The Edge of Seventeen.
You can tell that movies get better as the year goes on. It begins in January and February with movies that just hope to eat the scraps of Oscar season, then slowly we get to summer where people want explosions and that’s about it. By the time we reach November and December, we get the real movies. The best of the best, hoping to gain attention for the big award shows.
The Edge of Seventeen stars Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 2, True Grit) as a girl named Nadine, who is having a rough go of things. Her father passes away, leaving her with her mom and her brother, both of whom she doesn’t really connect with. She’s bitter towards her brother (Blake Jenner) and is angry towards her mother (Kyra Sedgwick). Her only friend is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), until Nadine discovers that Krista and her brother are romantically involved. The only person Nadine can vent to is her high school teacher (Woody Harrelson).
She has two romantic interests in the movie, the dangerous bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert) and the awkward good guy Erwin (Hayden Szeto).
This movie connected with me on a lot of levels. Maybe it was the fact that it was set in Oregon, maybe it’s because I connected maybe a little too much with this main character, maybe it’s a lot of things. But as I watched this movie, it felt like it was something I lived through. I talked about authenticity in my Moonlight review and this movie had that same quality. These high schoolers talked the way that high schoolers talk. The apathetic high school teacher felt very realistic, as did most other characters.
Let me back up. When I rate movies, I can’t help but compare them to other movies in the genre. A 5-star romantic comedy isn’t necessarily as good as a 5-star Oscar-award winning film. But when a movie gets 5 Adam-heads from me, it means that in its genre, it’s among the best. And this movie is among the best in this genre, that of hyperactive and overdramatic teens struggling with life and love.
I say this movie feels authentic because they tackle this overdramatic nature in a way that felt real. I was overdramatic (I like to think was is a proper way to describe that) and hopeless and lost and this movie conveys it all perfectly. It balances this with other characters like the teacher (Harrelson) and the mom (Sedgwick), who offer other points of view. Nadine feels like the end of the world is approaching but her apathetic high school teacher knows that the world isn’t actually ending. I relate to both of these situations. I remember being young and depressed and emotions felt so strong that every moment was painful. As a high schooler, you feel raw, like every nerve is exposed. As a thirty-something, I look back and I can relate to Nadine, but I also relate to the adults in this movie, who have very realistic reactions to Nadine. This movie manages to be about her and her struggles, but the complimentary points of view are much appreciated.
The performances here make it feel authentic. Steinfeld is great, manic at times like a female Jesse Eisenberg, but also sad and depressed, giving her character a realistic depth. Her supporting characters are great as well, highlighted by her teacher (Harrelson) and by her brother (Jenner). I also want to shout-out Hayden Szeto for being realistically awkward and quirky. I wish they had done more with him, but he served his point in the bigger picture I guess.
So in short, this movie is great because it treats this movie’s subject matter with absolute seriousness, the way we often feel it, yet it smartly gives these events context through adult characters, the way they would feel it. It’s rare that a coming of age movie like this would resonate with both age ranges.
What doesn’t work?
The only major detractor is that Nadine feels so real that she’s unlikeable for much of the movie. She’s unlikeable in the way that real overly dramatic and overly emotional people would be in real life. She’s selfish at times and blundering and makes mistakes, like real people would. That might be hard to watch and it might be hard to root for her but I appreciated it.
Like I said, a 5-star rating means it’s the best of its genre. The Edge of Seventeen manages to realistically convey the hardships of being a teenager, complete with a lead character that is borderline unlikeable, but it also manages to give us deep adult characters that help give Nadine’s story context. It’s funny, it’s intense, it’s everything that high school was for a lot of us. It’s also hopeful though, hopefully offering solace to the people that still feel emotions as raw as our Nadine does. The Edge of Seventeen does it all, nearly perfectly.