The Edge of Seventeen and all the images you see in this review are owned by STX Entertainment
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Oh hey! It’s our good ol’ friends at STX entertainment once again! They’ve only been around for just over a year now, yet they’ve responsible for five of the films I’ve had to review this year; all of which have been to surprisingly polarizing results with The Boy being one of the biggest surprises of the year and Free State of Jones turning out to be a major snooze fest. Still, they are sitting pretty after Bad Moms managed to rake in almost two hundred million dollars (and I get the feeling The Space Between Us is gonna make quite a few bucks as well), so they’re gonna stick around for some time; especially if their latest film manages to find a similar audience the way Bad Moms did. Does The Edge of Seventeen fill a niche for teenage moviegoers while also being a great film in its own right, or is this yet another lazy attempt to get the John Hughes formula to work one more time? Let’s find out!!
The movie is all about Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) who’s life as a middle class white girl REALLY sucks as she’s at the point in her life where nothing makes sense and everyone seems to be against her; especially when that’s compounded by the tragic loss of her father a few years back which drove a wedge between her and her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to this very day. Not only that, but she’s ALSO got to deal with her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) being so perfect at everything so she gets to compare her own lousy existence to a better one every single day. What could POSSIBLY make things worse!? Her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) sleeping with her brother? Okay, that will do it. Clearly Nadine is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and needs to find a way to become more comfortable with her own life and the ways in which it is changing; whether it’s by hanging out with a guy who TOTALLY loves her but she’s not all that into (Hayden Szeto) or working up the nerve to talk to the dude she’s been crushing on for quite some time now (Alexander Calvert). Will Nadine finally get her life on track after getting through this rough patch in her life? Will the hot bad boy who works in a pet shop FINALLY notice her? Maybe her teacher (Woody Harelson) can help sort this all out for her.
I’m not sure how this movie will play with general audiences (considering the box-office so far, probably not at all), but this feels like one of those formative teen films that’s going to hit REALLY hard with its intended demographic the same way that Mean Girls did in 2004 or even Easy A did in 2010, though to admittedly a much lesser degree. I did end up connecting a lot with Nadine’s plight in this movie, and there’s no doubt the film has a lot of power to it which is gonna help cement a loyal fan base in the years to come even if they aren’t showing up for it right now. The movie has its flaws which I would probably attribute more to James L Brook’s involvement than the writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig, but it’s still one of the better movies this year simply because of the sincerity in the characters and writing that manages to gives moments to feel disdain and unease as well as profound empathy for someone going through a rough patch in their life. It’s also pretty funny too, so don’t expect to be curled up in a ball at the end of the film. Okay, maybe a LITTLE bit, but it’s totally worth it!
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but if you’ve ever felt like a Lisa Simpson, then I can’t imagine this film NOT being speaking to you on a very personal level. Okay, in fairness, Nadine is not the perfect flower trying to survive in a sea of garbage and idiots (I imagine she actually hates those people) but Lisa Simpson is always more of an ideal to dream of rather than someone truly relatable (see also Matilda) while Nadine in here is much more grounded and has moved on to the bitter and cynical phase where all that “being an outcast” crap has stopped looking like time served for an eventual payoff once the world realizes how awesome you are. She’s without much direction in her life (I can relate) and doesn’t really have many IRL friends to turn to (I can relate… again) and she even has trouble function in large groups; feeling completely isolated in a sea of smiling happy people (okay, this getting depressing). I’m sure there are PLENTY of people out there who can latch onto that, either because they are currently feeling that way or have managed to get past it, and Hailee Steinfeld plays it with an endless depth of talent and grace; not just by reciting what’s on the page but through HOW she says those lines and her body language that all betray the insecure and heavily guarded persona just underneath her sardonic exterior.
The supporting cast pulls their weight as well, though there are a few weaknesses in this area that can be traced back to the films one big overall problem. Basically, the movie wants to simultaneously be a refutation of the traditional teen movie, while also seemingly celebrating it; creating an odd dichotomy where some scenes feel very real and uncomfortable while others are straight out of a sitcom. Characters like Nadine’s best friend Krista, and her teacher Mr. Bruner are witty and grounded, but her brother, her Nice GuyTM love interest, and the guy she pines after, feel like they were leftovers from a long lost John Hughes script. Now in some respects, having these clichés play out in a down to Earth movie does manage to pay off in certain respects, particularly in regards to the brother, but there are definitely areas where this works against the movie. In particular, I found the Nice GuyTM love interest Erwin came off as SUPER skeevy at points which I’m not sure was the intent of the movie considering where his character ends up at the end; though considering the mission statement of this movie is awkwardness to the max, it just might have been what they were aiming for. We’ve romanticized the idea of the big romantic gestures and the guy who just won’t quit, and maybe that can still work in films that have a certain fantastical tone, but in something THIS hell bent on being as uncompromisingly realistic as possible, his do or die spirit comes off as unpleasant. I don’t think he’s a bad guy or trying to take advantage of Nadine, but he DEFINITELY seems to be someone who not in the right head space (i.e. horny all the time) to be trying to start something with a girl who already has enough on her plate without an immature love struck doofus pressuring her for sex.
The dichotomy extends outside of just the characterizations as some of the story beats still feel somewhat sanitized and scripted which are out of place with the darker tone for the most part. I imagine a lot of that has to do with James L Brooks who is the executive producer on this and is apparently a mentor of Kelly Fremon Craig. Now the guy has some GREAT television shows under his belt which include Taxi, The Simpsons, and The Critic, but as a filmmaker he’s never quite been a force to reckon with which is kind of a problem as he CLEARLY had to have had a big hand in this since his protégé is the writer/director (and especially considering his name comes up FIRST in the end credits). The movie is very white, everyone is super pretty and bursting with muscle (Nadine’s secret admirer is supposed to be a cartoonist and a geek, yet he has six pack abs), and the ending feels like it wrapped things up way too nicely to be believable considering what we witnessed leading up to that. The movie needed a bit more bite at the end for it to work and unfortunately it cops out in favor of something more akin to a fairy tale ending, but at least it’s better than if it had gone too far in the opposite direction.
The movie manages to rise above most of those issues though as the writing and most of the cast hold things together when it’s at its weakest moments. In particular, I liked Woody Harrelson whose despondent and unflappable portrayal of the teacher is probably the comedic highlight of the movie, but Haley Lu Richardson and Blake Jenner as Nadine’s best friend and brother manage to give a lot of heart to the movie and give a lot of balance to Nadine’s character. Since she’s the character we follow throughout the entire movie and the filmmakers do such a great job of portraying her viewpoint, it’s very easy to empathize with her, but movie pulls back from making her a martyr primarily through these two characters and the way Nadine treats them after the begin dating. You can also throw her mother into that category as well considering how much shit she has to take on a daily basis dealing with Nadine, but she falls somewhere in between the two; both being a character who garners sympathy for dealing with Nadine, but also someone who causes a lot of the stress that her daughter is going through. There’s so much interesting dynamics going on here that you don’t normally see in movies like this, and even if they DO it’s usually saved for the last minute (you don’t realize how hard I have it and I’m telling you NOW instead of when the movie began for some reason!) rather than a consistent aspect of the film.
The movie isn’t gonna be for everyone because of how well it focuses on a specific life experience, but for those who have been through Nadine’s struggle to find happiness, this will probably one of the best films of the year. Even for those who aren’t gonna relate to Nadine’s struggle, there’s still something to enjoy here as the movie itself doesn’t take her side completely, and it manages to still be funny even if you’re not connecting to it. For the former category, this is absolutely worth checking out in a theater. Everyone else? You should still go see this as it’s a flat out good movie which we don’t get enough of and need to be supported more often, but you probably won’t miss much waiting of the home release. Now excuse me while I try to uncurl myself from this ball of despair…
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