'The Edge of Seventeen' Will Make You Grateful For Adulthood
By Andrea Thompson
Watching “The Edge of Seventeen” is very likely to bring back memories of what it was like to be that age for many people. It certainly did for me. Now, this movie is not the first to inspire feelings of gratitude that that part of my life has come to an end, but it did reawaken them. Strongly.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), the film's teenage protagonist, is likewise ready for her high school years to be over and done with, but her junior status means she's gotta put up with it for a little longer, and you can't exactly blame her for it feeling like an eternity. She's one of those insecure, awkward girls with an insanely good-looking, popular older brother who only reinforces her internalized feelings of self-loathing.
A situation like Nadine's is ripe for self-sabotage, making places of refuge few and far between, especially after seeing her father, one of her most trusted sources of comfort, pass away just as her teen years sprang upon her in all their awkward glory. Her father's death has also had the unfortunate side effect of making her rocky relationship with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) even rockier. So when Nadine needs a safe harbor, it's mostly found in her best friend since grade school, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). But even that is threatened when Krista starts dating her brother, sending Nadine into a tailspin comprised of some really idiotic, yet painfully realistic decisions.
Because a funny thing happens when we grow up. We forget just how stupid we were. But writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig remembers so well it'll make you wince. Nadine is as sympathetic as she is flawed. She's not the precocious loner who's armed with the right thing to say in a world that's against her, she's just trying as best as she can to make her way through the various situations she finds herself in, which she often inadvertently tends to make worse for herself. She is not above using her father's death to try to worm her way out of situations like turning in her homework, hurt her brother, or even tell her mother Mona that her grief isn't as valid as her own.
However, Nadine has more of a chance than she thinks, especially when she finds an unexpected love interest in fellow awkward nerd Erwin (Hayden Szeto in a breakout performance), as well as a very unconventional mentor in her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson at his most abrasively charming).
“The Edge of Seventeen” make a very strong case for women making movies about themselves. This probably would've been a very different film if a male filmmaker had made it about another awkward guy getting a girl. Instead, it's a nonjudgmental look at not only Nadine, but her friend, her mother, and pretty much everyone around her. But none of it would work without Hailee Steinfeld, who gives one of those performances that could very well define a career, or even a generation. Unlike contemporaries such as Chloë Grace Moretz, Steinfeld knows how to play insecure, and do it believably, a difficult thing in an industry that demands women be perfectly coiffed without being too confident.
These demands don't really trip up the movie too much, except when it becomes clear that along with being awkwardly dressed, Steinfeld still has to look great in a bikini, thereby reassuring the audience that she could clean up nice, if only she wanted to. Some of the men in her life, such as her father, brother, and Erwin, come off as a bit too perfect themselves, and everyone is sometimes a touch too wrapped up in the privileged suburban cocoon they reside in. But the casting is so perfect, the situations so heartbreakingly real, that “The Edge of Seventeen” is destined to become one of those great movies about a teenager, not a teenage movie we tend to outgrow.