CINEMA RELEASE: THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson
Classification: M (Sexual References and Coarse Language)
Review by Peter Gray
The nostalgic feeling one experiences when viewing a John Hughes film of the past (‘Sixteen Candles’, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, ‘The Breakfast Club’) is one rarely visited in today’s teenage-aimed market. Over the last few years projects like ‘Easy A’ and ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ have tapped into psyche but, overall, it’s a sub-genre that has very much fallen by the wayside. Thankfully, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ arrives to remind us how truly great these films can be with uncommonly smart writing and performances guiding it to potential modern day-classic status.
Produced by the legendary James L. Brooks (TV’s ‘The Simpsons’, ‘As Good As It Gets’, ‘Terms of Endearment’), ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is certainly a star-making vehicle for young Hailee Steinfeld, who hasn’t had a project completely worthy of her considerable talent since her breakout Oscar-nominated role in 2010’s ‘True Grit’. As lead Nadine, Steinfeld is sharp and cynical, and manages to make the character oddly likeable in spite of her selfish tendencies; the “world is out to get me” card is played thick and fast here. Despite her apparent wit and looks, Nadine is somewhat of an outcast at school – perhaps by her own doing – and her main source of surviving the hells of adolescence is that of Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), her only friend.
You imagine that in any other film a character like Nadine would be sidelined to the friend status, whilst the archetype of Krista would be the lead as her particular story sees her unexpectedly falling for Nadine’s jock-like brother (Blake Jenner) which, of course, steers the film’s dramatic arc for Nadine, who views their relationship as a betrayal. Whilst this gives writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig (marking her directorial debut) decent juice to ramp up tension between Nadine and Krista, as well as only furthering the broken bond between Nadine and her brother, it’s never overdone as it remains clear at how much the two girls still genuinely like each other; in fact, bullying as a whole is absent from the film, leaving the only turmoil for Nadine to be her own inner demons.
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to believe the world centres solely around them, and Craig’s script gets some wonderful mileage out of this, which in turn helps Steinfeld’s stellar performance as she appears as nothing less-than-authentic in her plight. And as much as this is Steinfeld’s show, she’s surrounded by an impressive cast who all deliver beyond expectation; Kyra Sedgwick as Nadine’s long-suffering mother and Woody Harrelson as her sarcastic history teacher being two such standouts. If there’s anyone that threatens Steinfeld though, it’s newcomer Hayden Szeto as a fellow classmate whose evident adoration for her results in a truly affecting story strand that all but confirms Szeto’s impending status as the industry’s next big thing.
With pop culture references kept to a minimum (an amusing take on Nadine and her brother being likened to Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in the film ‘Twins’ being one of the main culprits) and social media also taking a surprising back-seat (save for a Facebook message that doesn’t go entirely as planned for Nadine), ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ indeed relies on the strength of its material in its hopes to remain relatively timeless, and whilst the aforementioned social media mentions keep the film in the now, its mentality is reminiscent of the great teen films of the past.
My rating: 4.5/5