By: Amelia Solomon (Two Beers) –
The Edge of Seventeen centers on Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school junior, who is awkward and whose entire social life revolves around her one best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Still reeling from the unexpected death of her father four years earlier, Nadine fights with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and despises her all-around perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When their mother goes out-of-town for the weekend, Krista hooks-up with Darian. This crushes Nadine and makes her feel both betrayed and more isolated than ever. Nadine reacts badly and lashes out at those around her. She obsesses over a cooler boy she barely knows, ignores the advances of a sweet boy named Erwin (Hayden Szeto), and burdens her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), with her suicidal ideation and life-hating diatribes.
Kelly Fremon Craig directed and wrote the film, and this is her feature directorial debut. The Edge of Seventeen has been compared in its marketing to other classic teen movies like Juno, Mean Girls, and Clueless. One could also equate it to John Hughes’ 1980’s classics Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. But this film is unique in its own right. Craig’s tone is more serious than the vapidity in Mean Girls or Clueless and darker than most of Hughes’ films.
The writing in The Edge of Seventeen is exceptional. Each line of dialogue is strategically crafted, creating a realistic world in which teenagers really talk like they are portrayed. It’s not overly complicated or dumbed down for a wider PG audience. The words the characters utter are acerbic, cutting through life’s intricacies like a surgeon’s scalpel and leaving only what is important on the table. Sometimes the dialogue makes you laugh, and other times it makes you cringe. There is a joke early in the film where a group of child bullies tell a young Nadine, “You’re going to get Aids.” The audience laughed, despite that statement being so clearly over the line of what’s acceptable. Craig’s script doesn’t hide nor hold back from painting an accurate picture of being seventeen in 2015. Like the title of the film, she takes you right to the edge and then pulls you back again.
The character of Nadine is very unlikable. She’s dark, moody, self-obsessed, and sometimes even mean. She’s also astute, naive, sad, and wounded. She is all of these things at once. Steinfeld, who received accolades for her breakout performance in True Grit, as Mattie Ross, in 2010 at just fourteen years old, portrays Nadine as a multi-faceted personality. It’s rare for an actor to be able to make you laugh with her, roll your eyes at her, feel empathy towards her, and also make you feel downright uncomfortable. Steinfeld is expressive. She uses her face, her body, and her mannerisms to play all of Nadine’s insecurities very well.
Steinfeld’s performance is further enhanced by strong supporting acting by both Sedgwick, as her exasperated strung-out mother, and by Szeto as Erwin, a clunky teenage-boy. Szeto almost steals every scene in which he is in from Steinfeld. Woody Harrelson also helps to deliver comic relief in his role as Nadine’s teacher and unlikely confidant.
Despite the grittiness of this film, the overall story can’t seem to escape from predictable plot points. Put two good-looking teenagers into a room together alone, after a night of drinking, and they are bound to hook-up with one another. Darian’s and Krista’s dalliance may seem shocking to Nadine, but it certainly isn’t to the audience. When it turns out Nadine’s crush Nick is only interested in her for sex, nobody is surprised except for Nadine. Maybe this latter plot-point has more to do with the ignorance of a young teenage girl, but I thought Nadine’s character was too smart to fall victim to such a scenario. Lastly, when Darian spends the evening looking for Nadine and reveals he does care and worry about her, Nadine is the only one caught off-guard when they come to an understanding and hug one another. It seems that outcome was spelled out for us from the very beginning of the film.
There is something off-putting about the relationship between Nadine and Mr. Bruner. If I were to suspend belief, and think a seventeen year-old girl would tell her history teacher her inner-most thoughts, either out of attention-seeking behavior or loneliness, I couldn’t believe that the same teacher wouldn’t put up any type of barrier to the relationship and try to instill some boundaries. Even if Mr. Bruner is disaffected and burnt out after 23 years of teaching, he’d know what it would look like to the outside world if he were to carry on an inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl; even if the relationship was not sexual. I understand Mr. Bruner served a sort of replacement father figure to Nadine, but that wasn’t enough to negate the creepiness factor.
The Edge of Seventeen looks into the life of a troubled high school girl. The film uses gut-wrenching truth and witty dialogue to paint a picture that is oftentimes unnerving, because it reminds adults that being seventeen isn’t so easy either.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: each time there is a voice-over by Nadine.
Take a Drink: each time there is a close-up of Nadine’s cool high-top sneakers.
Do a Shot: when you see the montage scene of Krista and Nadine getting hammered.
Shogun a Beer: for Nadine’s retro ski-jacket. Because it’s cool.