THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
By Nathan Evans
‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is a film for everyone that’s ever felt awkward. Though the film’s presented through the lens of a seventeen year old girl, it works through feelings and emotions we’ve all experienced at one time or another in our lives; and it does so by expertly contrasting a wicked sense of humor with a few genuinely heart wrenching moments. The film has been and will no doubt continue to be compared to Jason Reitman’s 2007 film ‘Juno’, and while that comparison isn’t necessarily unfair, I believe ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is a more genuine version of the themes expressed in that film; which is impressive considering this is only the first directorial effort from screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig.
The film stars ‘True Grit’s’ Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, an introverted high schooler with only one good friend, Krista, played by Haley Lu Richardson. Nadine and Krista rely on each other to get through life’s various travails, the death of Nadine’s father and the divorce of Krista’s parents respectively, but everything changes when Nadine catches Krista with her perfect and popular brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), in a post coital embrace. From there Nadine’s high school existence begins to spiral out of control as she struggles to deal with her brother and best friend’s new relationship. Throughout her journey she turns to her seemingly apathetic history teacher, Mr. Bruner (portrayed by Woody Harrelson as a sort of smart ass version of Mr. Feeny (he must be the only instructor that works at the school, we never see her interact with anyone else)), and her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), who herself is still reeling from the death of her husband.
Hailee Steinfeld is effortlessly charming as Nadine, yet still believable as a social misfit. Her comedic timing is impeccable. I haven’t laughed as consistently at a film this year as I have at this one and most of those belly laughs can be attributed to her and the character’s biting wit. She’s equally accomplished in the film’s more dramatic moments. While the movie won’t devastate in the same way a hard drama would, she’s quite effective within the film’s scope. Between this film and her performance in ‘True Grit’, it’s clear there’s a fierce intelligence at work behind her eyes; one that I hope will steer her to more complex roles like this in the future as opposed to the teen beat popstar route she seems intent on pursuing.
Steinfeld is so great in this film and the story revolves around her to such an extent that the film’s only downfall is that it neglects its supporting players. It’s clear from the start that Nadine’s mother is sorting through a lot of emotional baggage, but the film rarely takes the time to deal with it. The same can be said for Jenner as her brother. By the end of the film we learn that there’s possibly more to him than the douche bro we see at the surface, but it doesn’t feel earned because we spend such little time with him. We’re led to believe that his relationship with Krista is more than just a teenage physical exploration, but aside from the initial reveal, we never really see that relationship develop. The film clocks in at a mere hour and forty-eight minutes and could’ve used twenty extra minutes to flesh these characters out a bit more.
Woody Harrelson is also used sparingly, but his enigmatic nature serves to make his character more interesting. You understand the man with the little he’s given to do. He’s probably disillusioned when it comes to his choice in career, and though he can be a bit gruff in his dealings with Nadine, it’s quite clear he cares about her. Their scenes together are highlights within the movie. It’s apparent they’re kindred spirits, which is to say they basically can’t stand each other but they clearly prefer the others company to everyone else’s. I could watch a movie that just revolves around their relationship.
They say the mark of good entertainment is to leave the audience wanting more. Well— I want more. Kelly Fremon Craig is obviously an original talent and voice and I can’t wait to see what her next directorial effort is going to look like. I haven’t seen a director transition between emotional trauma and comedy this effectively since David O. Russell broke out with his 1999 film ‘Three Kings’ (fyi, this is probably the only review you’ll see that compares these two particular films). Though flawed, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is more than the sum of it’s parts and is easily one of my favorite films of the year.
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5