The Edge of Seventeen is not just another teen coming-of-age movie. Like John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club, it’s a generational story that is very specific to the present but will likely be considered timeless like Hughes’ films.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, Pitch Perfect 2) is the odd duck in her junior year in high school. She’s angry, insecure, stingingly witty and – because she catches her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, Ravenswood, Recovery Road) in bed with her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner, Glee, Everybody Wants Some) – jealous.
Aside from Krista, her only real human interaction is with her English teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, True Detective, Now You See Me 1 & 2) – a laconic, equally sarcastic fellow who keeps her off balance intellectually.
Her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer), is a brittle woman who seems to favor her Darian – and Darian is the perfect guy: on the dean’s list, star athlete.
Nadine’s dislike of both stems from her childhood – her father was the only one who got her, but he died in a car accident (which she survived).
Then there’s the handsomely geeky guy who sits next to her in History, Erwin (Hayden Szeto, Chop Shop), who’s nuts about her but to whose crush she is completely oblivious.
Since second grade, Krista is the only person who has kept her from going completely nuts, so her betrayal is monumental.
Of course, she has a secret crush – Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert, Arrow, The Returned), a sultry, mysterious guy who, she discovers, works at the nearby PetLand. She accidentally sends him an explicit text and is thoroughly delighted when he replies positively.
Of course, the film is, basically, being told from her point of view so what we’re seeing is her perception. It’s not until the final act when everything begins to come apart at the seams that she realizes that her perceptions might be way off base. An unexpected rant and an equally unexpected kindness throw her out of her own problems and force her to look at what might actually be happening.
Steinfeld gives a performance that is certain award-worthy – even if it’s in a kind of film that tends to get ignored – every brief moment of happiness, every extended moment of pain and anger, feels real; has real impact.
Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen looks at the trials and tribulations of adolescence in a very real, if slightly heightened way. Alienation, hormones, crushes, the horrors of high school, parents who like your sibling best, the feeling that you’re the center of an uncaring universe – all are dealt with in a way that requires an actor of extreme range – and Steinfeld makes every moment ring true.
Richardson, as the torn best friend who finds love in the worst possible place, and Jenner, as the seemingly perfect brother who has way more on his plate than Nadine could ever imagine, are every bit as good. They provide both the backdrop for much of Nadine’s drama as well as what burst of enlightenment she has to receive.
Sedgwick and Calvert have thankless roles – roles that could easily have slipped too far into the negative but settle into different kinds of confusion and vulnerability.
Harrelson steals every scene he’s in and with Steinfeld at the top of her game, that’s an achievement – even for someone with his talent.
Szeto is a discovery. Erwin tries so hard to impress Nadine and only does so through his parents (who are away in Korea for three months) – until she discovers something really cool about him that goes past mere impressions. Szeto gets that adolescent bewilderment just right.
Craig has done something that is hard to fathom: she’s made a Pretty in Pink for this generation – a film of nuance and style grounded in a familiar reality. Something that might just be timeless.
Final Grade: A+