answers.

In summary, my general consensus about the show is that it offers a realistic look, if extremely pessimistic view of high school life. With a topical subject as suicide at the helm of the show, it was inevitable even before it was released  that it would receive some backlash for some of its more harrowing content, no matter how the show runners chose to present it. While some of these scenes, most notably Hannah’s infamously graphic suicide, are deliberately intended to be hard to watch, I feel that it was ultimately the right decision to show them front and centre. It was important that these issues be addressed,as just because it’s an uncomfortable subject to talk about, doesn’t mean that it needs to be ignored entirely.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” rates as 3 and half stars out five. It bravely tackles difficult topics, but may upset more sensitive viewers. Finally, I’ll close out this review by stating that if you or anyone you know have suicidal thoughts, tell someone you trust, or contact the “Samaritans” suicide prevention website. It’s important to note that no matter how lost or alone you may feel, that suicide is not the only opinion, and that things do get better in time!

Living on the Edge of Seventeen

First of all, let me just say “Happy 2017”! I apologise for putting this blog on hiatus for the past number of weeks. Surprising perhaps no one,I have spent most of that break watching plenty of 80’s movies to be the subjects of my future reviews of all things 80’s. My latest post is a little different, however, as it is based in the recently released movie, “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), which is the directorial debut from screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig. I was especially anticipating this movie because the leading role was played by Hailee Steinfeld, who I’ve admired as an actress since I saw her Oscar Nominated turn in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of the classic 1969 western movie, “True Grit” at the tender age of 13.

The plot concerns Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward, moody 17 year old girl who is trying to cope after the tragic  loss of her father just a few years prior. She feels overlooked by her frazzled mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) in favour of her “golden boy” brother, Darian (Blake Jenner).  She seeks solace in her best (not to mention, only) friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). At least until Darian and Krista hit it off and start dating, which instigates in Nadine abruptly putting an end to their friendship.

Feeling adrift and as alienated as ever, Nadine regularly vents her woes to her perpetually disgruntled teacher, Mr. Bruner (an always excellent Woody Harrelson), who is almost always reliable to respond to Nadine’s theatrics with some deadpan remarks of his own. On the romance front, Nadine harbours a crush on hunky bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert), and tries to pluck up the courage to actually, you know, talk to him. Meanwhile, she strikes up a friendship with cute film nerd, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who just might be able to show her that things are not nearly as bad as she makes them appear…

First things first, I really adored this movie. It manages to take a genre that would otherwise seem tired and overdone (in this case, high school), and breath a new lease of life into it. Being only a few years removed from high school myself, all of the teenage characters behaved and acted as real people their age would, and not simply a scriptwriter’s “idea” of how they “should” act.

This is most prominently shown with Nadine herself. On the outset, she’s a tough protagonist to root for. Yes, she’s a drama queen, overly impulsive, and extremely rude at some points to the people she’s supposedly close to, such as her family, her best friend and her teacher. But she’s a teenager, and many of her reactions at that age are understandable. It helps to make her feel more authentic as a result.

The supporting cast are also commendable in their roles. I had only ever seen Blake Jenner portray the “nice guy jock” in “Glee” prior to watching this movie. As a result, I found myself to be pleasantly surprised by the depths that Darian’s character took throughout the course of the movie. Because Nadine’s the protagonist, and the majority of the film is from her perspective, we’re not privy to other characters’ viewpoints until Nadine herself is made aware of them. Darian isn’t merely a smug jerk, nor is Krista being selfish by putting her boyfriend ahead of her best friend. They all have more going on with them than it initially appeared.

The highlight of the movie for me was any scene with Erwin. I always love nerdy characters in movies, and Erwin is no exception. He’s a sweet, well-adjusted guy, and is refreshingly not a stereotype , but much like Nadine, a real character. I was pretty surprised when I looked Hayden Szeto up online, and discovered that he’s 31 years old, yet Erwin can’t be no more than 16 or 17. However, this does does not take away from his otherwise solid performance.

In summation, I rate “The Edge of Seventeen” four and a half out of five stars. It’s one of the best high school movies that I’ve had the chance of viewing in quite a while, and I highly recommend watching it. Even though Nadine can be quite grating at times, once you get past that slight, the film works very well. It’s also topped off with a satisfying conclusion, which nicely ties up Nadine’s story arc.

I hope that you enjoyed this non  80’s movie review. As always, please feel free to suggest some more “Flix of the 80’s” .

Get Ready to Twist and Shout with Ferris Bueller…

It’s been 29 years since a certain high school senior decided to act upon a whim which every other kid would only dream of carrying out- the chance to skip out on school for a whole day with your best friends, whilst claiming to your classmates that you were suffering from a serious disease, in order to con them out of money? Well, in 1986, John Hughes directed a film that depicted a day in the life of one Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), a soon to be graduating high school student, plan to enjoy his high school days while he still can, accompanied by his beautiful, laid back girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara), and his uptight and depressed best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck). Part of the ruse involves “borrowing” Cameron’s neglectful father’s precious 1961 Ferrari, much to Cameron’s chagrin.

Unfortunately for Ferris, Mr Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), the school’s dean of students, is convinced that Ferris is feigning illness, and sets out to expose him. Meanwhile, Ferris’s spiteful twin sister Jeanie (Jennifer Grey), is infuriated as to why Ferris can so easily manipulate their parents (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), while she appears to be ignored, until she gets help from a rather unexpected source…

Everybody I know who has seen “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” will talk incessantly about their favourite scene, may it be Ferris’s iconic dance on the parade float to both “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout”, the first shot of Chicago, Ferris conning the snooty maitre’d of the restaurant by masquerading as sausage king of Chicago, Abe Froman, the “Save Ferris” water tower, and, naturally, the Economic teacher’s (Ben Stein) persistent repetition of “Anyone? Bueller, Bueller”? etc. In short, this movie has no shortage of quotable scenes and moments.

Growing up, the most relatable character in the movie to me was Cameron. He is disregarded constantly at home by both of his parents, and always appears to afraid of taking risks. By involving Cameron in his plan, Ferris aims to offer his best friend some support and encouragement before they go their separate ways. There’s a theory that Ferris is merely a figment of Cameron’s imagination, a la “Fight Club”, and that Ferris is a projection of everything Cameron himself wants to be. I’m not sure I believe in this theory myself, but it certainly made me view the entire movie in a new light.

Like many of John Hughes’ other teen movies which centered on angsty teenagers, the lessons bestowed in this particular picture are timeless, as they apply to many contemporary teenagers, such as feeling jealous of a sibling, wanting to enjoy your youth while you still can, and taking chances now and then. For that reasons, I reward “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with 5 out of 5 stars. One of John Hughes’ best, in my opinion, and definitely an 80’s must-see!

Additionally, if you’re in the mood for a modern parody of Ferris Bueller and his shenanigans, then check out “The Goldbergs” recent parody episode, aptly titled “Barry Goldberg’s Day Off”, in which Barry hatches a plot to take a day off, much like his famous fictional idol. The episode features him trying to reenact scenes from the original movie, but instead he finds out how tricky it can be to try this out in reality. Plus, for an extra dose of nostalgia, Charlie Sheen reprises his cameo as the boy in the police station by dispensing advice to Barry’s sister, Erica, who finds herself acting out Jeanie’s precise role! Fans of the original movie may enjoy having the scenes given a more realistic outcome to them!

Cancellations and Cult Followings of Freaks and Geeks

I hope that everyone had a restful weekend. I spent the majority of mine binge watching “Freaks and Geeks”, the acclaimed short-lived teen drama which ran for just one season between 1999 and 2000, and was produced by Judd Apatow, best known for his “frat pack” comedies. Set in Michigan in 1980, this show focuses on two disparate groups of high school students at William McKinley High School, the “Freaks and Geeks” of the title.

Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), a former star mathlete, is a recent addition to the Freaks, a posse of rebellious junior students consisting of charismatic Daniel Desario (James Franco), sensitive Nick Andopolis  (Jason Segel),Daniel’s fiery girlfriend Kim Kelly (Busy Phillips), and the deadpan Ken Miller (Seth Rogen). Meanwhile, her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) navigates his freshman year of high school with his best friends Neil Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr). Along the way, he must contend with trying to get close to his crush, cheerleader Cindy Saunders (Natasha Melnick), as well as tolerating class bully Alan White (Chauncey Leopardi).

Lindsay’s decision to abandon the Mathletes and become a Freak is met with contempt by her classmates, particularly by her former best friend and fellow Mathlete, Millie (Sarah Hagan), who tries to bring Lindsay back to where she belongs, with limited success . Lindsay’s struggle to find herself forms the basis of the series, and about teenagers trying to figure out where they fit in. She confesses to Sam that she stopped caring about her grades when their grandmother died. She had been a decent person her entire life, and informed Lindsay that there was “nothing” waiting for her before she died. This led to Lindsay to yearn for a more meaningful way of life.

The series also covers topics such as bulling,underage drinking, insecurity, infidelity, body image and other issues which come with being a teenager. Sam and Lindsay’s parents, Harold and Jean (John Flaherty and Becky Ann Baker) are always there to offer support to their kids when they need it.

The most amazing part of the show is how realistic and relatable it is. Following its cancellation in 2000, the show gained itself a loyal fanbase. It’s considered to be one of the top high school shows of the last few years- not a  bad feat for a show which only lasted a total of 18 episodes. Some of the main stars of “Freaks and Geeks” (namely Franco, Rogen, Phillips, Daley and Segel) have become more famous, in part because of the acclaim of “Freaks and Geeks”.

I give “Freaks and Geeks” a total of 5 out of five stars. It didn’t get the second season or the reception it deserved, but I feel that teens aged 14 and upwards would benefit from watching the show, and how it depicts teen life while sympathising with their various plights. Very highly recommended!