Quick Hit – Despite being emotionally hard hitting, the excellent character building and script at times takes a backseat to some derivative plot points.
Anyone else remember what a whirlwind high school was? What about puberty? The rush of the feeling when your crush walked past? How your world always felt like it was ending (or starting anew again)? Those feelings are exactly what The Edge of Seventeen is about.
Our main character, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), is in the center of her own world, which is something that nearly every teenager goes through. Admittedly, she may have more of an excuse than most right now. Her father, the only person she felt she could relate and talk to, has passed away. Her brother is now dating her best friend (really only friend). And so now she eats lunch with her history teacher (Woody Harrelson).
The movie does a great job at balancing the act of making Nadine seem both stupid and childish, as well as relatable. Because this critic would wager you’ll see at least one or two moments that you recognize in this film. That’s because first time director/writer Kelly Fremon Craig excels at painting you into the picture that she is working on. It’s not just the occasional text that is typed and quickly deleted, or a melodramatic suicide note. It’s the feelings behind those things that somehow tap into what you, as the viewer, are feeling.
Some of this is done in script form, with Nadine consistently continuing her thoughts far past what any reasonable script would accept. Other times it’s the set design, which perfectly paints us at home while still keeping us at arm’s length. But I would argue it’s the camera work that really sells the idea, because the whole thing feels homey at times, only to rapidly change and work in a different way. It’s made to follow the rapid way your emotions change during puberty, but the camera also knows when to linger on an emotional beat for the right amount of time.
Hailee Steinfeld does a great job as Nadine, bestowing her with just the right amount of angst without coming across as a cliché. Harrelson is also terrific, playing a role filled with the beats he’s been hitting the most in movies like The Glass Castle – someone who probably thought they would be up to more in life, but at times just making the best of it. He treats Nadine like no other teacher would, in a borderline inappropriate (not sexual) way – but it’s the only way to break through to her. There’s a reason she has found solace in his classroom during lunch, after all. Arguably though, I think the heart of the film resides with Blake Jenner as Nadine’s brother. After his father’s death, he’s been tasked with becoming the man of the house, and it’s a heavy burden to carry. That’s something that has been depicted before, but never quite in this light – off in the background of a main character’s shadow.
There are a lot of things that remind me of other coming of age movies that we’ve watched – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the first, followed by the excellent Sing Street as well. It’s the excellent camerawork and some of the script that forms these comparisons, but I think it’s good all the same. I’m giving this a “B+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"