“The Edge of Seventeen” is a sincere, moving and darkly funny telling of what it’s like to survive high school when you don’t fit in.
The film is the coming-of-age story of Nadine, a high school junior and social outcast. When her only friend begins to date her popular brother, Nadine ends their friendship. Her life begins to spin out of control as she flails about, driven by her anger, her desires and that desperate, human need to connect.
Nadine is a flawed, believable character who feels like she is an outsider at school and in her own family. As the film progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer she is as often the victim of her own self-absorbed and self-defeating behavior as she is of others’ cruelty.
“The Edge of Seventeen” isn’t a moralistic condemnation of Nadine but a sympathetic portrayal of a troubled teen. It’s also not quite the downer it may seem. Nuggets of humor are scattered liberally throughout the interpersonal drama, adding a little levity whenever things get too heavy.
Hailee Steinfeld delivers a confident and nuanced performance as Nadine. Woody Harrelson is understated in his portrayal of Mr. Bruner, Nadine’s curmudgeonly, sarcastic, but ultimately caring history teacher. Hayden Szeto is excellent as the charmingly awkward Erwin, who pines after Nadine despite their clumsy conversations.
“The Edge of Seventeen” doesn’t attempt to sugar coat or romanticize adolescence. It’s sad, silly, dramatic, uncomfortable, embarrassing and even vulgar at times. Like high school. Like youth. It’s an inspired and honest directorial debut from writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.
The movie’s only real flaw is its hackneyed ending. For anyone who has seen at least two romantic comedies, the outcome of Nadine’s tumultuous attempts at love will be all too obvious. It might feel good to have things get wrapped up in a nice familiar bow, but it does feel like a bit of a let down after the movie worked so hard to otherwise avoid cliche.