The Edge of Seventeen is a spirited coming-of-ager that doesn’t break any new ground, but rings true, and is entertaining and well performed.
Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig hits the teen/20s demographic bullseye with her debut feature, The Edge of Seventeen. The focal character, Nadine (a compelling Hailee Steinfeld), is alienated, self-centred, smart, sassy and full of the obligatory adolescent angst – all the qualities you want in a teen lead. There are laughs to be had and some moving moments en route to a predictable ending, but there’s not much edge here (don’t be fooled by the title).
The basics of the story are as follows. Nadine is an intelligent misfit who has been damaged by the tragic loss of her father in childhood. She has a problematic relationship with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick), who cops much eye-rolling, and sees herself as eternally in the shadow of her popular good-looking older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When he and her best friend since childhood, fellow misfit Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), fall for each other, Nadine feels betrayed and finds herself more lonely and isolated than ever. However, on striking up a friendship with a shy aspiring filmmaker classmate (Hayden Szeto) who fancies her, she begins to discover that life isn’t quite so bleak after all, and revises her attitude towards Darian, Krista and society in general.
A narrative trajectory pretty typical of the genre, then, and slightly disappointing in its resolution, which sees Nadine’s rebel spirit tamed and has her moving towards a state of social normalisation. There’s no spoiling in my mentioning that – you can see it coming.
Where the film really shines is in the interactions between Nadine and her favourite teacher Mr. Bruner (a wry Woody Harrelson in top form), whom she beleaguers during his lunch hours with her melodramas and laments. He is more mentor than father figure, refusing to affirm her nonsense, or play the part of the supportive nurturer.
Rather than take her seriously when she informs him that she is on the verge of suicide, for example, he makes fun of her, trivialising her woe with a send-up suicide note of his own. When she accidentally sexts an older guy she is lusting after, Mr Bruner blandly reads her mildly pornographic message back to her, aloud. Having achieved his aim of embarrassing her, he declares that the situation isn’t so bad. Sounds cruel and uncaring, but he understands what he’s doing. His psychology is astute. He is instrumental in taking her out of herself and setting her on a course of self-determination through accepting responsibility for her actions. Good stuff.
All in all, although not up with the best of the genre, The Edge of Seventeen is a solid, well characterised and performed contemporary coming-of-ager that should be lapped up by its intended market, and has enough going for it to be enjoyed by older viewers who happen by.
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