Movie Review: ‘The Edge of Seventeen’
Angst, in and of itself, needs a little bit more. The Edge of Seventeen, the new indie comedy from writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig opens in wide release this week. Its deep dive into the most aggressive of teenage malaise finds itself in need of a little dose of charm in order to make itself into a winning comedy.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) as always felt a little off. Even as a little girl she seemed to pop out of the Ally Sheedy playbook from the breakfast club – brooding from birth. There were only two people around whom Nadine shone: her father and her best friend Nadine.
Several years before the start of the film, Nadine witnesses her dad have a heart attack while driving, an incident that sends him into a coma from which he never recovers. Nadine has lost one of the lights in her life and pours her soul into her friendship with Krista. Nadine seems pretty happy in alienating bubble she’s built for herself until one night when she catches Krista in the act with her detested older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).
Isolated from her best friend due to what she sees and act of betrayal, Nadine becomes completely isolated and begins acting out her frustration in bigger ways to the frustration of her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and the bemusement of her favorite teacher (Woody Harrelson).
The Edge of Seventeen attempts to replicate the insight of John Hughes films and other great teen comedies, but fails to recapture any of the charm. Nadine is so deep into her world of melancholy that it’s hard for the audience to get in or identify with a main character who is in essentially every frame of the film.
Nadine’s behavior is so irritating at times that’s it’s hard to root for her. Worst, it’s hard to understand what we’re rooting for. There’s an awkward romance between her and her classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto), but she’s so mean to him that you want him to just leave her behind. There’s the mentor/mentee dynamic between her and her teacher, but she treats him with so little respect that you want him to give none back. Then there’s the way she treats her mother like an employee and a burden – all while her mom is still trying to deal with the death of her husband and make sense of dating at this point in her life.
None of those are even the worst part. Nadine’s intense dislike of her brother is never really justified and forms the the basis for much of the film’s conflict. Darian is presented as a selfless and friendly guy who goes out of his way to make others feel appreciated. Presenting an essentially flawless character as the film’s antagonist just makes it all the harder to want to see its protagonist succeed. Especially when her success seems to come at the cost of the more likable characters in the film.
Most of this could be forgiven if the film were funny, but it never really finds its groove in that way either. Harrelson is great as the teacher trying to make sense of Nadine, but he’s about it as far as laughs. The rest of the film finds a tone more rooted in teen dramedy with just a few crazy moves by Nadine to break it up.
The Edge of Seventeen can’t really find its voice because it doesn’t know what it’s trying to say. It sucks when you’ve hated the world all your life and suddenly the world gets a little suckier? That seems to be all the film is trying to get at.
And that doesn’t approach the edge of quality.
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