Every generation needs a defining teen movie, and “The Edge of Seventeen” just might be that film for this generation.
It also appeals to older audiences who can look back on their teens with a mix of fondness, sympathy and embarrassment.
In her directorial debut, screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig joins female filmmakers who made genre classics such as “Clueless,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Juno,” and “Mean Girls.”
Hailee Steinfeld stars as the misanthropic Nadine, a misfit who’s never found her tribe, aside from her only friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson), a ray of sunshine and goodness. When Krista collides romantically with Nadine’s hunky, golden boy older brother Darien (Blake Jenner), Nadine is thrown into a suicidal spiral, a spinout of epic proportions, because in high school, the social stakes are always that high.
But Nadine’s snarky and profoundly salty attitude is rooted in real pathos and tragedy. She feels unrooted and isolated, battering futilely against her flighty mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and seemingly perfect brother. But the script makes it clear that her self-destructive and jealous lashing out comes from a place of real insecurity and self-loathing.
There are a few bright spots, though. Nadine enjoys a sardonic rapport with her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who meets her with the same amount of sarcasm and vitriol that she spews. Their interactions are some of the best of the energetically wordy screenplay.
She also finds a new friend in the adorkable Erwin (funny and charming Hayden Szeto) who is just about as socially awkward as she is, but a port in the storm when she needs it most.
Nadine’s selfishness can be trying, but it’s very real, and “The Edge of Seventeen” never lets her off the hook when she turns her issues into excuses that she milks for all their worth. And her eventual redemption is well-earned.
The sharply written, potty-mouthed comedy isn’t all-too dark, but the lightness is tinged with a sense of realistic edginess that makes the story feel whole and relatable. Teenagers are very strange and dramatic creatures after all.
The film is anchored by the delightful Steinfeld, who makes Nadine a high school hero for the history books. She’s a chameleonic performer; yes, that pop music glamazon storming up the charts is the very same painfully awkward pimpled adolescent, and subsequent high school rebel in nerd-chic, sporting thrifted jackets and high tops.
— Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service
The Edge of Seventeen
Three and a half stars
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Blake Jenner, Hayley Lu Richardson, Hayden Szeto, Kyra Sedgwick
Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes