Rather stand at the edge of tomorrow continuously than revisit The Edge of (age) Seventeen again. Since birth, the awkward Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always had issues fitting in with her age group. Where making friends and being the object of everyone’s affection has always come easy for her slightly older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s had no such luck. If it weren’t for her lifelong friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), being seventeen would be unbearable.
Unfortunately, it becomes just that once Krista takes a liking to her older brother and the feeling is reciprocated. With her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) never really having a connection with her, and her father sadly out of the picture, Nadine finds slivers of support in her sarcastic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) and equally awkward classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto).
If the old, 80’s style genre film that John Hughes popularized is what someone’s hearkening for, The Edge of Seventeen fills that void superbly. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig hasn’t kept it a secret as to her inspiration(s) for this movie. The look alone, how it starts (teen angst songs abound but not annoyingly so), how it’s told, some common characters, and more are all throwbacks to the genre films of yesteryear. Like most flicks in the genre, its pretty linear and easy to see how things are going to play out. Only difference is, this doesn’t take place in the 80’s. It’s very much a 21st century movie, but the great thing about this is that The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t rely on its setting. This is going to be a movie that ages quite well.
In The Edge of Seventeen, Craig has written a film with a lot of heart. Almost all of the sentimentality feels earned and legitimate, as the runtime is just right and the screenplay well-paced, with maybe only a slight bit of “rushedness” between the climax and resolution. Craig has also written a film that is simply believable in how teenagers act, how they speak, etc., and she stays away from trying to paint her lead character as 100% correct while everyone around her is incorrect. Nadine is flawed, sometimes shockingly so, but this ultimately makes her more relatable and endearing.
As good as some of those 80’s teen movies were, some were laden with middling and bad acting, even from the leads. Every notable cast member in The Edge of Seventeen delivers good to superb performances. Great writing can certainly give more to a performance, but a sizable chunk of responsibility still falls on the actor and actress. It starts with Hailee Steinfeld, in her first real starring role. She does it all, be it off-the-head snide sarcasm or strong scenes of emotion. Her Nadine’s annoying, overreactive, lovable, and awkward, sometimes all at once. And again, it helps that she isn’t written as Ms. Perfect, as it gives more authenticity to the proceedings.
The teacher role that Woody Harrelson takes on is a perfect fit for his talents. No one is saying he isn’t talented, but occasionally he has the issue of not being able to assimilate nicely into features. Not so here; the relationship he has with Nadine is sweet but not in a extra sappy way, providing sagely advice in his own unique way. Even typically skim throwaway roles such as the oblivious mother, douchebag brother, and best friend are fleshed out, and acted well by Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, and Haley Lu Richardson, respectively. If there were one person who steals scenes away from Steinfeld, however, it would easily be Hayden Szeto in what is one of the best supporting roles of the year. If a photo accompanied teenage awkwardness in Merriam-Webster, his would be there.
What’s old can still be new. Bolstered by strong writing and wonderful acting work, The Edge of Seventeen cements itself as an all-around stellar film, and one of the very best in its genre.
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