Big Screen: The Edge of Seventeen
January 13th 2017
If there’s an essential flaw to most teen comedies, it’s that the “ugly kids” still have better bone structure than the best looking kids at my high school.
The Edge of Seventeen is filled with the same genetically gifted students, but it’s a surprisingly good movie regardless – especially considering it’s writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig’s first feature-length effort. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, a socially ostracised girl whose only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), has had her back since primary school. They get drunk, perv on guys and pay out Nadine’s brother Darian (Blake Jenner) for being body conscious and popular.
It’s all very sweet until Krista and Darian hook up one night, and Nadine’s world subsequently collapses. To her, it’s the ultimate betrayal – not only from Krista but from Darian, who seems to have it all. Without any friends to rely on, Nadine lashes out, seeking consolation from anyone who will listen.
Enter nerdy schoolmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) – who is infatuated with Nadine – and sarcastic teacher Mr. Bruner, played by Woody Harrelson. Bruner is the type of smart-ass teacher that is either very good at his job or grossly negligent. Harrelson plays the part to perfection, with a savvy drawl that masks how much he cares for his students.
Mr. Bruner’s wry humour is the perfect foil for Nadine’s teen melodrama, and their easy, natural exchanges distinguish the film from other teen comedies. There’s little pretension in the actors’ lines, and none of the perfectly-timed witty banter you only get in a Hollywood script. Instead we get the normal, teenage chat that makes Nadine sound like a regular teenage girl, rather than a room of scriptwriters speaking through one.
The strength of the dialogue means that the film’s more serious points really ring true. Losing your best friend to your brother might seem trivial, but The Edge of Seventeen reminds us that dealing with any kind of loss – no matter its scale – can feel staggering. Nadine’s snarky comebacks aren’t always hilariously funny, but they’re honest, and they speak to the pain that she feels. She’s more than a series of punchlines; she’s a flawed and fascinating character study.
I really liked that the film resists reducing Darian to caricature, and the way it nails the complexity of sibling relationships. As a big brother, I know that big brothers can suck, but it’s a testament to the film’s depth and nuance that they don’t suck all the time. It’s not just good filmmaking; it’s a good nudge to all of us who occasionally get shitty at our families.
The Edge of Seventeen is charming in its sincerity, even if it does think there are nerds in high school with six-packs. And maybe that’s the point. The film replicates the sillier tropes of teen comedies, so that they can be subtly subverted later on. Nadine’s life is normal enough to be relatable, but different enough to be entertaining. I recommend giving it a shot.