I was the closest person to the age of seventeen in my evening showing of The Edge of Seventeen; the remainder of the audience were well into their middle age. I couldn’t help but ponder during the previews how depressing that was. Here’s a film that contains no nudity, no violence, just age-appropriate cursing between people of adolescent or pre-college age and it boasts an R-rating. Thank the MPAA once again for prohibiting those who would likely benefit the most from seeing a film from seeing that particular film.
The Edge of Seventeen is the latest in the uplifting new trend of female-focused coming of age dramas that even two or three years ago were a rarity. Last year we got the brutally honest and captivating Diary of a Teenage Girl, and this year, we get one that comes close to touching that film’s level of quality despite it still being burdened by one unshakable shortcoming.
The film revolves around a high school junior named Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who is struggling to climb up the social ladder enough to talk to her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert) with her sole friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who’s been by her side since the second grade. When Krista develops a crush that subsequently results in a dating relationship with Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s cocksure, role model older brother, Nadine feels even more lost and hopeless. Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) means well but has never given Nadine the time nor attention she needs ever since the death of her husband, leaving Nadine’s only solace being in the comfort of an awkward boy named Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), her history teacher.
Much like she did in Pitch Perfect 2, Steinfeld asserts herself once again to be a commanding lead that can carry a film based on her personality and energy alone, which is really brought to light in the way she can carry herself during a realistic monologue. In addition, Haley Lu Richardson from this year’s criminally underrated The Bronze shines again in a role of similar caliber, and Blake Jenner, from the equally underrated Everybody Wants Some!!, nails his role, especially when he’s tasked with evoking some deeper, more believable subtext into it as well.
All of this is great and levies The Edge of Seventeen into the same playing-field as films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower as a contemporary, coming of age film that understands today’s teens quite well. While screenwriter/director Kelly Fremon Craig comes close to making Nadine a bit of an archetypal teen-girl for the screen in the way she laments this generation without getting to the heart of why they do what they do, she rebounds quickly enough to make her film a great showcase for Steinfeld’s conviction as an actress and her own ability at witty, insightful screenwriting.
The sole issue I take with the film that curbed a bit of my enjoyment is the same one that I took with last year’s repulsive Paper Towns, although I didn’t find this film quite that problematic. What it boils down to is everyone in this film is a bit dangerously self-absorbed, to the point where, for much of the film, they think it’s okay to hurt others with their actions under the claim that they are “finding themselves” or are simply confused. From Nadine’s temper-tantrum acts that endanger her and make sympathy a bit more difficult, Krista’s disregard for her lifelong best-friend’s feelings, Darian’s disregard for his sister’s feelings and anyone’s for that matter, and their mother’s lack of discipline, everyone in this film needs a stern talking-to. Few moments in this film have any character making a rational decision, but maybe that’s just part of what comes with the territory of this particular subject matter.
With that in mind, The Edge of Seventeen is still a frequently touching and meaningful portrayal of adolescent angst and the mental-weight of fitting in, making friends, and trying to enjoy what you’re constantly told is supposed to be the best time of your life. An above-average cast of mostly young, up-and-comers working with a uniformly tight-screenplay get the showcase they deserve, and the multiplexes get another film they can proudly screen for an eager public in what has been a stellar month for film all around.
My review of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, and Alexander Calvert. Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!