I was unprepared for how emotionally resonant The Edge Of Seventeen would be. Yes, it’s a teenage dramedy about the perils and hardships of growing up with a wise-cracking high school junior as our point-of-view character, but obvious comparisons to Juno be damned, The Edge Of Seventeen is a biting look into the mind of a depressed, introverted teenager that reflects attitudes many of us felt at that age. Equal parts character study and lesson in empathy, this is a film that deserves your attention, whether you’re at the edge of seventeen or the edge of seventy.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is the aforementioned protagonist, a high school loner whose claim to fame is that her father died when she was thirteen and her only friend is a similarly shy girl named Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). However, when Krista develops feelings for and starts dating Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine feels betrayed and thus loses the one person she called a friend. What follows is a journey of angst and self-discovery that pits Nadine against an apathetic history teacher (Woody Harrelson), a mother on the verge of emotional collapse (Kyra Sedgwick), an awkward date (Hayden Szeto), and an even more awkward crush (Alexander Calvert).
What Steinfeld and writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig capture so well is that Nadine is a self-centered shit of a person, but she walks the line of being funny and charismatic enough that she’s relatable. She’s an avatar for adolescent ego-centricity, a person whose emotional journey is tied into an increased understanding of the emotions of those around her. It’s a kind of angst that most of us should be all too familiar with, and while the extremity of some of her circumstances may differ from the particulars of our own, Nadine is simultaneously a look back at our own adolescences and a fully realized individual character whose motivations aren’t solely rooted in allegory.
It is great then to see that Craig wisely chose to reveal more about the lives of those in Nadine’s social orbit gradually and only just a step ahead of Nadine’s gradual awakening. A seemingly sociable mother gradually crumbles away as we see the broken wreck that being a widow has made her. A handsome, popular older brother plays a more vital role in the family dynamic than we could have imagined. A shy, awkward guy at school has a much richer inner life than anyone would have expected. The only one who really gets short shrift is Nadine’s best friend Krista, who disappears for a large portion of the second act and doesn’t do much but serve as a plot device for the rift between Nadine and her brother.
That quibble aside, though, The Edge Of Seventeen is a smart, funny, heartbreaking film that will undeservedly go unacknowledged in the coming awards season. It takes the familiar ground of coming-of-age stories and tells something close to the best possible version of what that genre has to offer. The best answers are never the easy ones, and this is a film that fully embraces the complexity of human emotions and how understanding one another is the key to emotional survival.