The marketing campaign for “The Edge of Seventeen” will undoubtedly cause a bit of damage to the film’s box office and audience scores, marking a true disservice to this insightful, character-driven dramedy. If you’re expecting your average laugh a minute, R-rated teen sex comedy, think again. This is an astute (and candid) exploration about a suffering kid just trying to make it in her angst-ridden teen world.
The film took me back to the late 80s John Hughes era because it truly gives an accurate portrayal of all that sucks about being a seventeen year old girl. It’s rare that modern coming of age films are packed with such well written wisdom and authenticity. It’s also refreshing to see that the more things change the more they stay the same, with a younger generation dealing with the same problems all of us once suffered through (and survived).
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a neurotic, awkward high school junior who decides her life has fallen apart when her popular jock brother Darian (Blake Jenner) begins dating her longtime best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). To a 17 year old, this feels like the end of the world. Nadine suddenly feels as if she can’t rely on anyone and begins to act out with those closest to her, including her needy widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick). She begins to form a friendship with the thoughtful and charming boy next door Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and her sarcastic yet wise history teacher (a beautifully understated Woody Harrelson).
The secondary characters all play nicely off the lead character, and Steinfeld gives an effective performance as Nadine. She manages to make a total melodramatic jerk likeable and sympathetic, which is no easy feat. Being a teenager sucks, and she conveys that with an impressive, perceptive sophistication.
The typical teen film clichés are all present, from the popular kid’s party debacle to an embarrassing missent sext to the realization that the nerd boy is (surprise!) a real sweetheart while the hot crush guy (double surprise!) isn’t so nice after all. In fact, there aren’t many plot surprises here, period. The real surprise lies with the film’s honest, frank dialogue and situations.
The film is slow to start and hits several speed bumps along the way (including some attempts at humor that flat-out bomb and a few too many overplayed, tearful spectacles), but overall it’s authentic, wise and reads as a completely real and genuine look at why growing up is so hard.