“The Edge of Seventeen” Movie Review


     Writer/Director Kelly Fremon Craig’s “The Edge of Seventeen” plays like a modern retelling of the high school movies I grew up with, such as “The Breakfast Club”, “Sixteen Candles”, and “Pretty in Pink”.  That’s not to say Hailee Seinfeld, who stars as the lead character in the film, is primed to become the next Molly Ringwald, but lets just say she and Craig channel plenty of similarities to the 1980s heartthrob.  Craig’s screenplay provides a unique update to the often told story of a high school teenager navigating their way through the minefield of angst and uncertainty we all faced at that time, but often forget when we try to understand our own kids.

     Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) was always the awkward and out of place kid in school, but also struggled early on with the fact her twin brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), was outgoing and popular with everyone, including their mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), who often refers to Darian as her favorite.  At least she can take solace in knowing her father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), not only understands her, but also can help manage the relationship between her and her mother.  Whereas Darian is first out of the car in the morning as the two are dropped off at school, Nadine, shown at elementary school age in a flashback, has to be physically removed from the back seat, loathing the very idea of having to be around other kids who pick on her or think she’s weird.  As the story shifts to present day, not much has changed.

     As Nadine describes herself, we learn she is an “old soul”, preferring meaningful conversation over the impersonal habit today’s youth use to communicate in the form of texting and emojis.  Instead, Nadine exhibits a sense of style and being all her own, which includes watching movies that came out long before she was born, choosing to beat to her own drum and block everyone and everything else out.  She does manage through the years to maintain a bond with her only childhood friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), but at the turbulent age of 17 where anything can happen and usually does, even the most valued friendships can suddenly change.  

     After a late night of partying and drinking, Nadine awakens to find Krista and Darian in bed together, a visual that sends her reeling to a place where she feels as though her entire world just came crashing down.  In times like this, you would think she would go straight to her mom, but with an ongoing strained relationship between the two, Nadine instead confides in her favorite teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson), in order to get advice on what she perceives as a life rapidly crumbling.  Of course, the ironic thing about Nadine and her plight is we have all been there in some way, shape, or form before and know what she is experiencing is not only not that bad, but also very normal.  But what we should remember, even though its tempting to judge the situation as being minor, is the emotional state of a seventeen year old and the limited experience they have in dealing with issues which to them carry the weight of a major life event.

     Like all of us, Nadine has in her mind the prototypical person she wants to be with, but often struggles to actually tell that person how they feel in order to make it happen.  The funny thing is, Nadine’s crush on the school bad boy, Nick (Alexander Calvert), doesn't seem to really fit who she is at all.  It’s more like she’s infatuated with the idea of what Nick might be, rather than who he actually is.  We know this because Craig allows another classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), to subtly loom throughout, staring Nadine right in the face the entire time, but she chooses to ignore him, instead viewing him as more like herself and wanting desperately to fit in with a more popular group.  The manner in which Craig tells this story, particularly in the third act of the film, engulfs the audience in an array of emotion as we see the effect Nadine’s behavior has on the people closest to her.  Clearly, Craig’s film benefits both from her well written screenplay, as well as several stellar performances.

     Hailee Steinfeld delivers another outstanding performance with a character which easily could have played like so many others before, but instead exudes originality and a unique quirkiness that enhances every scene.  Having the support of a veteran like Harrelson doesn’t hurt either, nor does the scene stealing Jenner, who burst on to the scene earlier this year in Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” and plays Darian with a macho jock exterior, but also with a hidden sensitive and emotional side that peeks out from time to time.  Szeto also shines as Erwin,  the giddy and awkward budding student filmmaker experiencing his first high school crush.  One can’t help but to wonder if Craig wrote in some of her own experiences at that age, but nonetheless she clearly has a firm grasp on what made the 80s teen romantic comedy, particularly those written by John Hughes, so compelling at the time and still classic today.  GRADE: B+