Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen perfectly captures the angst-ridden awkwardness of being a teenager. What makes this film different than every teen dramedy is it doesn’t strive for a perfect narrative. A typical teenagers life is a high stakes roller coaster of emotion and worry that is the furthest from perfection and more towards lunacy. Craig’s willingness to forge a slightly darker authentic tone is both refreshing and delightful as well.
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) stars as the slightly neurotic Nadine. Steinfeld shows off how her versatility in this film as she is truly the heart and soul of this movie. Her best friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson) is the yang to Nadine’s yin. They both compliment each other well. Darian (Blake Jenner) is the most popular kid in high school (which of course rubs Nadine the wrong way). Her mom, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) is single and working hard to support Nadine and her brother.
Nadine’s high school experience to date is a bubbling cauldron of gossip, hormones, and Facebook. Her only moments of serenity come during Mr. Bruner’s (Woody Harrelson) history class. Bruener and Nadine spend a chunk of the movie verbally sparring with each other in a way that most teachers wish they could get away with. Fremon has a good sense for Harrelson’s comedic talents and allows him to just “let it rip” which makes his scenes with Steinfeld the funniest in the film.
Now there are some parts of this movie that are entirely too familiar. We have the moment in the movie where Nadine’s world implodes when her best friend starts dating her brother seriously and of course that’s followed by her trying to go with the flow but ultimately rejecting the whole idea. She immediately begins to have a “meltdown” and does something that we’ve seen in many teenage dramedies: send a note to the school’s bad boy professing her feelings for him (the only difference is in this film it’s done on Facebook messenger). It’s these simple notes that normally would cause me to be filled with rage, but this film was the exception.
Craig allows The Edge Of Seventeen to be messy. Nadine’s issues aren’t resolved by the time credits begin to run. Her brother doesn’t have some “Hollywood” moment where he apologizes for dating her best friend. Life isn’t always about resolutions. Sometimes it’s about just learning to deal with it all.
I did love the how music was used to enhance certain points in the film. Every child of the 80’s will get a chuckle when Nadine gets the nerve to walk up to Nick and Spandau Ballet’s “True” starts to play. The use of montages is certainly a tip of the cap to any number of John Hughes films.
However, the biggest surprise to me was how Steinfeld chooses to portray Nadine. Nadine isn’t this nice “ugly duckling” type that if people gave her a shot they’d love her, she’s essentially a sarcastic seventeen-year-old. Craig created this character in such a way that’s she will at times be endearing and other times you’ll want to strangle her. It’s this level of authenticity that makes The Edge Of Seventeen a joy to watch. Maybe because at one point in our lives, we were all just like Nadine.