The Edge of Seventeen
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside. (2016, R, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 18, 2016
Sigh all you want about genre fatigue, but I say the world can never have too many movies about mouthy teens. Mouthiness is Nadine’s (Steinfeld) best trait. It’s also a good mask for her crippling anxiety. She doesn’t fit in. “Just don’t be so weird!” she scolds herself in the bathroom, trying to work up the nerve to mingle at a high school party; minutes later, defeated, she’s calling her mom (Sedgwick) to pick her up.
It is a universal truth that being 17 sucks, so I won’t quibble too much with this very likable dramedy’s featherlight case for the pretty and witty Nadine’s “weirdness.” The most important diagnosis of weirdness is not in the eye of the beholder but the beheld, and Nadine – bullied as a kid, then roughed up by an early loss – wears her outsider status like a security blanket. The movie gets right how seductive it is to Nadine to revel in being misunderstood, and how much more work it would take to try to sincerely understand others, and allow them to understand her in kind. That Nadine would push away the gawky, secretly awesome dude who’s actually interested in her (Szeto, a starburst of cute) to crush on someone unattainable feels punishingly true to the age.
Nadine’s actually kind of a brat – yep, that feels true to the age, too. But Steinfeld’s charisma and the script’s humor carry the audience through her misdirected rage and blundering attempts at independence, in the process palpably reviving the remembered sting of the brave leaps and big stumbles every teen makes, as she tries to figure out how to be a person in the world. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig is admirably efficient in some ways – in very little screen time she illustrates the tender dynamic of fiery Nadine and her calming best friend Krista (Richardson), how deep the cut goes when Krista starts dating Nadine’s dutiful older brother Darian (Jenner), and why these two people, so burdened by the caretaking of others, might find some happiness together – but frustratingly cuts corners elsewhere. For all her voiceover guts-splaying, Nadine is a bit of a blank, and her wake-up to the inner lives of others is literally dispatched by waking up in the morning with a new outlook.
But those are small flaws in a film that is so compassionate and alert (in ways Nadine is not) to the complexity of other lives and also, yeah, sometimes really fucking funny. (Woody Harrelson is a treat as Nadine’s bemused history teacher.) On the subject of the f-word, the MPAA gave this movie an R rating, presumably because there’s a little bit of swearing and the acknowledgment that teens talk about sex even if they’ve never done it and, when the opportunity presents itself, they’re self-aware enough to know what their own limits are. I recognized a lot of my younger self in The Edge of Seventeen. It’s crummy that teenagers just shy of 17 won’t get the same chance.