The Edge of Seventeen
(Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, Writer & Director: Kelly Fremon Craig, Rating: R, Comedy/Drama, 104 minutes)
Hailee Steinfeld plays 17-year old high school student Nadine Franklin, who is the definition of a depressed outcast. Things get worse when her popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) begins dating her only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Feeling betrayed by the two, Nadine slowly falls to pieces. She rebels against her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and turns to one of her teachers (Woody Harrelson) for help. Things might not be as bleak as they initially appear, however, as an equally awkward classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), just may be the answer to her loneliness.
“There are two types of people in this world. The kind that naturally excel at life, and the people that wish those people would get blown up in an explosion.” – Nadine
Hailee Steinfeld does a sensational job conveying the confusion and frustration that Nadine is experiencing. Since losing her father at a young age, she has struggled with anger and jealousy. Her feelings are manifested through her quick, but sarcastic, wit. Nadine’s mother isn’t able to cope with her razor tongue, but her teacher Mr. Bruner fires right back at her. This perpetual volley allows Nadine to grow to respect him, so much so that she turns to him in her time of need. Woody Harrelson is superb as Bruner. The repartee between the two is biting but oddly tender.
Blake Jenner is soundly cast as the popular jock Darian. In most films, Darian would be a disposable heel who only served as a device to conveniently and pointlessly torture Nadine. This film, however, presents Darian as a popular kid who is actually a decent, considerate guy. When he starts dating Krista it’s not because of selfish ulterior motives, but because he actually likes and cares for her. When Nadine learns of the relationship and refuses to talk to the two, the heat is on her because she is actually the one motivated by selfishness.
“You can always be like everyone else, but not all of them can be like you.” -Nadine
When would-be suitor Edwin (Hayden Szeto) enters the scene, it is made clear that he likes Nadine. True to form for a confused 17-year old, Nadine doesn’t quite notice and instead pines away for enigmatic Petland employee, Nick (Alexander Calvert). Things go terribly amiss when, in a panic, she tries to explore that relationship. Szeto has just the clumsy charm required for the role of the aspiring beau. When Nadine’s perception of the world finally comes into focus, she sees the nerdy Edwin for what he is. The scenes between the two are quirky and warm.
The film doesn’t shy away from allowing Nadine to make mistakes or outright bad choices. The characters blunders and misinterpretations give the movie a recognizable, occupied context feel that serves to make it all the more relatable.
The Edge of Seventeen is a big win. It is an endearing and familiar portrayal of the fumbling and baffling time of life that is late pubescence. The firecracker chemistry between Steinfeld and Harrelson provides the picture with some of its biggest laughs. Blake Jenner is particularly effective late in the film when he is required to reveal a little-seen side of Darian.
Kelly Fremon Craig cherry-picked elements from Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, and Mean Girls to create an honest and disarmingly funny movie. The first-time writer/director perfectly captures the squirmy struggle of adolescence. She examines what it is like to be entrenched in those moments…all while futilely attempting to pacify the often crippling awkwardness that accompanies that stage of one’s life.