The Edge of Seventeen
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th January 2017
3 stars, Rated M, 104 mins
When you’re a teenager, films about teenagers totally speak to you. You’re like “OMG, finally!” Someone who understands what it’s like dealing with raging hormones and being unpopular and the traumas of high school life is putting all that up on the big screen and showing you it’s all gonna be OK.
If you’re reading this as a child of the John Hughes era, you know what I’m talking about. Hughes was a grown-up filmmaker with an incredible memory of what it was like to be young. His films may have been all-American but his characters were universal. Or at least, aspirational. He gave us losers who became winners in their own way. That’s still an important message for the youth of today.
To this end, The Edge of Seventeen will speak to today’s teens and they should totally go see it. If, however, you find the whole teenage thing too angsty to take seriously, or too excruciating to revisit, you may want to give it a miss.
Written and directed by relative newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig, the film stars True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld as the fraught Nadine, who lives in the shadow of her football-playing stud of an older brother (Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some!!) and therefore falls apart emotionally when her best friend Krista and brother fall in love. Nadine is the type of teen we all recognise (and since I work with hundreds of teens every day, I see her in many of them) – earnest about the state of the world and her place in it; anxious about fitting in socially; smart and perceptive; and she has a great wardrobe of hi-top sneakers. (Actually, the sneakers are my favourite thing about her.)
Steinfeld plays Nadine the only way she possibly can with such an on-the-nose script – slightly over-the-top, eye-rollingly dry, lots of “OMG!” moments that verge on slapstick. Woody Harrelson provides a nice counterpoint as the very still, ironic teacher to whom Nadine takes all her problems. Harrelson says all the things teachers cannot, but wish they could, say. (Cute as it appears in the script, no real-life male teacher would read aloud a sexually explicit text message or jokingly encourage suicide.) Their odd-couple tête-à-têtes provide some of the film’s highlights.
But the Best Thing Ever is Hayden Zseto’s unlikely romantic lead, Erwin – the nerdy, easily-flustered classmate who takes a shine to our heroine. Stealing every scene and putting the Adorable into the story, Zseto is going to be a big star.
Overall, the story gets rather tiresome. Don’t get me wrong! I spend all day with teens, and their concerns are real. Just sometimes tiresome. But hopefully watching The Edge of Seventeen will make them feel better.