THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson
The coming-of-age teen drama is rife with cinematic classics (thanks John Hughes), smarter-than-they-seem raunch comedies (looking at you American Pie), and plenty of drab (too many to even reference here). So, when a smart, funny, and honest look at adolescence comes along, it's worth noting. Director Kelly Fremon Craig successfully brings to life the agony of growing up in such a clever way, The Edge of Seventeen could possibly be this generation's The Breakfast Club. Powered by a remarkable performance by Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen is easily the year's most surprising success.
Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a high school junior caught in the middle of teenage awkwardness and emotional turmoil. As a child, she didn't fit in; always caught in the shadow of her older, and more achieved, brother. As a middle schooler, a bad haircut and lack of fashion sense only heightened her inner struggle. After her dad died, her transition into young adulthood gets seemingly worse, except for her close bond with best friend Krista. Now, as juniors, Krista falls for Nadine's brother. Nadine's mom seems even more unattached. And, Nadine makes some poor life decisions, doing everything she can to keep her head above water.
The struggle to find out who she really is, in the mix of life not going how she wants, is the heart of The Edge of Seventeen. Nadine is written in a way where you genuinely feel bad for her because you see a little bit of yourself in every awkward decision she makes. She's selfish, in only a way that a forward-thinking teenager can be. She's genuine, in a way that shows she hasn't learned how to mask her feelings like most adults can. Her heart is on her sleeve for all the world to walk on.
What really works about The Edge of Seventeen is Steinfeld's top notch performance. It'd be easy for Nadine to come across too brazen or too rebellious or too in-your-face. But, with special care in the delivery of each carefully crafted piece of dialogue, Steinfeld shows she's a master of an actress, even at such a young age. There's a rawness to Nadine that isn't so easy to deliver, but Steinfeld does it with incredible grace. She also shows her comedic skills, earning most of the film's best laughs. It's unusual for teen comedies to make it into the award season conversation, but Steinfeld's work deserve some attention.
The supporting cast is just as rich. As Krista, Haley Lu Richardson seems like every, regular teenager. In fact, that's another special thing the film gets right, elevating it to a higher standard from other teen pictures. The teenagers seem so real, so genuine. As Nadine's brother, Blake Jenner has more to do than just be a strapping high school athlete. There's an undercurrent of family drama that gives him much more to chew on, which he handles well. And, as Nadine's realist teacher/mentor, Woody Harrelson does what he does best, when it comes to comedy. It's the sort of deadpan humor that connects on that angsty, teen level. Playing Nadine's equally awkward love interest, Hayden Szeto gives a breakout performance. A particular scene on a ferris wheel seals the straightforwardness that works so well in the entire film.
In the midst of those horrible, but necessary, years of adolescence, it's the search for realness that catapults each person beyond childhood and into the rest of their life. Nadine's journey is special. While you may have never accidentally sent an embarrassing text to your crush, you've undoubtedly done something just as awkward, which connects the film on a multi-generational level. We've all been one of these characters at some point and we all know a Nadine so well. Teenagedom is rough. The Edge of Seventeen doesn't try to prove otherwise. Instead, it acts as your best friend, sitting there, laughing through the pain.
Runtime: 104 minutes