Little known fact: I adore coming of age movies. They’re immensely relatable, even if you’re the opposite gender of the character or haven’t been through the exact situation they have. They also have the ability to be very real, and more often than not you’ll see much of yourself in the protagonist.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen, shows promise for a bright future ahead. Boasting razor-sharp sarcasm, harsh truths, and the immeasurable awkwardness of being a teenager, she has found a way to tap into what it’s really like to be a modern teenager and delivers every step of the way.
Nadine has had a more or less shitty life. She is favored less than her brother, lacks friends save for one, and is still coping with the death of her father a few years prior to the setting of the film. So she has a lot of reasons to be bitter, but when her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother, Darien (Blake Jenner), something snaps.
Hailee Steinfeld, who has been focusing a little more on music than acting since her breakout role in True Grit, knocks it out of the park. We have reasons to pity her, but ultimately she is kinda bitchy. She closes herself off to all around her and makes it hard for anyone to approach her. She has been shelled up so long that any attempts of breaking out of it leave her awkward and often a little rude.
Maybe if my brother actually had dated my best friend I’d feel a little more empathy towards her, but thanks to Steinfeld’s jagged performance she doesn’t really make us want to give her any. Yet we can still relate to her because, as I’m assuming most people reading this are old enough to have gone through their high school years.
Craig’s script really gets to the heart of what it feels like to be a teenager nowadays, and sometimes it gets brutally truthful. We all know the anxiety of sending a text we probably should not have sent, the overwhelming despair of feeling nothing is going our way, and that dreadful sense of fighting with a near and dear friend. While there is plenty of sharp comedy and dialogue, Craig doesn’t leave it all sugarcoated; there are some uncomfortably real moments that take the film away from comedy to the harsh reality of the world we live in.
Thankfully the film is also populated with some fabulously written supporting characters with a huge standout from Woody Harrelson as further evidence that the teachers in coming of age films are often the ones to touch your heart most. He has words of brutal sarcasm but he also doles out the right amount of honesty that makes you wish he was your teacher. It also helps that Harrelson is just incredibly entertaining as it is.
Kyra Sedgwick turns in a tremendous performance as Nadine’s conflicted mother who must not only cope with a stubborn and unagreeable child, but also her own grief over her husband’s passing and the immense responsibility he left on her shoulders with little-to-no help. Everybody Wants Some! breakout Blake Jenner also continues to shine as the jock older brother who I naturally assumed would be an asshat who had little regard to his sister’s feelings, but Craig subverted my expectations in making him be an honorable, caring sibling. Heck, he actually refrains from drinking with his friends until he finishes the season—it’s rather refreshing.
Edge of Seventeen might not look like much at face value—it is, after all, a girl struggling with her best friend dating her brother when she should really be caring more about her brother’s happiness. Pettiness aside, Craig’s honest script and the splendid performances all make the film feel hilarious at times but also painfully blunt as we remember that being a teenager is both the best and worst part of our lives.