Edgy, witty, and heartfelt, “The Edge of Seventeen” is a genuine coming-of-age story about that tumultuous life period called adolescence. While it often throws some funny moments of incisive humor via its spunky heroine who tries to deal with her bumpy adolescent life, it never takes a condescending attitude to its heroine while showing a lot of care to not only her but also the other characters surrounding her, and the result is one of the better teenager films coming out during recent years.
The movie begins with its heroine hurriedly coming to her high school teacher for spewing out whatever is churning inside her heart, and then we are told about how she has been awkward and insecure ever since she was very young. While her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) has always been a popular kid in the neighbourhood, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has mostly been a loner in contrast, and she knows too well that her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) is more partial to her brother than her.
At least, Nadine has Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who has been her only and best friend. Since Nadine’s father, who was quite dear to his daughter, passed away suddenly several years ago, Krista has accordingly become more important in Nadine’s life, but then there comes an unexpected happening which shakes their supposedly solid friendship. When Nadine and Krista have their small private drinking party in Nadine’s home while Nadine’s mother is absent, Darian also has his own party with his friends at the swimming pool outside the house, and he and Krista somehow come to have a very intimate physical encounter in the next morning.
When Nadine happens to discover what is going on between her brother and her best friend, she is understandably upset about this, and then she becomes mad when Krista and Darian decide to be more serious about their accidental relationship. Maybe she should be happy about this as wishing the best for them, but she instead finds herself being further agitated with anger and jealousy, and she does not know what to do about this complicated circumstance while continuing to be angry and bitter toward Krista and Darian.
Meanwhile, she is eager to approach to some hunky boy in her school, but she keeps hesitating to show her feelings directly to him. When she finally gets a chance to approach to him in private, she only finds herself being clumsy and inarticulate in front of him, and we later get a hilarious moment involved with her indiscreet text message inadvertently sent to him.
When Erwin (Hayden Szeto, who is, believe or not, 31 at present), an Asian American boy who is in the same class with Nadine, approaches to her, Nadine does not have much interest in him at first, but then she lets him try to get closer to her, and he invites her to his house. Both of them naturally feel awkward as being alone together, but they gradually become a little more relaxed and comfortable with each other, and we get a sweet, tender moment between them as they simply hang around with each other in a big, posh swimming pool.
While Nadine continues to bounce around here and there as driven by her hormone-charged feelings, the screenplay by the first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig alternatively amuses and touches us via its deft balance between comedy and drama. Although she is not exactly likable, Nadine is a smart, witty girl with growing independent spirit, and her dynamic emotional struggle is depicted with a lot of sensitivity and empathy. We observe how unwise and foolish she can be while being occasionally self-absorbed just like any other adolescents around her age, but we can also understand her pain and confusion, and we come to cheer for her as she eventually learns some valuable life lessons through her difficult circumstance.
It surely helps that the movie is supported well by the wonderful performance from its lead performer. Hailee Steinfeld, who drew our attention for the first time through her Oscar-nominated turn in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit” (2010), shows here that she is indeed a very talented actress to watch; besides effortlessly conveying to us her character’s conflicted feelings, she delightfully wields her character’s witty side at times, and what she achieves here is as enjoyable as Ellen Page in “Juno” (2007) or Emma Stone in “Easy A” (2010).
The supporting performers around Steinfeld are equally engaging in their colorful performances imbued with personality and humanity. As Nadine’s best friend, Haley Lu Richardson is believable in her casual rapport with Steinfeld, and that is why their several key scenes in the film work on emotional levels. While her character may feel broad at first, Kyra Sedgwick brings considerable human depth to her character, and Blake Jenner, who was the amiable center of Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016), has a wonderful moment when his character reveals deep feelings he has kept behind his seemingly confident appearance. Constantly looking unflappable throughout the film, Woody Harrelson gives a droll supporting performance as Nadine’s high school teacher, and he is both funny and caring as his character tactfully handles his problematic student with understanding and patience.
Overall, “The Edge of Seventeen” distinguishes itself well via its smart, humorous, and thoughtful handling of story and characters, and its many good moments will probably remind you again of how difficult it is to grow up during adolescent years. It is indeed hard and painful for her, but she grows up in the end – like many of us did.