An outstanding debut from director Kelly Fremon Craig (writer of Post Grad), this uncommonly trenchant study of disaffected youth is bolstered by a resoundingly honest, John Hughes-inspired tone, and a marvelous cast led by the brilliant Hailee Steinfeld.
17-year old high school outcast Nadine Franklin (Steinfeld) finds her life shattered when her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), embarks on a relationship with her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Struggling to keep it together with an overbearing mother (Kyra Sedgwick) to boot, Nadine finds occasional, snarky solace by treating teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) like her own personal diary.
While on paper, a premise of this sort without any major creative pedigree behind it – Post Grad was no classic – nor an acclaimed novel to draw from won’t exactly draw in more than the tween demographic. However, it’s clear within minutes of sitting down to watch the film that it’s imbued with a good deal more intellect, humour and slice-of-life authenticity than just about anyone expected.
First and foremost, the film quickly and bravely asserts that Nadine is not a particularly pleasant person to be around. She has her reasons, as everyone does, but she is not a likeable protagonist for the majority of this story. Some viewers may be initially turned off by this, but perhaps swayed back by how accurately the movie captures self-centered youth in all of its vain glory, where every school-time drama feels like it could bring the whole world to an end.
Steinfeld, who impressed so many as a child in True Grit before largely disappearing from worthy roles, is back with a stunningly on-the-money turn that captures Nadine in all of her bemusing, often hilarious complexity. Similarly, the whole ensemble really delivers here; Harrelson is howlingly funny as the wise-ass teacher, Sedgwick thoroughly delivers as hysterical mum, and Jenner nails some tough emotional beats in the movie’s second half. Arguably the big surprise here, however, is up-and-comer Hayden Szeto, who frequently steals the film as Nadine’s awkward suitor Erwin.
With no easy answers to finding satisfaction and calm in life, and some musings on the nature of anxiety and social awkwardness that are sure to leave some viewers very uncomfortable, The Edge of Seventeen is a rare teen movie brimming with heart, superbly acted and appealing to swathes outside of its core audience.
The Edge of Seventeen is in cinemas now