If you have seen the trailer for The Edge of Seventeen, you’re likely thinking the movie is going to be a standard high school teen comedy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This film by Kelly Fremon Craig (Post Grad screenwriter) took me completely by surprise and unnervingly off-guard (and that’s meant as a compliment). The film feels like a deeply personal experience from start to finish, touching the truth of emotional and developmental milestones that hit close to home. Sure, this film will make you laugh (especially with it’s fortunate R-rating), but it will also make you cry and will force you to relive any of the pain you may have felt in high school. Craig skips most of the cliches and instead tells a raw, unique, gut-wrenching, and uproarious coming-of-age story.
Craig’s plot follows the seventeen-year-old Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a teen who has felt like a social outcast for most of her life, and believes she has also felt the awkward phases of youth more so than anyone else – especially than her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) who, to her, has been blessed with all the good looks, popularity, winning personality, and the love of their parents. Four years after the sudden death of her father, Nadine’s best friend (her only friend) Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) hooks up with Darian, and Nadine begins to feel as though her world is imploding. Tack on a hormonally serious crush on the school’s notorious bad boy, a general distaste for all her classmates, social awkwardness, and a strained relationship with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and Nadine’s seventeenth year promises to be an emotional uphill battle.
Hearing the plot summarized, it sounds like your typical “awkward teen is actually really cool and is too young and ignorant realize it” storyline, but don’t let that fool you. The Edge of Seventeen is really an earnest drama dressed up as a comedy. It could also be categorized in the you laugh to keep from crying, harsh reality brand of comedy, but those circumstances will likely change from person to person. Craig touches deeply on the insecurities that a lot of teens face, and that are typically brushed off in most teen comedies to be replaced by fixations on labels or mean girls. Craig instead exposes our true – and less glamorous – fears as teenagers, including changing/evolving friendships, parent(s) that don’t understand (and the reasons they don’t understand), hormonal confusion, drinking and drug experiences that are dull or sloppy, and the general messiness and pathetic feelings that plague the everyday.
Nadine’s character growth is actually quite insightful for the genre. There is no midpoint makeover or romantic gesture from the hot guy at school, or grand realization that she has been underestimating herself the entire film, resulting in an easy transformation. Instead, Nadine learns everything the hard way. She is forced to come to terms with her damaged friendship by addressing her own personal issues and insecurities. She looks to her cantankerous history teacher (Woody Harrelson) for advice with little to no resolve. She destructively goes after the hot bad boy (Alexander Calvert), only to see it blow up in her face. She is driven by impulse and feeling like any normal seventeen year old, and though extremely intelligent, is clouded by her emotions.
Steinfeld jockeys a wonderful push and pull between Nadine’s witty, Gilmore Girls-paced dialogue and the heavy subject matter her character is navigating. Nadine may at times seem too-witty and advanced for her age, but the effect adds to her character’s sense of individuality and Steinfeld pulls it off smoothly to the comedy’s favor. Nadine is also at times an extremely dramatic character, but Steinfeld forces you to adopt Nadine’s emotions as your own – feeling her discomfort, her frustrations, and her excitements so much to the point that you wonder if you’re just projecting. Likewise, her chemistry with Sedgwick and Jenner is palpably natural and fittingly explosive, with the scenes featuring family strife being the strongest. Each family member is still silently mourning the death of Nadine’s father and it makes for compellingly layered tension in their scenes together, a facet that Steinfeld, Sedgwick, and Jenner all establish within their performances.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Craig does something very unique in not resting on the laurels of her genre and rather creates a teen film that feels completely new, fresh, and bitingly real. Craig’s style, which plays up the dramatic emotions of Nadine, maintains the genre’s playful and youthful tones; however, her plot, dialogue, characters, and actors tell a different story, adding new depths to the teenage mind. The comedy is funny, the drama is heartbreaking, and Craig raises the bar for the future of the genre