Life gets more complicated for a high school student after her best friend starts dating her brother.
Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen. It can be tough to make one film stand out from the hundreds of similar others out there, but “The Edge of Seventeen” does just that. “Seventeen” feels like a John Hughes film for the 2010s; the situations are realistic and relatable, the humor feels fresh and fun, the characters are delightfully likeable, and the way the characters change throughout the film feels natural. This is, in my opinion, the very best kind of coming of age film because it feels so very balanced: the drama doesn’t set the stakes super high, but the events are life changing for our protagonist; the humor is situational and character-based, making that humor feel more natural; the characters are flawed but they still have characteristics that make them sympathetic. Movies like this- that show the real, honest pain of growing up as well as the giddy fun parts- are rare enough to be called phenomenon.
“There are two types of people in the world: the people who naturally excel at life, and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, “Bumblebee”) is a high school student who has always had trouble fitting in, but she’s always managed to stay friends with Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, “Split”). After Nadine’s mother (Kyra Sedgwick) goes out of town for the weekend, Nadine and Kyra get drunk, and Kyra ends up hooking up with Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner, “American Animals”). Nadine panics and her life begins to spiral out of control- she finds herself searching for answers and looking for help from her favorite teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert, “Good Boys”), and a boy in her class named Erwin (Hayden Szeto, “Truth or Dare”).
The best part about this film is the writing. As I’ve already mentioned above, I feel as if this film is very balanced- it has plenty of drama, but it also has humor and a smidge of romance; it pretty much has everything I’d ever want from a coming of age story- but even more than that, the way the writing develops the characters makes it easy to sympathize with and relate to them. Nadine’s character is a bit neurotic; she’s self-centered and possessive; and she’s also a bit judgmental- she is, in short, the average teenager. She’s obsessed with her life and thinks that when one thing goes awry it means that’s the end of the world. Kyra dating Darian doesn’t have life or death consequences, but it does have life-altering consequences, but when you’re in high school life altering can be the same thing as life ending (I certainly remember going through high school and feeling as if every break up or missed party was the end of the world). Keeping the stakes low but making them feel high is hard to do, but writer director Kelly Craig does it well.
I’ve thought Hailee Steinfeld was a pretty great actress ever since I first saw her in the Coen brother’s “True Grit”, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She’s absolutely wonderful in this; she wears the awkward teenager persona well, and she really brings out a range of emotions as we watch her navigate her sticky situations. Woody Harrelson is the other standout of this film. Nadine’s relationship with her teacher Mr. Bruner is one of the funnier parts of the film- the sardonic, slightly abusive way they talk to one another feels like nothing I’ve really seen in a film like this. Starting this film with Nadine professing to Mr. Bruner she’s thinking about killing herself and then Mr. Bruner turning around and just making fun of her admitting that was absolutely hysterical, and it’s also a pretty perfect way to introduce both characters. Haley Lu Richardson and Blake Jenner were both fine; I feel like I’ve seen both of them popping up in films more often, and they never really blow me away, but they never irk me with their performances either.
I really enjoy this movie, enough so that I’ve seen it three times now. While I do think the ending is a little bit predictable and cheesy, the rest of the movie makes up for it by giving us a very fun, honest, and emotional look at an awkward situation.
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