As a teenager, I have seen many a film that attempts to pander to my age group by exhibiting uninspired dialogue about emojis or “twerking” in order to convince us that their film is, in fact, cool. Much to my satisfaction, The Edge of Seventeen is exactly the opposite.
The Edge of Seventeen is the story of Nadine, a self-absorbed teenager who’s life really sucks. Sound familiar? Well take all of your preconceived notions of what you expect this film to be and throw them out the window, because this film is much more than just the most recent attempt to cash-in on a teenage audience. Because while many other movies have been written about how teenager’s lives suck (here’s looking at you, Sixteen Candles), Edge of Seventeen finally paints a realistic picture of the many ways that teenagers can feel like the world is ending, and for good reason. Nadine’s father is dead. Her mother struggles greatly with the task of being a good friend. She’s suffering from issues with self-esteem and, to top it all off, her best friend is sleeping with her older brother. The Edge of Seventeen is, at its core, a film about a teenager’s perception of the world around her, and the saga of her coming to the realization that while her life comes with a lot of baggage, everyone else’s does too. We’ve come a long way from Molly Ringwald giving her underwear to a geek.
The real heart of this film lies in its characters. Every role in the film extends beyond archetype, a feat not many coming-of-age films are able to achieve, to provide insight into multiple different types of people that inhabit the modern world. Each character, both the teenagers and the adults, are authentic, and have authentic problems, which together create a perfect ensemble film. The roles are perfectly cast by Melissa Kostenbauder, and the chemistry between the actors is genuine and well-portrayed. Joining Nadine in her story are her best friend Krista, played by Haley Lu Richardson, who is attempting to expand her horizons beyond just their limited friendship, her brother Darian, portrayed by the up-and-coming Blake Jenner, just recently seen in Everybody Wants Some!, who has been forced to fill the hole left by their father, her mother, Kyra Sedgwick, who has not exactly had an easy time since her husband’s death, Erwin, in a breakout performance by Hayden Szetso, a boy who continually gets the short end of the stick, despite his many attempts to connect with Nadine, and lastly Woody Harrellson as her disgruntled history teacher, who reluctantly adopts a mentorship with his eternally frustrating pupil. Each of these characters serve the story in a unique way and-and this is rare-they each have an arch of their own. Everyone is in a different place at the end of the film from where we started, even the ancillary characters, which is not an easy task to achieve, but remains the mark of a magnificent screenplay. But while these characters are all very important, and very good, they are not the lead.
Let’s talk about Hailee Steinfeld. In case you have forgotten, she is an Oscar nominated actress. Nominated at the age of 15 for her role as Mattie Ross in True Grit, she has acted very limitedly in recent years, having dedicated time to her music career. I haven’t seen True Grit, but I had seen some of her films going in to Edge of Seventeen. She was good, but underused in John Carney’s Begin Again, and while she wasn’t particularly fantastic in Pitch Perfect 2, nobody was all of that good in Pitch Perfect 2. That being said, in The Edge of Seventeen she absolutely shines. The role of a dejected teenager is dangerous waters to navigate as you might fall into being too mopey, or too apathetic, either one is not very compelling to watch for ninety minutes, but Steinfeld tackles her role with absolute flying colors. You empathize with her struggles and understand why she’s complaining. You want her to succeed and watch on pins and needles during a scene at the climax of the film in which she might make a drastically poor decision. She’s completely believable in her role and bridges the gap from connecting with teenagers to being a conduit for adults to understand how we think and feel. I hope she will continue to act and not devote all of her time to music, as we need more ingenues like her.
This film is given to us by first-time directed Kelly Fremon Craig, who absolutely blew me away. She made certain decisions in making this film that simply elevated it to the point of excellence. First of all, she made the choice to make this film Rated-R. This was simply the only way to tell this story. While other “teen movies” water themselves down to PG-13 in order to maximise their profit at the box-office, Craig understood that to tell a story like this you have to be true to the people inhabiting the world your creating. The highschool students in this movie talk and act like highschool students do, which usually means certain material that wouldn’t pass for a PG-13 film makes its way into the film. More to that fact, not only do the characters talk like highschoolers, they dress the same way and do the same things. Every frame of this film felt real, like it could happen to any of my peers at my school, which was very refreshing. Yes everything was legitimate all the way down to the music they listen to. Every song they play in this film was a song that I have both heard and had previously saved on my Spotify. And it’s not some mindless pop song that Craig might’ve thought we listen to, but rather an accurate representation of what it’s like to be a teenager today. Will it still have the same effect thirty years from now? I think so. While the characters in The Breakfast Club don’t talk like we do now, the story and the emotions behind the six leads allow it to stand the test of time, which I think will be the case for The Edge of Seventeen. My only worry is that it will be forgotten do the lack of people who’ve seen it. For some reason people have sort of shyed away from seeing this film, both adults and my peers, and I’m not sure why. I understand that an R-Rated coming-of-age story with a female protagonist might worry some people, but I implore you, see this film anyway if you’re unsure. It’s very funny and holds a lot of heart. Also, if more people see this, then movie studios will be encouraged to make more movies with female protagonists, or more movies with female directors. All I know for sure is that The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-age movies in recent memory and deserves its spot along those John Hughes classics of old, as well as more contemporary legends like Juno. We need more movies like this one.
All images are from The Edge of Seventeen, by STX Entertainment