TIFF 2016 Review: The Edge of Seventeen is a Modern Day Tribute to John Hughes
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a smart yet awkward teenager with a negative perspective on life. She constantly looks down on her peers and doesn’t like to engage in conversations with anyone other than her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). One random Friday afternoon, Nadine learns that her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) is leaving for a weekend getaway with her boyfriend. Nadine plans a small house party with Krista but her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) has similar plans. As a result, Nadine drinks too much and passes out, leaving Darian and Krista to clean up the house. As the two clean up, they begin to flirt, which ultimately ends in sex. The next morning, Nadine goes to look for Krista only to find her in bed with Darian. Feeling betrayed, Nadine questions their friendship and quickly becomes even more of a social recluse than ever before.
The Edge of Seventeen plays homage to the beloved John Hughes high school films of the 1980s. Kelly Fremon Craig showcases what it is like to be an awkward female teenager in the digital age. Nadine is a socially awkward outcast that struggles with accepting herself. She spends most of the film putting down others to make herself feel better. She is very self-centered and wants sympathy from others. She constantly plays the victim and thinks her opinion is better than those around her. Steinfeld was the perfect choice for this role because she is so believable as Nadine. It is very easy to see Steinfeld as a close-minded dorky and intelligent teenager. Her performance feels authentic and natural. I have known people like Nadine and I personally have had similar feelings to Nadine’s when I was in high school.
Craig’s screenplay is impressive because it wasn’t afraid to showcase Nadine as this likable yet selfish teenager. Nadine spends a lot of this film under the impression that everything is about her and doesn’t think about those around her. She doesn’t care about how she makes her brother, her mother, or even her best friend feel. There is this constant vibe that Nadine is better than all those around her including her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). I thought that was a bold move to have a lead character that was flawed and who constantly played the victim card. It is pretty rare in mainstream coming of age films where the audience gets to see a character such as Nadine presented in such a realistic light.
What is even more refreshing about the script is that Craig allows audiences to understand why Nadine acts the way she does. Nadine isn’t an asshole just because she feels like being one. Instead, Nadine is given backstory as to why she behaves the way she does. Nadine’s best friend while growing up was her father and losing him in 2011 is something that she never fully got over. Her mother Mona has also never recovered from the loss of her husband and constantly struggles with being a single parent. Nadine’s brother Darian is viewed as the golden child which again adds to Nadine playing the victim throughout the film.
The film’s story follows the same formula as a lot of beloved teenage driven coming of age films with a strong inspiration stemming from John Hughes. The film reminded me of a mixture of She’s All That and Easy A but was more honest and unapolgetic in tone. While I admired the bold decision to show Nadine as this well-rounded flawed and selfish person, I did find a lot of this film to be predictable and by the book. There were no real surprises and very few stand out emotional moments. I couldn’t help but feel slighly disappointed that such an honest protrayal of teenage angst didn’t offer much in terms of having an emotional arc which leads me to my biggest problem with the film.
While constantly sharp and funny, Craig’s script never goes far enough with the drama. This is incredibly unfortunate since there are several scenes that could have gone darker and as a result would have created some great dramatic tension. Sadly, these moments never happen because Craig’s screenplay plays it too safe. I wanted at least one or two scenes where I felt an emotional punch in the gut but never got it.
For example, there is a confrontation between Nadine and this guy named Nick (Alexander Calvert), who Nadine has been crushing on for years. As an audience member, you think something bad is going to happen but the way the scene plays out is underwhelming. This scene, if tweaked could have led to a really great brother and sister bonding moment. With that being said, the film contains a lot of cursing and sex talk but when it comes to presenting teenage drama, it feels like something you would see on Teen Nick.
The scene mentioned above as well as a handful of others could have added some real emotional depth to Nadine as a person. I don’t know if Craig thought that audiences couldn’t handle the stark reality of what would have actually happened if this were real life but I felt a lot of the moments that could have had emotional tension were simply glanced over. Again, I am not saying that the drama didn’t work to a certain degree, I just wanted and expected more. I think the film needed a few scenes that pushed the envelope a bit more and made the audience feel a real emotional connection to these characters.
The cast sells this film. As I said previously, Hailee Steinfeld is the perfect fit for the character of Nadine. She has the perfect look and is believable. Blake Jenner is great as Darian. Jenner and Steinfeld share two dramatic scenes together where they get into arguments and these are two of the film’s strongest moments. The first one takes place in the kitchen at their mother’s house while the other one is outside of Mr. Bruner’s house. Haley Lu Richardson is pretty good as Krista. I feel like her character has this wonderful introduction but after she becomes Darian’s girlfriend, her character takes a backseat until the very end of the film.
The two-standout performances, however, are Woody Harrelson as Mr. Bruner and Hayden Szeto as Erwin. Harrelson represents a high school teacher in a very honest and realistic light. I was very happy that the script didn’t try to go the romantic route with his character. Mr. Bruner served as a mentor to Nadine and one who wasn’t afraid to call Nadine out on her actions. I appreciated Mr. Bruner’s sarcastic wit and felt his speech about what it was like being a teacher to be comedic yet genuine. Its nice having an adult character that is shown as one. He calls bullshit on Nadine’s behavior and even makes her question how others see her.
Szeto’s Erwin takes awkward to a whole new level. He is such a perfect representation of the awkward creative film student. I know plenty of people like him which was refreshing to see a character like this represented on-screen. Erwin’s initial conversations with Nadine serve as some of the film’s funniest moments.
The Edge of Seventeen is an entertaining coming of age dramedy. It’s cute, heartfelt, and consistently charming. The trailers give too much away including some of the best jokes in the film. If you haven’t seen the trailers and want to see the film, I would avoid watching them at all costs. Craig picks the perfect cast, crafts well-rounded characters, and writes plenty of witty and clever dialogue. My only real issues stem from the lack of real drama and that the film is incredibly predictable. Still, The Edge of Seventeen is a good film that just missed the mark to be great. I still highly recommend it especially for fans of the coming of age genre or films about high school. I forsee myself revisiting this one again and again in the near future.
Scott “Movie Man“ Menzel’s final rating for The Edge of Seventeen is a 7 out of 10.