Skip to main content

An Honest Look at The Edge of Seventeen

          High school is a rotten period in your life. Granted some make it through better than others, but the anxiety of social, personal, and academic choices coinciding with raging hormones and constant adjustments in both your physical appearance and emotional state makes it a tough road. Everything and nothing matters. And it’s this cesspool of teenage-hood that debut director Kelly Fremon Craig revisits in The Edge of Seventeen
          Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a troubled and very abrasive high school junior who manages to slog through everyday life until her best and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) sleeps with her seemingly perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When they become a couple, Nadine goes to extreme lengths to cope with not only the fractured relationship, but her own awkward behaviour and social life.
          One of the most impressive things about this movie is the realism. Unlike in a lot of teen movies, the characters in this film act like real teenagers. And it makes you much more invested when the film can legitimately transport you as an adult back to that time in life. Just as in real life, these characters swear liberally, use sexual vocabulary, are sexually active, and drink alcohol. There’s no attempt to sugar-coat how they behave and live their lives which is really refreshing. Often they act on impulse, and we see especially in Nadine a disregard for conventional authority.
          Nadine’s every action in this movie is based on emotion, and she’s continually trying to find some kind of direction, or at least a remedy to her confusion and alienation. And Steinfeld plays her excellently. Though you frequently disagree with her actions, they’re understandable given what we know about her character through a backstory early on. But even then it’s not so simple. Teen movies have a hard task in that most conflicts therein are relatively first-world problems. Nadine’s attempts to get her crush to notice her, her insecurity about her appearance, and fear that she’s losing her long-time friend aren’t high stakes except to her. But at some point these things were just as important to any of us. Steinfeld perhaps because of her age taps into this character’s disoriented psychology well, but also conveys it identifiably through an impassioned and dedicated performance. This may even be an Oscar-calibre performance. 
          All the supporting characters are more or less defined through their relationship to Nadine. Richardson plays the hurt friend very well, and Jenner (who’s back in high school after playing a college student in Everybody Wants Some) is really good as well. Anyone with a sibling can in some way relate to how they treat each other. And you can see how living in his shadow has affected Nadine’s personality and makes the “betrayal” feel ever more resonant. Kyra Sedgwick is good as Nadine’s put-upon mother, who also has a very troubled relationship with her due to favouring Darian. A fellow student called Erwin who’s role in the story is pretty obvious, is mostly likeable, an introvert who wants to be an extrovert, though occasionally he’s a little too awkward. The show-stealer though is Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s history teacher Mr. Bruner, who’s both her confidant and punching bag. The rapport these two have where despite the fact she’s a student, he’s constantly mocking her, is tremendous. He’s a very fun spin on the inspiring teacher character. And one joke he has that was in most of the trailers, makes me, an English grad laugh every time.
          Much of the plot in this movie is standard for the genre. It’s got a lot that you’ve seen before. But The Edge of Seventeen manages to make its clichés feel brand new. I think because of Steinfeld’s performance, the largely true portrayal of teenage life, and even some deeper notions make this possible. The final act of this movie looks like it’s setting up one of a few clichés but actually plays out in a more mature way than I expected. The theme of what you think you want versus what you actually want plays a part. There are also good messages about empathy and self-worth. These ideas and the way the film examines teenage issues makes this a great movie for teens, that also doesn’t talk down to them. Who was the last director that did that really well?
          Yeah, the critics aren’t unjustified in comparing The Edge of Seventeen favourably to the works of John Hughes. It’s certainly one of the most honest coming-of-age teen movies since his films of the 80s. The fact that it’s also incredibly funny and one of the best written films of the year is a bonus. Fremon Craig like Hughes, really understands this subject matter and it makes for an unexpectedly great film that speaks to everyone.

Popular posts from this blog

Mary Tyler Moore's Best Moments

A couple days ago, we lost the icon Mary Tyler Moore. On the Mount Rushmore of groundbreaking comediennes, Moore has an undeniable place (with Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and Cloris Leachman). She was often the best part of the Dick Van Dyke Show, making for half of one of the greatest TV couples. Through her own series, she was a key part of one of the most important and timeless shows of all time. Her kindness, perseverance, and good humour made her a role model for all, but especially women and girls whose greater representation in media she pioneered. She was such an endearingly sweet woman, a champion of diabetes research and a great philanthropist. When watching either of her classic shows, she always felt like a good friend. And now the world has lost that friend.
          In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talen…

Disney Sundays: Moana (2016)

When I heard that the next Disney movie, Moana was going to be based around Hawaii, I was tempted to say, “haven’t we been here before?’ It doesn’t feel like too long ago that we had Lilo & Stitch. I was more curious though when I heard it would revolve around Hawaiian mythological figures like Maui and fantastical monsters. But then I remembered Ron Clements and John Musker were the directors behind Hercules and I worried. However I needn’t have, as Moana is easily the pair’s best film since Aladdin.
          A teenage girl called Moana, resident of a small isolated tribe on one of the Polynesian islands, is chosen by the ocean to be an emissary to the banished demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart of the Sea (a small pounamu stone) to Te Fiti -the goddess he stole it from who’s cursed their world with famine as retribution.
          Though this is a standard and fittingly mythic hero's journey, the story is nonetheless an exciting one to follow due in…

Overlooked Specials 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas:
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol This Christmas Day how about we dispense with the feels in favour of a mean but comedically genius one-off of Britain’s best series. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Blackadder, the series about a witty schemer reincarnated through various periods in British history, this special should still make you laugh. An inversion of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Blackadder played of course to perfection by Rowan Atkinson is the kindest man in England which everyone uses to take advantage of him. But an encounter with a Spirit of Christmas causes him to change his ways. Most of the Blackadder cast: Atkinson, Tony Robinson as Baldrick, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Miranda Richardson appear here and are excellent, as are guests Miriam Margolyes, Jim Broadbent, and Robbie Coltrane in a role I’m sure inspired J.K. Rowling to request him for Hagrid. And the writing from Richard Curtis and Ben Elton is as sharp as ever. It’s relentlessly enjoyable, funny…