Growing up sucks. It’s made all the worse when you’re an outsider to your peers. Not only do you have to contend with the inherent awkwardness of youth but being unable to relate with those your own age can leave you feeling lost. This topic has been explored in cinema before, probably most effectively in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World. Perhaps the closest that this generation will come to having their own version of Ghost World is the new film from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, The Edge of Seventeen, a poignant and funny coming-of-age tale that encapsulates the angst, awkwardness, and frustration of trying to find yourself in the cruel world of high school.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) hasn’t had too many friends growing up. Five years ago, her father suddenly died leaving her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) a widow raising Nadine and her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) on her own. There’s sibling rivalry between Nadine and Darian, driven by Nadine’s resentment of Darian’s popularity and good looks. Throughout the tough times, though, Nadine always had her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). A rift emerges between the two friends when Nadine discovers Krista in bed with Darian. The friendship dissolves under the stress of Nadine realizing that her best friend is now her brother’s boyfriend. At school, Nadine vents to her seemingly apathetic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who answers Nadine’s gripes with deadpan sarcasm. Nadine also strikes up a friendship with Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who has a romantic interest in her though she has her eyes on Nick (Alexander Calvert) though he doesn’t notice her. Nothing seem goes to right for Nadine as she’s feuds with friends and family amidst what is a typical teenage meltdown as all the minor drama feels like it carries the weight of the world on its shoulders.
Steinfeld is stellar in the leading role of Nadine, capturing angst of the outsider with ease. The range of emotions that the young actress achieves with the role is truly noteworthy, as she’s capable of earnest comedy with an impressive array of line deliveries as well as hitting the film’s earnest emotional aspects. But as good as Steinfeld is the real standout performance is from Woody Harrelson as the wisecracking teacher. Every line Harrelson delivers with the right comedic punch, and then hits every note of empathy that’s required of his character. There’s a great dynamic between the two and the Kelly Fremon Craig’s script never diminishes this chemistry by making it dominate the film.
The Edge of Seventeen really excels because it’s really, really funny. Kelly Fremon Craig strikes an incredibly deft balance in the humor and pathos the story, and the fact that film can do moments of physical comedy, situational humor, and incredibly witty banter keeps the audience always wondering just what kind of laugh is coming next. But sometimes it’s not a laugh but an earnest moment of emotionality that never even comes close to being overwrought though the character of Nadine certainly is approaching these situations as such.
Subverting expectations at every available opportunity, The Edge of Seventeen is a standout film that works for people of all ages and genders. It taps into the universal feelings of growing up while remaining remarkably modern. From start to finish, The Edge of Seventeen keeps the laughs coming amidst its more emotional scenes as it hits on so many different topics that have always affected youth.
Edge of Seventeen
A hilarious coming-of-age story, The Edge of Seventeen captures the angst of a teenage outsider navigating the difficult world of high school and features stellar performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.