Steinfeld embodies teen angst in comedy The Edge of Seventeen
Though The Edge of Seventeen begins with a voiceover, telling a coming-of-age story of a high school student, the film goes beyond the trite expectations that tend to accompany the genre. The title and advertising prepare viewers for the tale of yet another teenager who struggles through high school angst. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a girl who accidentally sends an explicit text message to a boy, inadvertently revealing her lewd intentions towards him. In the end, the film provides a fresh and engaging story. Nadine, as the main character, fits a specific model of the high school protagonist. She is different. This idea pervades the genre with unpopular characters vying to avoid pop music, separating themselves from the so-called “cool kids.” They see themselves as people who do not fit in, but they would rather be different than have to be normal.
Nadine suffers from being on the outskirts of popularity. Throughout her school career, she has only had one friend. Her loneliness makes her sympathetic and for some can feel like somebody with whom to identify. This however is tempered by the character’s inability to empathize. Her words are bluntly honest and sometimes scathingly cold. While Nadine repeatedly expresses interest toward Nick, the boy who eventually receives her mistaken missive, the real adolescent male of interest is Erwin, lovably portrayed by Hayden Szeto.
Erwin is the perfect mixture of awkwardness, trying too hard and being unsure of himself. He stammers through responses to Nadine’s half-interested questions, evoking second-hand embarrassment for audiences. Hands cover faces but a smile lies underneath the discomfort. Woody Harrelson serves the role of comic relief in the film. He plays the history teacher, Mr. Bruner, a perennial grump with a heart of gold. His relationship with Nadine tends to consist of his bewilderment toward her sudden attempts at friendly meetings followed by snide asides in delightful deadpan. Much of the emotion in The Edge of Seventeen comes from the characters’ relationships.
Nadine’s family consists of her, her mother and her brother Darian. Her mother is a widow trying to keep it together. Darian is a high school senior who is confident and popular. The mother struggles with her daughter, going to Darian for support. Darian and Nadine verbally spar over rides, friends and who gets dibs on the house when it is empty. Meanwhile, Nadine struggles in her relationship with Krista, her only friend. Krista is more comfortable socially and the difference in the two characters creates a divide. Nadine’s connection to her teacher, on the other hand, offers humor and sweetness. Her conversations with Erwin create awkwardness.
The relationships all feel genuine and real. The awkwardness of the film is relished; it is a style that develops different results. It is awkward and funny, awkward and sweet and awkward and sad. The pauses are uncomfortable at times, though they are variably used in interesting ways. The Edge of Seventeen is the directorial debut of writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. The film offers a compelling case to see more of her work. The characters are well-rounded and relatable. The connections can be felt. The overall story feels more episodic than may be intentioned, but it all plays into a feeling of reality.
The film is a slice of life with an ending that feels happy and promising, but is not a “happily ever after.” As a high school story, the film is about development. Nadine is far from perfect and over the course of the film, she has to learn this. She is quick to judge and to assume the worst in people. Her lack of empathy makes her ignore the problems of others. She feels isolated, but part of that is her fault. Just like any other high school student, she needs to learn to see her faults and work on them.
The movie is generally good, though its opening has superfluous elements. The use of narration affords almost nothing beyond that which was already provided without Nadine’s voice speaking over the action. The story begins with a framing device, using Nadine’s reaction to the aforementioned text message as a jarring opening. While the effect is strong, the revelation of the text’s import makes the opening feel unnecessary. The recipient of the text message, Nick, is the quintessentially sketchy bad boy. He has the hairdo, the clothing and the job at a pet store necessary to be clearly seen by everybody but the protagonist as being unworthy of her affection. In opposition to him is the nice guy, Erwin. The lovable goof fits the role that any genre-savvy viewer will recognize as eventual love interest.
The romance all hits the expected story beats of a high school romantic comedy. Among the expected moments, the little touches of humor and the human factor round out the movie’s quality. The very genre of the film almost necessitates repetition of pre-existing works within the genre.
The Edge of Seventeen succeeds in setting itself apart from the pack, as an above average selection with humanity and humor.