Posted by

Allen Adams Allen Adams
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

edge staff writer


Teenage wasteland - 'The Edge of Seventeen'

Rate this item
(1 Vote)

Coming of age film funny and fraught, snarky and sincere

Making a good coming of age movie basically requires catching lightning in a bottle. You've got to come up with a quality script that either erases or embraces teen clichs and tropes. You have to land a director with a real depth of understanding regarding the characters and the story. And you have to have performers particularly young performers who are both willing and able to build portrayals that have a depth of genuineness.

Sincere without being cloying, funny without making fun, honest without being preachy, unique without lacking relatability it's difficult to keep all those plates spinning at the appropriate speed. It almost makes you wonder if it's worth the effort; ultimately, aren't all teen movies more or less the same?

And then you see something like 'The Edge of Seventeen' and you realize just how good a teen movie can be.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, 'Term Life') is 17. Most of her life has been a struggle to fit in so much so that she has essentially given up trying. It doesn't help that her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner, 'Everybody Wants Some!!') is pretty much Mr. High School, the kind of perfect that Nadine finds unendingly frustrating. Her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick, 'Big Sky') is wrapped up in her own problems and doesn't know how to deal with her.

Nadine's only refuge and only friend comes in the form of Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, 'The Bronze'). The two have been inseparable companions for a decade, often serving as the sole comfort to the other throughout the particularly tough times of adolescence.

Nadine's life is thrown into disarray, however, when Krista enters into a relationshipwith Darian. Unable to cope with what she sees as a betrayal, Nadine struggles. She seeks solace and comfort through a variety of means. Long (and largely unwelcome) interactions with her bluntly unflappable teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, 'LBJ'). Awkward interactions with Erwin (Hayden Szeto, 'The Unbidden'), the awkward boy who likes her. Unrequited pining for bad boy Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert, 'Lost After Dark').

None of it seems to work. Nadine makes poor decision after poor decision; she's utterly directionless and left to watch as her entire world is turned upside down. The only constants are snarky attitude and simmering resentment not exactly the best formula for making (or keeping) friends.

And when you're 17, there are times when you could really use a friend.

'The Edge of Seventeen' checks all the teen movie boxes, but does so in a fashion that feels fresh and engaging in a way that we haven't seen since the heyday of John Hughes. This movie is smart and self-aware and fueled by an offbeat sensibility that makes it the kind of film that something like 'Juno' tried to convince us that it was. It's messy and sincere while still making plenty of room for humor; it isn't worried about perfect people or perfect endings. It's the pain of high school writ large.

Obviously, much of the credit has to go to writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig. This film marks her directorial debut and just her second feature screenplay, yet she handles the material with the measured touch of a veteran. There's a depth of understanding that you don't always see particularly with teen movies and a solid sense of style that, while not flashy, is quite the effective fit. She might not have been the first choice to direct her own story, but she was absolutely the right one.

Teen movies are especially beholden to quality of performance; the reality is that young actors aren't always up to the demands laid on them by more complex fare. 'The Edge of Seventeen' gets a star turn courtesy of Hailee Steinfeld, whose take on Nadine is exquisite, capturing the roiling and churning internal battle inherent to teenage girldom. She can be mean and unpleasant or sweet and vulnerable or clever and witty sometimes all at once. It is a performance that embodies the mercurial nature of being a teenager and it's outstanding.

Steinfeld's not alone in her strong performance. Richardson is great, while Jenner turns in a surprisingly nuanced performance. Sedgwick is engagingly unhinged. And Harrelson is flat-out great. Mr. Bruner is a character whose success relies almost totally on tone too nice and he's a milquetoast, too harsh and he's an unredeemable jerk. Instead, we get a regular guy who's in the middle. He cares, but he doesn't coddle. He's unafraid to be blunt sometimes brutally so.

Every generation has movies that resonate with it, films that tell the stories of the myriad highs and lows of being a teenager. A select few will manage to transcend generational boundaries and continue to find connections long after their original audiences have grown into adulthood.

If there's any justice, 'The Edge of Seventeen' will be one of those select few.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:24


The Maine Edge. All rights reserved. Privacy policy. Terms & Conditions.

Website CMS and Development by Links Online Marketing, LLC, Bangor Maine