Growing up isn't nearly as easy as the movies make it look. Many of us suffered through various personal obstacles throughout high school, as we're trying to discover more about ourselves and how we fit into the world around us. However, most Hollywood films deliver the clichés of cliques and typical relationships that end in ways that are far too obvious. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig clearly seeks to reject such imaginary notions in The Edge of Seventeen that works as one of the most realistic perspectives into adolescence that has hit the silver screen in recent times.
Nadine (Hailee Seinfeld) has always felt less loved by all those around her than her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is her only friend, who has helped her through some of the hardest times in her life. When she starts dating Darian, Nadine's entire life begins to crumble around her in ways that she never thought were possible.
Given my introduction, readers may believe that The Edge of Seventeen is all about high school. However, it's simply utilized as the backdrop for all that Nadine must experience throughout the course of the narrative; the film is actually about her navigating through life. After all, what we truly remember about high school isn't necessarily the ‘cool kids' and studying for tests, but rather a time where we struggled to find our own identity. We often define ourselves by those who we choose to spend the most of our time with, which is clearly established here. When Nadine and Krista's relationship falls apart, she's frantic to find a sense of herself and belonging. Other than being socially awkward, Nadine suffers from constantly coming across as aggressive and sometimes downright cruel. Unlike most coming-of-age dramas, the reason isn't just because of hormones at this age. She's going through a lot, and has no real outlet for it all. This allows the character to feel genuine and relatable in ways that we rarely see on the silver screen. Nadine is presented with flaws and all.
The Edge of Seventeen opens with Nadine's recollection of events leading up to her current predicament. She explains that there are two types of people in this world - winners and losers. This is a theme that runs deep throughout the course of the film, as she identifies nearly everybody she encounters in one classification or the other. Since the narrative is from her perspective, this is a smart way to allow the audience to be surprised by character developments in real time alongside the lead. However, this screenplay enjoys incorporating comedy with its drama. Fremon Craig's screenplay balances an abundance of humorous moments with its more hard-hitting material in a way that flows extremely well. Perhaps the funniest scenes that the film has to offer are the exchanges between Nadine and her teacher (Woody Harrelson), who is unusually cruel to her. Even the worst times of high school can be funny, especially when seen from an external perspective. Fremon Craig's screenplay knows how to be just as hilarious as it is heartfelt, which is no small feat.
Along with the more serious drama that the film has to offer, Nadine is stuck between her ‘bad boy' crush (Alexander Calvert) and the incredibly awkward ‘nice guy' (Hayden Szeto). While it occasionally goes into cliché territory, it ultimately brings us to places that completely make sense for Nadine. These scenes allow the character to grow in ways that make the conclusion feel genuine, even despite a few dialogue exchanges that feel out of place for the film. The screenplay walks the fine line between emotional and melodramatic, but is quite successful. While it didn't quite get tears out of me, it certainly had me choked up by the time the credits started rolling. Anybody who struggled with some truly difficult times in high school will be able to relate to Nadine and her story, regardless of gender. When a film makes you reflect on your own adolescence in so many ways, that's how you know that you have a winner.
After shocking everybody with her role in True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld pursued more mainstream career opportunities that never allowed her to display her incredible range. The Edge of Seventeen is the vehicle that Steinfeld needed after her Oscar nomination, and we should be glad that it's finally here. This is an incredibly convincing performance that makes Nadine feel real. Some may argue that it's hard to believe that Steinfeld could play a girl with no self-confidence, who is occasionally teased for her appearance. Who's to say that a pretty girl can't have problems with self-image? This is tremendous casting that allows the film to blossom into what it is. Woody Harrelson is essentially playing Woody Harrelson here, and I'm not complaining. His delivery is consistently spot-on, as we have come to expect from him.
It's quite clear that writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig understands how to make a coming-of-age film that speaks to the audience; it's one of the best films of its type in years. The jokes practically always hit, and the drama is deeply relatable. However, it manages to do so while maintaining an even tone that never pulls its audience out of the experience. Hailee Steinfeld is exceptional in what is surely her best performance since her Oscar nominated role in True Grit. The screenplay has ultimately created one of the most accurate representations of high school one could expect. The Edge of Seventeen is massively impressive in how it manages to work its way into our hearts in ways that every coming-of-age film dreams of doing. Highly recommended!