REVIEW: “The Edge of Seventeen”

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I can’t help but have a cautious approach to any movie described as “a high school coming-of-age story”. Just think of the stale, uninspired sludge Hollywood has churned out that fits that billing. “The Edge of Seventeen” from first time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig is a welcomed antithesis to the conventional norm. It’s a clear-eyed movie that looks at teen anxiety without an ounce of glamour and with a refreshing bite to it.

The film stars Hailee Steinfeld, a young talent I’ve admired since her Oscar-nominated debut in the Coen brothers western remake “True Grit”. The story opens with her character, a frantic 17 year-old Nadine, bursting into her history teacher Mr. Bruner’s classroom and proclaiming she is going to kill herself. It’s a startling statement met with an even more startling response from her teacher (played by a snarky deadpan Woody Harrelson).

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The film takes a few steps back to show what brought Nadine to this point. You have her contentious relationship with her disconnected mother (Kyra Sedgwick). Then you have her animosity towards her brother Darian (Blake Jenner), a super popular jock at school and a mama’s boy at home. But at least she has her one true friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), a fellow outsider and her emotional outlet. But even that sacred relationship runs into its own bit of trouble.

At first glance Nadine’s situation seems obvious – she’s surrounded by uncaring people who are consumed with their own perfect lives. But Craig’s screenplay isn’t that transparent. Through a handful of clever and subtle changes of perspective we begin to see some things differently. Nadine’s self-loathing comes more into focus and its effects on her relationships becomes more profound.

Through all of this Craig shows off a biting sense of humor. Some of the very best scenes are the empty classroom sessions between Steinfeld and Harrelson. They are often uncomfortably funny and I say that as a compliment. Mr. Bruner comes across as dismissive and insulting, at one point calling her the worst dressed student in the school and sometimes worse. Nadine keeps engaging him because he legitimizes her low opinions of herself. Their darkly funny back-and-forths highlight a keen acidic wit that fits wonderfully with their chemistry.

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There are a couple of other performances I need to mention. Blake Jenner (who also starred in 2016’s “Everybody Wants Some”) is very good playing different shades of the Darian character. And I really liked Hayden Szeto who plays Nadine’s equally awkward love-struck classmate Erwin. This is Szeto’s film debut and he has a fairly small part, but he is such a fresh and funny presence.

There are a handful of moments where it’s too easy for us to get ahead of the story. These few predictable scenes are some of the biggest turning points in the story. But they are small blemishes on an otherwise refreshing take on teen life. “The Edge of Seventeen” isn’t some cliched nostalgic trip down memory lane. Instead it reminds us that for some kids high school wasn’t parties and pageantry. It’s also a great showcase for Hailee Steinfeld and a wonderful introduction to Kelly Fremon Craig, an exciting young cinematic voice.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

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31 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Edge of Seventeen”

  1. Good review. From the trailers, I thought this was going to be another run-of-the-mill teen angst movie. However, after seeing the movie, it was actually pretty good, speaking to the modern day “Generation X” teenagers. Plus, the movie doesn’t go big with a dance or prom or graduation ceremony, making The Edge of Seventeen quite a normal story of a awkward teenage girl in suburbia.

    • Surprised me too. I had pretty much the exact same expectations as you. I was actually pretty blown away by it. Smart and not overloaded with cliches. And Steinfeld just gets better and better.

  2. I”m so ticked I missed this Keith. Wasn’t expecting 4.5, but then I’ve read some really good things about this. Hailee Steinfeld seems to be really coming into her own. And woody harrelson is always awesome.

    Hey I have a real quick favor to ask of you — would you mind if you would change my blog name in your blog roll to Thomas J ? I know it’s kind of a weird question but I would appreciate it! Thanks kindly

    • I wasn’t expecting a 4.5 either! It wAs so much more than I expected. It’s incredibly smart and wickedly funny. I’m pretty sure it’s close to hitting DVD so you should get a shot at it soon.

      And you bet man, I’ll get that changed first thing tomorrow!

  3. I didn’t expect much going into this one, but I loved it. Hailee Steinfeld was incredible and Woody Harrelson provided the film’s funniest moments. I will say that it’s very predictable, and story-wise, it hits a lot of familiar, coming-of-age beats, but it has an undeniable heart and honesty about it that made it one of last year’s biggest surprises.

    • Yep, that’s what I was referring to by it letting us get ahead of it too much. A few of its biggest moments are easy to see coming. Other than that it was a huge surprise. I’m with ya. And don’t you love when movies blow away your expectations.

  4. I didn’t like it at all. That Stevie Nicks fella needs a haircut and that singing sounds like a young lamb bleating. Made my ears hurt listening to it.

  5. Just caught this the other night and you’re spot on, what a surprisingly great film. Harrelson quietly had another fantastic performance. What a guy.

  6. I have heard a lot of good things about this film. Now I need to overcome my preconceptions and watch it, if only for Hailee Steinfeld. I am also following her career since True Grit, and think she is an interesting actress.

    • She is really, really good here. She made a mark in True Grit and this shows yet another step for her as an actress. She has such a promising career ahead of her.

  7. I really, really liked this one. One of my favs of last year. I think it could go down as one of the best in its genre. Will age very well I think, compared to some of the other 80’s popular movies in the genre. And I totally think Steinfeld would have been a good inclusion in Best Actress.

  8. Awesome review. Loved this myself. And the John Hughes comparisons definitely ring true. Really rare to see a coming-of-age film this well-executed. Hope to see more of Kelly Fremon Craig’s work in the future.

  9. Nice review Keith. Admittedly I’ve grown tired on the “coming-of-age” genre but I was disappointed that I missed this. I too was impressed by Steinfeld in True Grit, and it’s good to hear she doesn’t disappoint in this.

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