UK Release Date: 30th November 2016
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert
Synopsis: A young woman who struggles to fit in at school finds herself without any friends when her childhood best friend starts a relationship with her older brother, whom she hates.
The high school comedy movie is a cinematic staple, present throughout film history from The Breakfast Club to American Pie to Mean Girls. The latest film to use the complex social dynamics of a school environment to tell a story is The Edge of Seventeen, from debut director Kelly Fremon Craig, who also wrote the snappy script. It’s a smarter take on the genre than usual and one that has interesting things to say about the melodrama of youth and the nature of friendship.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is an outsider at school, with the exception of her lifelong best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Their friendship is disturbed, however, when Krista spends the night with Nadine’s hated older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and starts a relationship with him. Left without her closest friend, Nadine becomes even more of an outcast and starts spending time with cynical teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson). As she withdraws even further into herself, she hopelessly crushes on older schoolmate Nick (Alexander Calvert) whilst ignoring the advances of socially inept classmate Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto).
High school comedies have dozens of ingrained tropes and The Edge of Seventeen is able to sidestep many of them. This isn’t a tale of unrequited love that builds to a glamorous realisation against the backdrop of spiked punch and the crowning of prom queen. It’s a patient tale of complex relationships punctuated by smart comedy. The quips come thick and fast throughout, with Steinfeld’s central performance at the heart of it all. Her work has consistently impressed, whether in a film like The Keeping Room or with her small role in Pitch Perfect 2. She has been on the verge of breaking out for a long time and this is another solid performance from her.
Steinfeld is tremendous here, cracking the portrayal of a character who is at once relatable and very difficult to like. She’s petulant, childish and makes awful decisions, whilst ignoring Szeto’s genuinely affectionate attempts to connect with her. It’s Szeto who is the film’s secret weapon, nailing the socially awkward shtick and absorbing all of Steinfeld’s barbs with gleeful sarcasm. They have real spark and chemistry between them, which is more than can be said for Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson. Jenner doesn’t even get close to the surprisingly likeable douche he played in Everybody Wants Some!! and Richardson is never quite convincing, particularly when compared to Steinfeld’s live-wire charisma.
In fact, just about the only match for Steinfeld verbally is Woody Harrelson. His teacher is supportive, but also every bit as childish and no-nonsense as the central character. As the film moves into its third act, it’s the deepening and maturing of his character that provides The Edge of Seventeen with its most interesting narrative developments. The finale might be a touch predictable but, shorn of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds many similar movies, this has the feel of reality to it.
The Edge of Seventeen is a rather gentle movie that, when its characters aren’t chucking pretty relentless barbed dialogue at each other, tends to amble along slowly. It doesn’t have the urgency or sense of forward momentum that made something like Mean Girls so memorable and, with its focus on one character, it loses the opportunities that were available to something like American Pie or many of John Hughes’ most unforgettable classics. It might not have a great deal of high stakes drama, but it is a refreshingly honest portrait of modern youth.
Pop or Poop?
Strong performances and a witty script from Kelly Fremon Craig mark out Edge of Seventeen as one of the better teen comedies of recent years. Hailee Steinfeld gives one of her best performances to date and Woody Harrelson’s scathing sarcasm is worth the price of admission on its own.
Its lack of big melodrama, which is one of its biggest strengths, also leaves it without a major emotional pay-off. But this is a film about depicting young people honestly and, in that sense, this really excels.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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