Edge of Seventeen (2016)
I don’t believe high school used to be easy. John Hughes at his most grim would have you believe kids of “all different backgrounds” (all of whom were still rich and white, presumably) could bond together over recess and fight back against the biggest of obstacles: mean teachers and grumpy parents.
While divorce and high school malaise ran the show in coming-of-age stories during the 1980s, a more authentic breed of movies have come in the 2000s. More than that, I think we’ve started to get a better trend of films targeted at a generation of teenagers that have grown up through times tougher than any generation since the one that survived the great depression.
Don’t take that to mean “Edge of Seventeen” is a grim movie, because it isn’t. But it is refreshingly authentic in a sea of movies that too often pander to their audience. Teenagers, above all else, want to be treated fairly. They say they want to be treated like adults because, frankly, that’s the only way adults seem to get the message.
Such is the case, more or less, for Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine. The young actress, who you’ll remember was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “True Grit (2010),” crushes the anger and frustration felt by someone trapped in a body and life she despises while surrounded by those she perceives as greater than her.
Nadine is flawed, at times deeply so. The movie never revels in that, nor does it make excuses for her, which is often a fatal flaw. Instead it chooses to understand her choices and show us how those choices affect those around her. We get a chance to see Nadine grow with a good mixture of humor and sharp dialogue along the way.
Admitting Nadine’s flaws is a wise choice by first-time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. By doing so, she gives us a chance to step into Nadine’s shows and walk for a bit while really enjoying the characters around her. Woody Harrelson, as Nadine’s favorite teacher, offers a bit of advice and some sardonic humor while Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner and Hayden Szeto all shine in their respective roles.
It doesn’t go after the quirkiness found in films like “Juno” or “Captain Fantastic,” which I like as a stylistic choice (though I adore both of those movies). “Edge of Seventeen” works because it feels so real. The relationship between Steinfeld as Nadine and Fremon Craig behind the camera has everything to do with that. Without that partnership, the entire film falls apart; together? This is my favorite film of the year.