‘The Edge of Seventeen’
Do you remember when you were 17? It’s different for boys and girls, but in general, it’s that period where childhood is saying goodbye and adulthood is asking, are you ready?
Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is not. In fact, she’s never really felt ready about anything. In her mind, there’s two kinds of people, those who naturally excel in life, and those who hope those people die in a huge explosion.
Just about the only thing holding her together is her best friend Krista. But when she finds Krista in bed with her brother (Blake Jenner), Nadine sees that as an act of betrayal and suddenly the only person left for her to confide in is her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who would rather sit quietly at lunch and eat his store-bought burritos.
Now I know what you’re thinking? Nadine sounds like just another millennial who thinks only about herself and wants everything handed to her without putting in any work. You might be half-right, but there’s a reason for her general unhappiness. A personal tragedy occurred some years back and that, mixed with general teenage hormones, isn’t the right combination.
The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t sound like a particularly uplifting film and yet, writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig has crafted a fresh, funny and entertaining teen movie. The dialogue is excellent and somehow manages to feel clever and unpretentious. I felt like I was watching an Amy Heckerling or Diablo Cody film at times.
It’s also rated R which is an important distinction. High schoolers curse and the film accurately depicts that without feeling it necessary to throw in raunchy scenes just to earn that R rating.
Of course you can’t have great dialogue without actors who can deliver it and Steinfeld in particular is outstanding. This is easily her best performance since her breakout role in The Coen Brothers’ True Grit. Her timing, facial expressions and mannerisms reminded me of a veteran actress taking a role and making it her own. I’m not sure how much of it was on the page and how much of it was from Steinfeld, but she was confident in playing an unconfident person. If that makes any sense.
The supporting cast is also stellar. Harrelson is excellent as always. He might be the most effortless actor working today. I don’t know if it’s the pot smoke billowing from his trailer between takes, but he has this irrational confidence about him from role to role. Whether he’s playing a complete psycho in Out of the Furnace and Rampart or a lovable buffoon in the upcoming Wilson, he just doesn’t give two f**ks. Again, if that makes any sense.
Haley Lu Richardson as Krista and Jenner as the brother are also actual characters. They could have easily been one-note obstacles in Nadine’s way, but they’re given depth and personality. The same can also be said for Erwin (Hayden Szeto) who plays a potential love interest for Nadine. He comes and goes but he shines in every scene he’s in.
Kudos to the filmmakers for leaving out an over-bearing hipster soundtrack as well. We don’t need a pop song to articulate how these characters are feeling. The script does the job.
As for faults, The Edge of Seventeen does seem to lose a bit of momentum after a blistering start, but it’s a necessary turn once the plot becomes more serious. However, the third act is very predictable and the story wraps up a little too neatly. Nadine is also borderline unlikeable, but when you know the root of her unhappiness, you feel sorry for her rather than annoyance.
But it’s the characters and the dialogue that make The Edge of Seventeen rise above your standard teen comedy. Not only is this one of the funniest movies of 2016, it’s also one of the best films period. Somewhere out there, John Hughes is smiling.