Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson
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“I had the worst thought: I’ve got to spend the rest of my life with myself.” That’s Nadine in The Edge of Seventeen, a teenager who is, as the title suggests, on the edge of turning 17. And while many high school comedies have captured the exaggerated drama of teen life on screen before, The Edge of Seventeen does it with a frank honesty that gives such statements remarkable weight.
That starts right from the off, as she marches into a classroom and declares her intention to kill herself. It’s a proposal that’s met with some skepticism – and a hefty dose of sarcasm – from her cruel-but-kind teacher (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). But the film doesn’t just drop the idea there: it continues to tread the line between teenage angst and depression for an hour and a half, stepping with a confidence and charm that makes this a classic addition to the genre.
Mental health is something that’s gradually becoming less taboo in society, but cinema is still catching up. What a treat it is, then, to see The Edge of Seventeen not only address the subject, but explore it with nuance and a wicked sense of humour. Nadine, we learn, was on anti-depressants after her dad died, and still takes the pills now. It’s not a heavy-handed bout of exposition, but a tiny detail dropped casually into a conversion with Edwin (Hayden Szeto), who has a crush on her. Then, their tentative flirting continues.
Hailee Steinfeld, whose breakout role in True Grit in 2010 marked her out as a talent to watch, is superb in the lead role, managing to flit between angry outbursts, heavy-drinking and occasional happiness at a dizzyingly realistic pace. Growing pains are one thing, but there’s a sincere sadness that lingers below the surface, one that Hailee never loses sight of, even when delivering laugh-out-loud one-liners.
The thing that’s currently hurting her? Her friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), has started hooking up with her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Both Richardson and Jenner do quietly good work, generous enough to give Steinfeld the chance to shine, while making sure their respective relationships feel genuine. Szeto, meanwhile, tops the awkwardness off with his nervous, inarticulate presence, keeping the tone light, but firmly rooted in anxiety.
Kelly Fremon Craig, in her directorial debut, writes the film with wit and heart, making Nadine more than just a Juno imitation and even more rounded than that – there’s no irony or detachment here, but a willingness to dive into the insecurities of teenage life, taking the familiar theme of accepting who you are and fusing it with an authentic, poignant, candid acknowledgement that sometimes, temper tantrums can be more complicated than that. With her stream-of-consciousness rambling and rage at her friend for abandoning her, Nadine might get carried away at times, but the film allows her to, without ever undermining who she is and what she’s facing. The result is a refreshing, hilarious teen movie that you’ll wish you got to spend more time with.
The Edge of Seventeen is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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