Verdict: Well worth the ticket, Edge of Seventeen is sharp and witty, with Hailee Steinfeld providing a deep and nuanced performance that deserves to be seen.
Synopsis: “A precocious, narcissistic high schooler named Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is horrified when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her impossibly perfect brother (Blake Jenner). Soon, she falls into a downward spiral that forces her to reflect on her cruel, self-centered behavior. Kyra Sedgwick and Woody Harrelson co-star. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.”
The Good: Strong performances by Steinfeld and Jenner make for a really sincere high-school film
Freaks and Geeks, Juno, and Superbad made their name, in part, by subverting the character models and storylines of trope-establishing movies like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. They show more modern characters, fed up with their surroundings, who don’t glorify their teenage years, but reject them, or at least try to survive them. Edge of Seventeen feels like a kind of spiritual successor, especially to Freaks and Geeks.
And Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as the lead character, Nadine, embodies this successor feeling. Like Linda Cardellini and Ellen Page before her, Steinfeld portrays a tough, no-nonsense young woman who doesn’t want to admit to her own faults, despite being gripped by low-self esteem. She even has a signature retro jacket. But this is not simply a copy-cat character: Steinfeld brings a depth to the role that I’m not sure her predecessors captured in their time.
As wonderful as Steinfeld’s performance was, she certainly did not carry the film alone. The real surprise performance of the movie is Blake Jenner (Glee) as Darian, Nadine’s older brother. This is the exact role that, in most films, is written and portrayed one dimensionally: the older sibling who is better at everything, but is kind of a jerk because they’re not the protagonist, and they might have a small redemption moment at the end. Jenner throws that all out the window. He portrays the character with an equal level of depth as Steinfeld, showing that even though the movie is told from her perspective, his character has his own motivations and life. It’s a rebellious act by a supporting character, and it is wonderful.
Woody Harrelson (Zombieland) acts as a quiet mentor of sorts to Steinfeld, and together, they deliver some of the funniest scenes of 2016. Haley Lu Richardson (Ravenswood), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), and newcomer Hayden Szeto all provide great and earnest performances.
These performances bring a strong script and simple plot to life. Kelly Fremon Craig, who wrote and directed this as her debut film, should be commended. It is a tight script without any frills, and shows a lot of talent in it’s focus on character depth.
The Bad: Some predictability and loose ends, though not enough to really detract
There really isn’t much bad here. It’s a really well done film all the way around. At most, there is a bit of unbelievability in Harrelson’s student-teacher relationship with Steinfeld, some fairly predictable plot devices, and some loose ends that never quite get resolved. For that last point, it is possible that’s the point: this is more of a classic “day in the life” movie than a deep plot movie, so not all the ends are going to be tied nicely. The only other drawback is you don’t get to see enough of Richardson and Harrelson, though to do so would take away time from the great lead performances.
The Ugly: little bit of ugh, whole lot of yay
Really the only thing that’s ugly: Hollywood, stop using the r-word. It’s all but retired socially, and rightfully so. Quit it. There’s only one instance, but still. The movie does have a lot of yay: a strong, nuanced lead woman, Bechdel Test passing, a woman director/writer, and an Asian actor in a charming romantic role.