I must admit I am an aficionado of teen movies, whether they are good, bad or stupid (so sue me), so I looked forward to seeing The Edge of Seventeen for a number of reasons. But, as I say in my video review above, what I thought would fit nicely into the teen film genre isn’t that at all. This is a movie about a young woman, Nadine, played splendidly by Hailee Steinfeld, who just happens to be a high school teen but really is a complicated, funny, sad, troubled, wonderful person in so many ways. I should have known this would be special stuff just by the presence of producer James L. Brooks’ name on it. This is the man who directed such films as Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good as It Gets, produced Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything and Jerry McGuire and created or produced TV classics including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi and The Simpsons. He has always been about strong character-driven scripts, and that certainly is what he recognized in Kelly Fremon Craig’s spec screenplay that landed at his production company, Gracie Films.
Craig has a unique ear for the way teens talk, and here it is uncompromising — even if R-rated at many times. The story revolves around Nadine and what essentially have been growing pains for most of her life, living in the shadow of her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) ever since they were little kids. Her one solace is her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), until one day she discovers the BFF has hooked up with her golden boy brother. That, as you might imagine, sets her off on a further downward spiral, even acting kinda suicidal in front of her teacher (Woody Harrelson) who has some very funny and pointed scenes played beautifully between them. She is someone way ahead of the curve, and he recognizes that, offering her a sympathetic if cynical ear. Classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) clearly also sees something in her, but she resists his quirky charms in favor of going after the bad boy who works at Petland. That “relationship” predictably goes sour as Nadine continues to try to find her way, a truly individual voice in a noisy world.
Certainly there are echoes of John Hughes’ 1980s teen movies in some of this, but The Edge of Seventeen is its own animal, powered by a perceptive and wryly funny take on things by Craig — who also makes her directing debut — and highlighted by the performance of a never-better Steinfeld. She has been Oscar nominated already (for True Grit) but has what I would call a serious breakout role here, one that should be remembered at awards time. The supporting cast could not be better, with Harrelson drolly and believably taking on the skeptical teacher/mentor role and Kyra Sedgwick nicely balanced as Nadine’s mother, who also has her own life to deal with and is not ashamed to say so. A real standout is Szeto, a charmer in the rare case of an Asian actor being cast in a completely color-blind way — and all the better for it.
Producers in addition to Brooks and Craig are Julie Ansell and Richard Sakai. The Edge of Seventeen opens today through STX Entertainment. It’s a keeper.
Do you plan on seeing The Edge of Seventeen? Let us know what you think.