Back in the 1980s, the John Hughes coming-of-age flicks became a fixture of the
Cineplexes. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and others were embraced by the youth of that day – people the youth of today know as mom and dad. Since then there have been some excellent examples of the genre that are less formulaic and more heartfelt than humorous, such as Boyhood, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Juno, An Education, and Thirteen, among others. One of the accomplishments of The Edge of Seventeen is it blends serious with silly to capture the highs and lows (real and imagined) that pretty much everyone faces on the way to adulthood.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is the one on the edge. She’s been an outsider at school all her life, though she was fortunate when young to find a best friend who’s stuck with her ever since, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). It’s hard for Nadine because her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is firmly in the In Crowd at school, while her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) spouts platitudes as advice even as her own life is a mess. As a substitute father figure, Nadine has latched onto her favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), even though he’s not happy to be cast in the role.
Then Nadine is thrown into a crisis when Krista falls for her brother and Nadine can’t handle sharing her. Swirling around like an uncontrollable whirlpool, Nadine becomes obsessed with a boy she only knows from a distance while missing a boy who sits near her in class (Hayden Szeto).
Writer/Director/Producer Kelly Fremon Craig has crafted a coming-of-age story that rings true to everyone who’s survived high school. While it fits with the current generation’s more profane style – things that would have caused angst in the 1980s don’t rate a bat of an eye here – the underlying traumas that life can throw at you are all too familiar. Yet Craig leavens the traumas with a bright wit and a light directorial touch that serves the movie well.
Given a fully-formed role to play, Hailee Steinfeld slips into Nadine and gives her best performance since True Grit. At 20, Steinfeld has begun to show that she will be a major performer for many years to come, with a successful start to a recording career to go along with carrying a movie like Edge where she’s center stage in almost every scene. I would not be surprised if Steinfeld winds up an EGOT before she finishes her career.
A delight of this movie is it’s not just one excellent role in a half-baked stew. Craig has invested the other roles with heart and character, and the actors deliver wonderful embodiments of these characters. Harrelson’s scenes with Steinfeld are a particular joy to watch, and Sedgwick is first-rate as a mother with her own maturity issues. The film’s almost stolen by Hayden Szeto whose character Erwin is almost as awkward and mixed up as Steinfeld’s, though with a desert-dry sense of humor.
This is a movie that deserves to be seen. It manages to tickle your funny bone and touch your heart at the same time.