Synopsis – High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.
My Take – Don’t we all miss being a teenager? Sure, being a teenager in this kind of world where everything is about what you are going to do ten years down the line & everyone making sure the little joy of happiness you have or feel is sucked right out of you, but of course there are good days too. Yes, teenage years can be tough, but with generation gaps one may not understand the new morals and traditions the modern era establishes. Enter Hollywood, who may help bridge the gap by making a film to hopefully shed some accurate light on the subject. This is a film that is so great in such an unassuming way that you wont realize how you are so emotionally committed to its plot. Don’t get me wrong, it has its cute and funny moments, but its rare to see a film that with little effort conveys emotion and pulls you in for its ride. The best part of this film directed by 1st timer Kelly Fremon Craig is that it is is an awkwardly charming coming of age tale that flirts in the same vein as some classic John Hughes’s high school dramedies such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which chronicled the adolescent experience of growing up, dealing with teen angst and self-actualization while mixing in a dash of old fashioned screwball comedy which at once provides relatable laughter for the viewer while making the dramatic pills easier to swallow. This is not a typical teenage film, and that is what makes it so great. Oh, there have been other great non-typical teenage films of late, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but somehow this one stands tall. The story follows Seventeen-year-old Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld), an unpopular angst girl who claims to be an old soul and has major distaste for the image of the modern teenager. With her only family supporter, her father Tom (Eric Keenleyside), already gone from heart disease, her only solitude comes from her lifelong friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). They enjoy sitting away from the lunch tables and often spend of the time doing nothing. Things are thrown out of proportion when Krista ends up sleeping with Nadine’s popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).
When Nadine makes Krista chose between them, she chooses her new boy friend over her best friend. Now on her own, Nadine puts her focus on being the object of the boy she likes, Nick (Alexander Calvert). Meanwhile her relationship with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and Darian become further strained when she begins to act more selfish and only finds one of her teachers Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) to even communicate with. Things do take a change when she seems to be getting attention from fellow student/animator Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Though she seems to like his company, she still wants to be with Nick. Until she realizes everything is not what it seems. This film drops you into the life of a “typical” teenager and all the drama that comes with the hormonal changes of those trying years. Here you get to see the concepts of sex, relationships, family, and self-worth as you follow Nadine’s journey into growing up. Those who are ticked off by today’s morals need to skip this film, but those with an open mind may enjoy the psychology involved with the decisions made by youths. While I’m certainly no teenager, I felt this film did a nice job representing the turmoil some youths feel, primarily in the social pressures established from trying to grow up too quickly. Fortunately, the film isn’t just about portraying the different morals of teenagers, but instead tries to teach lessons about life. Yes, Kelly Fremon Craig has written a real gem here, and his first directing effort will earn him much critical acclaim, to be sure. The thing he does masterfully is take us inside the character of Nadine by giving us so many moments alone with her; moments when we experience in her stillness, in her eyes, and in her facial discipline as an actress the absolute bankruptcy of her isolation. None of us would want to be seventeen again. Director Kelly Fremon Craig makes sure there’s enough inner conflict so that when Nadine does go into what could be called a spiral of despair and depression, there is some context for it. I have to wonder if I would have liked the film as much or found enough to be sympathetic and/or even empathetic (yes, as a guy I can feel in her shoes, it’s past gender and into how a worldview is at that age, of other people in general), if there hadn’t been that past baggage, of having identity issues in a family, or lacking the father who was the one who loved her the most, if she was just, uh, another teenage girl with issues of identity and crushing on the cute unattainable boy (with that hair, the girls will say!) I think the power and brilliance of the script, and there is brilliance to it for the most part, is that director Kelly Fremon Craig makes sure to have characters call Nadine on her problems, that she is surrounded by people who both care about her & make sure to see through her poutier/more dramatic moments.
If you’re on the outside, in a strange way it may be preferable in certain ways than being the “perfect” child. I know this from experience – being a teenager sucked, and felt very much alone and alienated and without many (if any) friends, and feeling like everyone around was full of crap and not worth paying attention to – that there is this ironic thing that being someone like Nadine in this story is that it makes that person feel special. This is a revelation that comes late in the film, but it’s something that should’ve been seen for so long: you now, Nadine, the ‘perfect’ ones are pretty damn miserable too. Know that and see that. That’s a message enough. The other problem for teenagers, which I think a lot of people (myself included) can relate to, is that sense of low self esteem. All the time, always, pervasive, even if life is, when looking from outside, not too bad. These characters, for the most part here, are not dumb characters or stupid, or if they make the wrong decisions (Nadine most of all) it’s out of not being able to control themselves emotionally. I do wish that Krista had been a little more in the film, or a little more developed. But it’s not her story anyway; if anything this filmmaker knows that in other conventional stories, it might be her story and Darian. But Nadine is interesting because she is so messed up and we want to see her get better, or to connect more with the genuine nice guy, and Craig may make her unlikable to some in the audience. Yes, unfortunately there are quite a few clichéd tropes that this film ends up taking you toward, but it felt more natural than most of these types of films, mainly due to Hailee Steinfeld’s star making performance. I think all of us have been keeping an eye on Hailee Steinfeld since True Grit in 2010. When you can steal scenery from the likes of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, you know you have someone special. Here, Hailee Steinfeld does a fantastic job of selling the role and coming across naturally as a seventeen year old trying to figure out life. She has a natural talent for comedic timing and she was just downright enjoyable to watch in this film as her character Nadine. While being a immature teenager with next-to-no friends who feels like she has the worst life ever, she surprisingly has a lot of depth. Hayden Setzo brings the awkward teenager character to life, equipped with nervous stuttering and awkward moments that are truly entertaining. Haley Lu Richardson & Blake Jenner are instantly likable. Kyra Sedwick gives in yet another terrific performance. The biggest source of laughs come in the form of Woody Harrelson as the mentor/uninterested teacher whose sarcasm and insults are the definition of intelligent writing. Harrelson is as always a scene stealer. On the whole, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ provides a fresh spin on the genre by being funny, vulnerable, and fearless along with Hailee Steinfeld’s star making performance.
Directed – Kelly Fremon Craig
Rated – R
Run Time – 104 minutes