The Edge of Seventeen
4 out of 4 stars
by Bayard Lewis
Angsty dramas about the experience of the American teenager have a way of winning hearts when they are done in an authentic and earnest way. Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) plays Nadine, a seventeen year old girl whose life story of feeling like an unwanted oddball with a tragic past comes to a head when her best, and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) suddenly starts dating Nadine’s older brother.
There’s great exploration about the ego-driven behavior that teens can have because they feel unfairly treated or that no one is listening to their grievances. Nadine acts selfishly in demanding that her best friend chose between their friendship and dating her brother. She wants her best friend all to herself and deep down is jealous that she is unable to garner the attention of her crush.
As unwarranted as Nadine’s behavior appears, she still manages to be a likeable character because most people have experienced jealousy or self-loathing during their teen years. Her isolation after breaking off her friendship is fraught with bad behavior and an eventual realization that she wants to change but doesn’t know how. Teens and young adults can relate to this experience of isolation because most of us have been there during the coming of age years. The musical backdrop is filled with an eclectic selection that features works by Billy Joel, The Pixies, Aimee Mann, Beck, and more handpicked tracks that are not merely fodder for selling a soundtrack album.
Topping out a great cast is Woody Harrelson playing her history teacher Mr. Bruner. His snarky responses to Nadine’s griping are some of the best dialog written for the film. He shrugs off her one-on-one therapy sessions, but becomes more understanding as her situation swings more extreme. Not everyone had a high-school teacher they felt they could relate to, but Nadine finds the callous exterior of her teacher strangely endearing.
“The Edge of Seventeen” is full of heart and it’s the best landmark teen drama since Emma Stone in “Easy A”. First time director Kelly Fremon Craig’s script fills each character with enough depth to bring them full circle as they play their parts in Nadine’s transformation. There’s just enough suggestive content and coarse language to give the film an R-rating, which is a little ironic, because the people who would benefit most from seeing the film are probably right on the cusp of adulthood. Older millennials will probably also absorb the wisdom of how technology has changed both the way young people reach out for connection and choose to isolate themselves.