Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

the-edge-of-seventeen 3 stars

R  |  104 min

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner

by Jason Koenigsberg

Growing up is really hard. In fact it can suck most of the time. A lot of movies have shown that and The Edge of Seventeen joins the pantheon of movies to capture the troubles of being a teen and it does so with humor and style that felt natural. The story involves Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) who already has a difficult time in high school and it gets even more unbearable when her best friend for ten years (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother (Blake Jenner). It is kind of like the nightmare scenario for many kids who go to high school at the same time as their older, more popular sibling. 

The opening shot positions the camera low to the ground and we see kids walking outside on an autumn day, with colorful leaves blowing in the wind. It jumps right into the plot as we see a car drive up and someone get out of the car. The next shot reveals that it is our main character who got out of the car and is walking into the school, she sits down in an empty classroom in front of a teacher played by Woody Harrelson and tells him she is going to kill herself. This scene was kind of ruined in the trailers as Woody Harrelson makes light of her confession. 

It then flashes back to her childhood where we learn she has a turbulent relationship with her mother but loves her father more than anyone in the world. Her older brother is kind of the perfect person and she envies him. This movie recalls a lot of other films dealing with teenage angst but the one it felt like the most was Juno (2007). Most likely because both are told through the female protagonists eyes and both main characters are quirky and not your stereotypical high school girl, but possess an old soul. 

The Edge of Seventeen takes place in Oregon which is a nice change of pace and provides for some beautiful backdrops while capturing the teenage awkward phase. Although this is a comedy, it respects its characters and treats their problems seriously. It deals with difficult issues teenagers face when growing up in a humorous way but is never condescending to the characters. The humor and anxiety felt genuine. 

It is also worth noting that The Edge of Seventeen feels realistic because there is no clear villain. Nadine has no antagonist to square off against, just her own inner conflicts and the inner conflicts of her peers. Everyone in this movie is a good person that has to deal with awkward and uncomfortable situations. This may be a film about high school and growing up but it treats its characters and the audience more maturely than many other movies. 

The costume design throughout was very well crafted especially Nadine’s costumes which always made her stand out and appear slightly more awkward than the other characters on screen. All of the performances are good most notably Hailee Steinfeld. Woody Harrelson is always a welcome presence and makes the most of his scenes as her reluctant mentor since she has nobody else to talk to. The student-teacher relationship between them was not very realistic considering the things they do and discuss and that was unfortunately the weakest part of The Edge of Seventeen since Harrelson’s teacher would probably get fired if he did not let administrators or the school counselor know some of the things Nadine confided in him. 

The Edge of Seventeen is a very well made movie about the trials and tribulations of growing up. It has a genuine humor and even features a very funny animated sequence that could have worked on its own as a great animated short film. It captures the teenage angst of growing up and looking for love and finding yourself in the process. The final shot really completes the film nicely as it indicates optimism and maturity from Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine. My biggest complaint is rather miniscule, but like The Kids are Alright (2010), how can you name a movie after an iconic song and then not play the song in the film at all?

Instead of the trailer, here is Stevie Nicks singing “Edge of Seventeen”. 

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