The teen film. The subgenre has its tropes and types, its cliches and themes. High school is such a drag, parents are the worst, friends are friends forever, and the ultimate goal: sex (or the prom). So while the trailers for The Edge of Seventeen make it look like a typical teen film, it’s anything but. There are certainly familiar elements in place, but the film effectively transcends these while remaining faithful to the subgenre as a whole. In short, it’s a teen film which has come of age.
A film about both self-awareness and others awareness, The Edge of Seventeen focuses on Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) as she begins to see herself more clearly while also gaining a greater understanding of the other people in her life. This journey of self-differentiation and autonomy struck me as remarkably more complex and authentic than a typical John Hughes-type film. It also doesn’t quite fall into the indie-darling teen film (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) which often seem to delight in adding as many pop culture references as possible in an attempt to subvert its own teen film origins (a decidedly adolescent thing to do–try really hard to be different!). The Edge of Seventeen feels more grown up than that in its ability to navigate grief, familial drama, budding sexuality, and the fragility of friendship in the context of a teen girl’s life.
I’m probably making it sound more complicated than it really is, because The Edge of Seventeen is both hilariously fun while also maintaining a genuine sense of pathos. Nadine’s sense of equilibrium is thrown off when the one stable friend in her life, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), begins a romantic relationship with Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner, best known for this year’s earlier coming-of-age film Everybody Wants Some!!). Since her mom (Kyra Sedgwick) continues to flounder in life as a single parent, Nadine turns to one of her teachers (Woody Harrelson, in an excellent supporting role) as a sort of guide and support during her tumultuous junior year. Steinfeld gives a remarkable performance here as a teen girl trying to figure out her own identity while still grieving the loss of close relationships. She was excellent in the Coens’ True Grit, and did fine in Pitch Perfect 2, but this film really highlights her acting capacity, and it’s one of the stronger performances of the year.
Twice Nadine looks upward and addresses God in a prayer. These aren’t pious or religious petitions, but they’re honest, deep-down-in-your guts prayers. And while the film does offer a cynical joke for one of the responses, the coda of the film offers the true answers to her prayers through unlikely reconciliation and personal revelations. It’s also telling that Nadine and Darian have some sort of physical contact twice in the film. One is during a fight, a conflict both typical of teenage siblings while also going deeper due to the underlying familial grief (this some of the most genuine sibling bickering I’ve seen on film). The other is a moment of physical embrace, a simple-yet-profound hug of reconciliation as Nadine and Darian come to a greater understanding of the Other. This exclusion-then-embrace is a beautiful arc of redemption, one the filmmakers portray with sensitivity and clear direction. As such, The Edge of Seventeen is a delightful surprise; in a year filled with great, mature coming-of-age stories (The Fits, Sing Street, Morris From America), this film is right where it belongs.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1878870/