#39: EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
DIRECTED BY KELLY FREMON CRAIG/2016
High school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a mess. She’s bright and funny, but also neurotic, thin skinned, self absorbed. She sees herself as an outsider, uniquely suffering the slings and arrows of adolescence, oblivious to her own impulsive and even cruel behavior. She’s a little bit insufferable, frankly, and from what I remember of myself in high school, I think I may have been a little bit insufferable, too.
Therein lies the brilliance of The Edge of Seventeen. Writer and first time director Kelly Fremon Craig has created a central character who will remind audiences across the age spectrum of what it feels like to be to a teenager, how hard it can be, how catastrophic the traumas of adolescence can be – and Steinfeld embodies Nadine perfectly. She’s fast talking, but it’s not the affected wisecracking of Juno. No, Nadine’s rapid fire monologues – often directed at her long suffering history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) – tend to rambling, fretting, lamenting, all in a believable teenage voice. Nadine has always felt like a misfit, especially after the death of her doting father, but she has one loyal, lifelong friend; gentle, sweet tempered Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).
Steinfeld doesn’t come across like a movie star pretending to be an awkward teenage girl, but like the real deal. A scene in which she attends a party with Darian and Kristi brought back painful memories of what it felt like both to resent the in crowd and desperately want to be accepted by them.
Now, however, disaster has struck. Romance has bloomed between Krista and Nadine’s golden boy older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). For Nadine, this is the ultimate betrayal by her best friend, and yet another coup for handsome, talented Darian, who already seems to have everything. Darian is also the clear favorite of their mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgewick), a lonely, volatile woman for whom adulthood is a genuine challenge (Mona’s character is recognizably real, too).
Nadine is tall, solid, in quirky clothes and heavy high tops. She has a soft, girlish face that can, and frequently does, shift to an angry pout. Steinfeld doesn’t come across like a movie star pretending to be an awkward teenage girl, but like the real deal. A scene in which she attends a party with Darian and Kristi brought back painful memories of what it felt like both to resent the in crowd and desperately want to be accepted by them.
Critics are drawing comparisons between The Edge of Seventeen and John Hughes’ classic teen films (Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club). Like those films The Edge of Seventeen mixes comedy with genuine sympathy for the pains and humiliations of growing up. Also like Hughes films, adults are nearly absent. Erwin (Hayden Szeto) is a nice guy student pining for Nadine while living alone in his palatial home (his parents on a three month trip to Korea). Krista’s parents never appear, and Mona is largely ineffectual. Only Mr. Bruner is a useful adult figure, and Harrelson is both very funny and very likable as a teacher who offers Nadine tough love in the form of withering sarcasm (although he also provides real, practical help when Nadine gets herself into a terrible predicament with and ill conceived text).
If The Edge of Seventeen is any indication, Kelly Fremon Craig is a director to watch. There have been countless teen comedies made since John Hughes showed us how it’s done, but only a handful that show such compassion and insight into what it feels like to be yearning, needy, hurt, hopeful, embarrassed, anxious, endlessly self conscious – in short, what it really feels like to be a teenage girl.