Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Running Time: 104 mins
Synopsis: Nadine (Steinfeld) is a socially awkward 17 yr old in high school. Already reeling from the death of her father a few years before and a fraught relationship with her mother, her life implodes (or at least to her it does) when her only friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother (Blake Jenner).
Coming of age films are always a little unbelievable. Although I am a fan they spend too much time attempting to deliver quirky characters and heightened situations that they sometimes forget to be real. There are those individualistic people out there but the majority of us are simple down to earth normal fellows. Debut writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig has bucked the trend with this bitingly perceptive and authentic teenage tale.
Storming into the room of her favourite teacher, played with a laconically scathing honesty by Woody Harrelson, to announce she is about to kill herself, it is clear Steinfeld’s Nadine is your typical self centred young adult. Harrelson cuts through it immediately with his own declaration of suicidal intent, it is all a sarcastic joke of course but it is evident of the films deft characterful writing. It appears Nadine is having one of those usual late teenage crises. Flashing back through her painfully awkward childhood, where a confident charismatic and popular older brother cast her in the shade, and the fact that her mother (a great Kyra Sedgwick) just doesn’t understand her, leaving her warm caring father as the only saving grace. This section of the film is hindered by the standard character exposition voiceover common in these films, but thankfully it is dropped as proceedings kick in. Although the scene where her father suffers a fatal heart attack whilst driving her home is suitably shocking and moving.
Jump forward through her introduction to her one and only best friend Krista, as they share secrets, laughs and generally do what it is best friends do, we land back in the present day where after a fateful drunken night Krista winds up sleeping with Nadine’s quietly cool but to her absolute dickish brother Darian. This act of betrayal, shes a teenager so of course this is a life-changing event when we grown ups know all to well that it is a minor blip, shakes her world forcing her to confront who she really is. Typical YA fare you might think but the genius of Fremon’s writing and Steinfeld’s beautifully judged performance is that they are not afraid to show Nadine’s utterly horrible side. Bitter, obnoxious, completely self-absorbed and callous towards others feelings, in layman’s terms, a teenager. It is a truthful and complex performance, the beauty of which is that Steinfeld maintains your sympathies throughout. Where films of this ilk tend to make their protagonists likeable the entire time, Fremon is smart enough to realise that to everyone else teenagers can be complete bastards.
This frankness and honesty extends throughout the cast. Harrelson, as mentioned, is a joy to watch, revealing a gentle caring nature beneath the blunt and forthright exterior. Sedgwick is also the best she has been in years, as a mother who just cannot wrap her head around her rebellious daughter whilst also attempting to get over the loss of her husband, she is flighty, flawed and once again extremely believable. A late film moment involving a simple text response to her daughter is fraught with the realisation that she has to let Nadine find her path, and forget her own selfish needs. Not surprisingly they are both more alike than they’d freely admit. Jenner builds on his great work in Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some with a performance that rises above the usual jock stereotype to something deeper as her brother. There is also a joyous Hayden Szetso as the equally shy and nervous admirer of Nadine. His hyper verbose and physically unsure nature around Nadine is truly wonderful, and it makes the inevitable coupling together of them one to root for. The wounded puppy look he gives upon some of her more brutal rejections is a sight to elicit numerous ‘awwws.’
The true heroes here though is the delicious double act of Steinfeld and Fremon. After a sterling debut role in the Coen’s True Grit, I found myself slightly cold towards her in later roles. But here she gives an alive, vital and heartbreaking performance. I genuinely found myself tearing up at her emotional, cards on the table monologue in the films final moments. Aided admirably by an unflinchingly honest and smartly sensitive script from Fremon Craig. Her direction has a nice warm autumnal feel, always favouring character over such tacky things like a hip relatable soundtrack, normally the go to goal with these films. The Edge of Seventeen is a confident and adept calling card and I hope to see big things from her in the future, which can only be helped along by going to see this thoroughly brilliant and wholly realised teen gem.
Verdict: Finding honest truths and edgy delights in the usually cliche ridden teen drama, Edge of Seventeen is powered by an outstanding and delicately nuanced Hailee Steinfeld. It may bring back painful memories of those formative years but you’d be a fool to not see one of this years best little gems.