- The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
We all know that archetypical character who is so often the main heroine of coming-of-age films: an outsider at school, the girl that just can’t behave like others and highlights her independence whether it’s necessary or not and speaks sarcasm like a native. But what if the said protagonist colourised and dramatised her issues a bit, and wasn’t always blamelessly entitled to being right? The Edge of Seventeen asks that question – and lets Steinfeld, Sedgwick and Harrelson answer from the position of humour, drama and emotion.
Meet Nadine, a 17-year-old that has just faced some serious teenage crisis: she’s caught her childhood best friend Krista in bed with her much-hated brother Dorian after an alcohol-fuelled sleepover. This “act of disloyalty” can’t be forgotten, it seems; the girl decides to cut her friend off brutally and carry on with life. But being a loner at school with no one to confide in is much less romantic than she imagined, and it pushes her to seek attention of a wrong person and rebelling all the way through the stormy times.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut film is a promising, light flick. It takes problems which seem to be the biggest in the world when you’re seventeen with a pinch of salt – with a distance that’s enough to make sense of the main heroine’s behaviour, but not justify it. Nadine is a character full of opposites: she’s clever and witty, but her ways don’t bring her many friends. She doesn’t know how to use her sharpness to be “pleasant and agreeable”, as her teacher ferociously admits in one of the scenes. Instead, she uses her quick wits to offend and disagree. When she can’t get her way, she puts her foot down and turns the situation into her triumph, sometimes shattering the (imagined) opponent to pieces. But she’s not a totally spoiled brat, no matter how you look at it – more like a bit of a “drama queen”. It just takes a bit of empathy to see that her “I don’t care” mask which she puts on every day before she faces the world is not there to hurt people or rub salt into open wounds. She wants to be around others – and we see that when she speaks to her reflection to encourage herself to get out of bathroom at the house party, or when she looks for advice of her teacher, Mr Bruner. She just needs to learn a few things about adulthood and face the lack of self-confidence that pursuits her continuously, originating in bullying or home-grown insecurities – and that’s what all the coming-of-age movies are about, aren’t they?
Hailee Steinfeld brings us a memorable, charismatic protagonist that allows the scripted heroine come to life fully. Her awkward expressions that make people wonder if she’s just insulted them, the irony which she uses like a comma in a sentence and mood swings of crises and pot-shots followed by unceasing, determined revivals of stability are realistic and delivered with a dash of comedy punch where necessary.
Even though Nadine is the narrator and the central character of the story who we follow around the town, the variety of the background characters that populate the plot are far from accidental. The sarcastic high-school teacher with an unusual pedagogic approach, a winning supporting role of Woody Harrelson, is another person who grabs our attention and helps Steinfeld bring out the humour of the situation. When she points out his teaching mistakes and receives a snappy comeback, or starts confessing how much of a misunderstood “old soul” she feels to be scoffed at and respond in an impressive fifteen-second diss, we know their personalities match – and that he actually tries to help her on her crusade against the world. Nadine’s neurotic mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is also incredible as a parent who loves their child but doesn’t necessarily know how to keep them in check. In a handful of really moving scenes, such as typing and deleting more or less angry responses to her absent kid, we see both sides of character – a woman who tries to comprehend her daughter, but also unsure how to reach out to her.
A delightful, amusing take on the problems of adolescence, The Edge of Seventeen is a movie that might not enter the sacred canon of coming-of-age flicks straight away, but it does deserve recognition for tackling the topic from the perspective of full-blown teenage angst turned into something somewhat likeable. With Steinfeld’s performance and her heroine looking for acceptance and making lots of mistakes on the way, it’s one of many good films with similar premises – but definitely an enjoyable one, reminding the audience of how it’s like to be seventeen all over again.