There is a new excellence in the long list of teen movies that for years have been popularising the genre with their soft tragicomedy blend of stories. The Edge of Seventeen comes as the perfect mix of comedy and drama in the coming-of-age current of youth-focused movies, reviving myths like the evergreens Breakfast Club and Juno.
In her first feature-length debut as director, Kelly Fremon Craig depicts the life of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a gawky misfit who is at the centre of an uncomfortable situation in her life. The story follows Nadine’s perspective as she grows up through the years, from being a socially awkward little girl who doesn’t want to get out of her parents’ car in her first day of primary school, to a teenager on the edge of maturity.
The drama kicks off as her childhood friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) accidentally enters in a love relationship with Nadine’s older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). When Nadine finds out about it, she forces her best friend to choose between her and her brother.
Nadine has been living all life struggling with the comparison with Darian, who happens to be their mother’s favourite – he is smarter, more socially integrated and more successful that she is. It is probably the feeling of regret and hidden hate she has for him that kickstarts the drama and unravels the plot.
Nadine’s life is everything but perfect and the events that happen are there to constantly remind her that she doesn’t feel like belonging to the time she lives in. Nadine knows to be a different person: she is more comfortable talking with old people, listening to old music and watching old movies and yet, she is the prototype of the digital age she so profoundly refuses as she often gets stuck with social network’s paranoia herself.
Hailee Steinfeld is an impressive main character, holding both the plot and the inner stories that go through Nadine’s mind by herself. The supporting cast delivers. Richardson’s interpretation of Nadine’s cheerful best friend – thanks to her warmth as a character – nicely frames the idea of that childhood memory that everyone loves to recall. Erwin (Hayden Szeto) is the goofy guy in love with Nadine and he brings some chemistry and fondness in each of their scenes together. Jenner perfectly portrays the part of the golden boy and big brother that looks after his little sister. He has great momentum when the audience discovers that the hate Nadine feels isn’t mutual as she thought.
Woody Harrelson as Mr Bruner, a cynical and wise teacher, deserves a special mention as he adds that touch of comedy and truthfulness to the story. Nadine and Bruner’s encounters are always nice breaks of hilarity and laughs in the middle of the drama and the chemistry between the two is the pivot that supports the entire movie.
The whole story plays on a series of standardised social situations in which the protagonist ends up humiliated most of the time. Nadine’s ascent, however, is one of the toughest as her darkest moments often leave her on the verge of falling apart. She is a truly rounded character with a lot of emotions going around in her brain simultaneously. In some way, she really is a tornado of feelings and uncertainties that add depth to her portrayal.
The Edge of Seventeen is an awaited refreshment in the coming-of-age genre and a much needed heir to some of the classics teen movies. Precisely, it brings on screen the mood and feel of John Hughes’ masterpiece Breakfast Club combined with the gritty atmosphere of Ellen Page’s character Juno. Nadine’s anger issues are at the center of the drama and are exactly what makes the plot go forward. Her attitude, her recklessness and her witty one-line sentences all create a beautiful and deep character that holds up the whole movie by herself.
The Edge of Seventeen is a pearl. For all its anger, it feels like a celebration of the teen age in all its majesty. While the final act is a bit messy and forcedly happy, this union of rage, light heartedness and sharp comedy is the perfect mix to give back the genre new life and importance.