Hailee Steinfeld Comes Of Age
Three incredibly different roles have cemented Hailee Steinfeld as one of Hollywood’s best and brightest
Hailee Steinfeld’s acting career, so far, has been incredible and unusual.
At the age of 14, she walked the red carpet at the 83rd Academy Awards as a nominee for Mattie Ross in True Grit. Four years later, Steinfeld starred in the highest-grossing music comedy of all time Pitch Perfect 2. And this year, Steinfeld stole the show in The Edge of Seventeen — a small budget coming-of-age flick that won over most critics.
Though these three films are vastly different, they have some important similarities. All three films drew critical acclaim. All three are worthy of a watch. All three have a brilliant Hailee Steinfeld performance.
In each of these films, Steinfeld morphs into character and effortlessly embodies three different people. Since 2010, audiences have seen Steinfeld grow up, as she learns and excels at acting. Her journey has not always been easy. With the nature of the business, roles come around where the film is bad due to poor direction or writing, but Steinfeld’s talent always shines through the dreck.
True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2 and The Edge of Seventeen all feature coming of age moments for Steinfeld’s characters — but, collectively, the films feature a coming of age for the actress herself.
True Grit (2010)
In 1969, John Wayne and Glen Campbell starred in True Grit — a Western revenge story. The film, an adaption of a novel, tells the tale of a young woman (Kim Darby) seeking revenge for the murder of her father. She hires two men to help track down his killer. Wayne won the Oscar, which is all the attention that film deserves.
40 years later, Joel and Ethan Coen decided to re-imagine the flick. In Wayne’s shoes, the Coen brothers got Jeff Bridges — in Campbell’s shoes was Matt Damon. For her first film role, Hailee Steinfeld was chosen over 15,000 applicants. The Coen brothers knew that without the perfect choice of the young girl, the film would fail. How’s that for pressure?
To the joy of the Coen brothers — and audiences — Steinfeld provides a masterful performance. Her character should be textbook annoying: she’s cocky, witty and always has an answer to the chagrin of her two cohorts. She is an outsider in a world — the Old West — where outsiders strike it rich or fade into history. There is no in-between. But, what Mattie Ross wants revenge. And revenge is a language many speak in the Old West. She begins to find her way and becomes close to her fellow hunters. Maddie’s biggest attribute, determination, is an admirable quality — one that wins over the two men helping her attain her revenge.
When comparing the two performances from each film, Darby lets the annoying aspect of Mattie dominate. It is awful to watch. Steinfeld has enough insight and nuance in her version of Mattie where the admirable qualities are more evenly showcased. Part of that is the writing, but I believe it is Steinfeld’s performance that transforms the character into a far more interesting character. There is a cockiness to her that remains, yet, throughout the film, she continues to grow and learn about how to work with and deal with others.
When it comes to pulling the trigger — literally — on her father’s murderer, Steinfeld’s Mattie has no problem with holding the gun. Yet, there is a sense of apprehension and fear in murdering someone — revenge or not. She grew to understand the meaning of killing someone, whereas in the beginning of the film killing is as easy as just saying you wanted a person dead. The audience gets this from Steinfeld; her abilities to subtlety portray the wide range of emotions are incredibly.
In every shape and form, Steinfeld deserved her Oscar nomination.
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
In Pitch Perfect 2, Steinfeld plays college freshman Emily Junk, who yearns for an idealistic college experience. At Barden University, a cappella reigns over campus. Incoming freshman long to join the multiple a cappella groups — with The Barden Bellas and The Treblemakers as the top groups. Emily Junk’s mother was a “Bella”, and hearing stories of her college experience has only made the desire in Emily Junk to succeed as a Bella that much greater.
Steinfeld plays a bubbly and awkward college freshman. Like her True Grit character, Emily Junk is heavily determined. She wants to succeed in a cappella and make her mother proud, while enjoying her time at college. No small task. When she tries out to become a “Bella”, Junk displays incredible skill and originality and is selected to be a part of the Barden Bellas. Like many college freshman who find a group of friends, Junk is excited to just be a part of the group. Her social abilities are aggressive, yet Junk’s charm and friendliness easily transitions her from an outsider of the group to a regular “Bella”.
Steinfeld memorably conveys the excitement and fear of being a college student. Completely surrounded by new surroundings and new people, the experience can be overwhelming. Junk is not phased, as Steinfeld brilliantly conveys. Despite her exuberance, Junk is ready tackle anything that comes her way. Again, the credit goes to Steinfeld. No matter the instance — from performing to talking to guys — a Steinfeld gives Junk just the right amount of confidence. She is immensely likable and relatable.
Sadly, because of the ensemble cast of Pitch Perfect 2, Steinfeld’s performance can get lost with the other gem of characters. Still, Steinfeld’s inclusion in this sequel offers a fresh perspective to the group and film. Her positive energy is infectious on the group — and the audience. You can not help but to smile and enjoy the film when Emily Junk is on screen.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
It all comes together with The Edge of Seventeen.
Steinfeld plays Nadine Franklin, who epitomizes teenage angst. For Nadine, everyone else’s life is perfect. It seems, as though, she can not win. Through her teacher, her brother, a new friend and herself, Nadine grows and hatches out of her angsty shell.
Nadine, throughout most the film, is not always likable. She is rude and her know-it-all attitude annoys those around her — including the audience. Yet, we root for Nadine for a couple of reasons: we understand where her anger comes from and she truthfully tries to fit in. We notice the effort Nadine has at growing into a more social and happier person. The journey, however, is easier said than done.
Like True Grit, Steinfeld takes a one dimensional character and makes the character come alive. Nadine could have been your typically angsty teen, rebelling just for the sake of it. But with Steinfeld’s touches of personality with Nadine, her pain becomes understandable (dare I say real) and multi-dimensional. Nadine is not just one emotion which gradually changes to another emotion as the film goes along; she is friendly, stuck-up, mad, sad and funny throughout the entire film. Yet, what Nadine learns is a self-confidence within herself to control her emotions and grow as a young adult. She lets go of a lot of pain, which helps her accept who she is and embrace herself.
All of these characteristics make Nadine an interesting character, giving Steinfeld a chance to excel — which she does. Steinfeld makes Nadine feel like a friend of yours from high school; she makes you care about Nadine — which is the greatest praise one can give a performance.
Over the course of her career, Hailee Steinfeld has left her imprint on the world of film. From breaking on the scene at a young age to being in a film that broke that bank, Steinfeld has already given us three memorable performances. Her talent to bring fictionally characters to life is incredible, a joy for any fan of film. Not only have we seen Steinfeld physically grow up, she has matured into an actress of immense talent.