Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Hayden Szeto
Plot: A teenage girl (Steinfeld) thinks her life is way more unfair than anyone else’s and takes it out on the rest of the world.
The Edge of Seventeen is the kind of film that is likely to pass most people by, because, from a distance, it looks like the kind of film you have seen so many times before. A seventeen year old girl suffers through high school, messing up conversations with her crushes and dodging her way around awkward meetings with the nerd who fancies her. A by-product of the Mean Girls days with none of the bite. However, Edge of Seventeen is actually one of the most clever entries to the genre, making it something that any lover of intelligent story-telling should investigate. Perhaps the story’s premise isn’t that clever, because on paper, only one thing has changed from the normal high school movie plot. However, that one thing turns the whole subject on its head beautifully. That twist: the entire movie references that its lead character is an utter bitch.
Nadine Franklin is such a fascinating character. She is clearly that self-obsessed teenage girl you recognise from the movies. The entire film centres around her world falling apart, a path of self-destruction when her father died when she was a young girl. For a little while, that buys her enough sympathy to get us through the opening act of the film, as Nadine struggles to bond with a grieving, neurotic mother and school life becomes more difficult without her father’s kind words guiding her through life. However, we soon learn that her father’s death only opened up a craving for pity, turning her into a person who constantly reaffirms how horrible her life is at any given time. The story truly kicks off, when she discovers her best friend is sleeping with her older brother, a sibling she resents for actually getting his life together after their father’s passing. As the relationship between her friend and brother grows naturally and rather sweetly on the side-lines, we lose all empathy with Nadine’s meltdown. She pushes her friend away, after making her feel like someone who deserves punishing for falling in love. She gives mixed signals to the guy who has a crush on her, using his affections when she needs a confidence booster, but dropping him as soon as the hot senior from school becomes a potential dating option. It isn’t long before the father thing becomes a totally null void reason to pity her, because she attempts to use her dead father as an excuse to get out of doing her homework. You spend the entire movie wanting to wring her neck. It is a brilliant move from director Kelly Fremon Craig, because in removing the fact that the main character is meant to be likeable, the events of the story become easier to follow. We are meant to dislike the lead star, so there isn’t this sense of the entire movie hanging on whether we love or loathe the heroine, like with movies such as Clueless. Nadine is written incredibly well, so even when we are face-palming with every move she makes, we don’t dislike her enough to turn the film off. While her reasons are vapid, her emotional breakdowns are genuine. When she cries in her bedroom over the fact she has pushed everyone away and is only left with her own company, something she constantly claims to hate, we do feel a twinge of pity for her. Hailee Steinfeld has a ball playing the character. She has always been a talented individual, somehow finding time to star in several film a year and bring out more hit singles than you feel a busy actress should physically be able to do. Here, she dives into a role that pretty much takes her trademark characters (Barely Lethal, Pitch Perfect), but allows her to go that extra mile, devolving into a bratty drama queen. At the same time, her charisma helps keep Fremon Craig’s movie on track. When she is tearing into her brother and best friend with venomous put-downs for no reason, at the very least Steinfeld’s delivery is funny enough to make us find dark comedy from those moments.
The movie’s highlight is actually a prime example of where our liking of the character ends and begins. In the third act, totally out of options when it comes to crying on people’s shoulder, Nadine ends up hooking up with the local sleaze-ball. The scene strips back the comedy and goes to a place that, while never slipping into distasteful, is surprisingly chilling. But perhaps more chilling than the material is where the audience’s opinion falls down on the matter. There will be some people out there that believe that Nadine’s character is largely to blame for the situation she gets herself in and the potential consequences that could happen. Fremon Kelly is clever enough to give those people enough evidence to strongly argue their point. It isn’t important to this review where your opinion on the matter lies, but what is is the fact that the writers were brave enough, and talented enough, to take the story to that place, without letting the rest of the story fall down like a crumbling house of cards. It gives Edge of Seventeen this air of intelligence that, while being a fun high school movie, is, at the same time, much more than that.
Final Verdict: The Edge of Seventeen lives and dies on its central character, who is thankfully written and performed incredibly well.