Audiences of the teen angst film “The Edge of Seventeen” will find themselves chuckling at the sarcastic quips of Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld). They’ll also be silently screaming at the protagonist to get her life back in control.
While many films portray high school characters who feel and appear invisible, “Seventeen” follows a female adolescent who remains just as self-centered as she is self-doubting. Nadine’s teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) is a blunt yet reassuring safety valve who keeps Nadine from combusting altogether under the weight of her experience at Lakewood High School. Director Kelly Fremon Craig employs a narration by Nadine in the beginning of the film, but that voice soon fades away as the plotline takes over. The story jumps time periods, traveling back in Nadine’s life to explain the root of her social anxiety.
Woody Harrelson’s supporting role forces Nadine to face her problem of being unable to connect with others. His character starts out as sarcastic as Nadine’s, but later takes on more depth when Nadine learns he has a family and is not the fellow loner she imagined him to be. The humor in their conversations lands gloriously as they breach uncomfortable topics like sex and his near baldness.
Nadine’s classmates and peers don’t accept her, heightening her self-consciousness, which stems from jealousy towards her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Darian developed confidence and physical perfection in his high school years and has maintained the favor of their mother from a young age. While the film revolves around Nadine’s quirkiness as she continually misunderstands her brother, it also does an effective job of conveying two sources of her happiness: her best friend and her father.
Nadine’s father’s gentle character is established in a scene where the two discuss her middle school troubles while grabbing burgers. Later, her father experiences a heart attack while driving and loses control of their car. While traumas in most teen films seem fabricated and unnaturally placed, this is not the case in “Seventeen.” It soon becomes clear that Nadine’s demons will wreak havoc on herself and the family when they go unchecked by her father’s voice of reason.
Oddly dressed and equally introverted, Nadine’s childhood best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) blossoms in high school and takes up with Nadine’s brother one night. But when Nadine finds the two in his bedroom the next morning, she childishly demands Krista choose between them, causing a series of escapades which only lead Nadine further into disillusionment.
Witty and sardonic, Craig’s film is an honest depiction of teenage existence in a modern world. Reminiscent of angsty flicks such as “The Breakfast Club,” “Seventeen” is presented to the viewer without polished moments or perfectly timed quotes, which contributes to the film’s main message that life is messy and unplanned.
Viewers older than the millennial cutoff will enjoy classic and universal moments of teenage angst, such as when Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto), who has an obvious crush on Nadine, watches her chase after the bad boy. But beyond awkward interactions and relatable messages of sacrifice for family, “Seventeen” leaves an older audience in the dust. Instead, the film prioritizes those watching the movie who are around the age of its title.
Steinfeld’s performance is convincing as she personifies how it feels to be cheated by the cruelties of high school romance and the genetic lottery won by her brother. Despite this success, “The Edge of Seventeen” gears itself more toward millennials who can laugh at the seemingly hopeless Nadine, someone who may resemble a piece of themselves.
The Edge of Seventeen”
Runtime: 102 minutes
Score: 3.5/5 stars