Review: “The Edge of Seventeen”

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Awkward people and fans of teen comedies, rejoice.  Writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig’s “The Edge of Seventeen” is a wonderful medley of everything that’s great about the John Hughes teen films of the eighties, and the quirky indie comedies of the last decade, a la Juno—in fact, this movie is probably the best teen comedy since Juno, and that’s saying a lot considering all of that film’s well-deserved accolades.

Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, and she’s always been weird.  Weird in that she has a unique fashion sense, no friends, and always blurts awkward things out at awkward times.  Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is neurotic, her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is popular and basically perfect, and the guy she’s in love with, Nick (Alexander Calvert), doesn’t even know she exists.  Her dad (Eric Keenleyside), basically the only person who ever really understood her, passed away when she was thirteen.  As seventeen-year-old Nadine says at the beginning of the film, the intervening four years hadn’t been great.

The film takes place over the course of a couple weeks in Nadine’s life, as everything around her starts to spiral out of control when her best and only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), starts dating her brother.  Nadine realizes just how much she doesn’t fit in as she wanders aimlessly around a party Darian and Krista invite her too, and tries to find a place to eat lunch at school when she feels like Krista is abandoning her.  But she finds some solace in Erwin (Hayden Szeto), her equally awkward classmate who has a crush on her that she completely ignores, and her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who is bold enough to never sugarcoat anything when Nadine comes to him for advice, but is all the more inspirational because of it.

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Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson)

Fremon’s script is the perfect combination of wit and sincerity, avoiding the clichés typical of most coming-of-age stories (or addressing those clichés and then digging deeper into them).  She makes Nadine completely relatable and likeable by delving in to the potential reasons why she overreacts to things the way she does—like that maybe there’s actually nothing wrong with her peers and the way people treat her, but that she just secretly likes feeling like she’s the only one in the world who has problems.  It’s hilarious, but that hilarity communicates a feeling of not belonging that so many people can understand on some level.  The characters all truly bring something to the story that every viewer can relate to in some way; if it’s not Nadine feeling lonely, then it’s Erwin having trouble starting conversations, or Krista having to choose between her friends, or Darian having adult responsibilities forced on him when he’s really still just a kid.

And those characters are all perfectly embodied by the cast, led by Steinfeld.  After being nominated for an Oscar for her first film role at the age of thirteen as the plucky young lead in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” remake, Steinfeld has taken on a variety of film roles on top of beginning a singing career, but she hasn’t had another role that gives her a chance to show off her skills until now.  With this movie, Steinfeld effortlessly makes the transition from charismatic child star to adult actress, and she’s never been better, candidly taking on the chaos that is high school in a performance that is as confident as her character is the opposite.  Harrelson is also memorable as the uncharacteristically blunt teacher/role model figure, as is Sedgwick as the mother who cannot emotionally handle her children.

As much as Nadine’s life starts to unravel during the climax, it all seems to come back together a bit too easily in the end.  But “The Edge of Seventeen” is still beyond satisfying.  The dialogue is so good it’ll have you frantically trying to memorize the great quotes as they come, and the characters are authentic in their various quirks.  But most importantly, “The Edge of Seventeen” is about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood trying to figure out how to be comfortable with herself, an issue that Fremon addresses in her film with enough sharp humor to make you laugh and enough poignancy to make you cry—sometimes in the same scene.  Anyone who had or is going through a confusing phase as a teenager will appreciate it—and that would be everyone.

Runtime: 104 minutes.  Rated R.

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