Hailee Steinfeld Blake Jenner Kyra Sedgwick Woody Harrelson Haley Lu Richardson Hayden Szeto Alexander Calvert
The Edge of Seventeen put my nerves on edge, partly because I’m a psychologist. [If ever a group of people needed therapy, this family does, but—unrealistically—it’s never mentioned to any of them.] Secondly, I’m bothered by so many of the current films meant for teens glorifying or minimizing the bad effects of alcohol. When the protagonist here, Nadine (Steinfeld), drinks so much she’s hanging over the toilet the next morning with her friend mopping her brow, I’m curious about what the filmmakers’ intend and what adolescent viewers will think of it. Are they likely to admire it or get the impression that “everybody does it” or “no big deal”? Might filmmakers come up with better ways to rebel and protest as models for young people? (Yes, I know it’s not about that; it’s about the money to be made in making people laugh, even if what they laugh at is inappropriate.)
Nadine has a hard life for someone in her circle (middle/upper class suburban), primarily because she is annoying. She is not an “easy” child in her rebelliousness—physical manifestations in her younger years and sarcastic, put-down remarks in her teens. Grade school is torture until she finds one friend, Krista (Richardson), who appears to be the only one (besides her father) who is nice to her. The film can be credited for its portrayal of a mother who might spawn such a child, Mona (Sedgwick), who idolizes her older son Darian (Jenner) and always regards Nadine as less than, or worse.
When a family tragedy occurs, Mona increasingly turns to Darian, and Nadine becomes more and more of a problem. Nadine ups the ante to force her mother to pay attention to her, becoming more and more distressed and acting out, while desperately seeking help from other sources. But when her best friend Krista begins taking up with Nadine’s brother Darian, she loses the only real support she has ever known (besides her father, who is no longer available), not because of Krista rejecting Nadine, but the anticipation of Krista rejecting her.
The comedy in The Edge of Seventeen is in the people she turns to for help. One is her teacher, a wry Mr. Bruner (Harrelson), who has some of the funniest come-back lines in response to a range of her tragedies (loss of father, suicide thoughts, miss-sent text) and her bombastic accusations. The best thing for her (and the movie) is that he is never shocked by what she says, but responds in a way that makes us laugh and bewilders her. Only Harrelson could pull this off in the way that he did—quintessential Harrelson.
Another person Nadine turns to is a shy classmate, Erwin (Szeto), whom she underestimates and devalues (partly because he seems to like her) until the end when she can be truly impressed. Their interchanges are realistic for shy kids their age, and constitute some of the most genuine and comedic portrayals in the film.
Unfortunately, there is someone else Nadine turns to, a crush she has on someone she doesn’t really know, Nick (Calvert). She accidently sends him an erotic text, which he surprises her by responding to, and they go out on a date that doesn’t turn out well.
Steinfield does an expert job in playing an annoying, difficult child with self-esteem problems, and her gradual painful transformation into a more mature person is nuanced. Kudos to veterans Harrelson and Sedgwick; it’s always gratifying to see talent and experience at work. Szeto’s Erwin could be considered a break-out performance in his portrayal of a kind of nerdy, artistic character still naïve, but with tons of talent.
The Edge of Seventeen is a debut film for writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig. It’s a good start, but I hope she will become more thoughtful of the social/psychological messages she sends in her films, and go beyond simply pleasing an audience that may not be very discriminating. She appears to be sensitive to human dilemmas and experiences, and could become more mindful of creative means of overcoming them. She presents rich psychological material in the characters, but these are not resolved in a realistic way.
In addition to the problems with this film mentioned in the first paragraph, I cannot figure out why filmmakers cast older actors to play teenagers. Steinfield was 19 when the film was made—which isn’t so bad—but the other teen actors ranged in age from 20-30 years old. If there weren’t talent in the age range of the film, I could understand, but there are; so why don’t filmmakers cast them? It’s simply ludicrous to expect us to imagine a 17 year-old in a 30 year-old body.
A film about teenagers probably not for teenagers.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland