Who doesn’t love a good coming of age film? From John Hughes dominating the 80s, Clueless becoming a pop culture icon of the 90s, and the 21st century giving us a flood of them like Mean Girls, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Spectacular Now, Juno, and The Way Way Back to name a few (and I guess Boyhood is a literal coming of age film). Even with these awesome films, I’ve struggled to find one that truly captures us: high school students in 2016. While the films above capture so many timeless ideas of the high school life, I’m talking about expertly grasping our weird as hell zeitgeist of right now in this given moment. Awkwardness, confusion, angst, house parties, hooking up, isolation, unnecessary social media, clueless parents, good times, bad times and everything in between. The 2016 high school lifestyle. It didn’t exist until Edge of Seventeen came along with hard hitting honesty and unforgiving realness while also bringing the heart and substance to tie it all together into quintessential viewing for any Millburn high schooler.
First time director Kelly Fremon Craig taps into recognizable feelings and scenarios that will feel right at home for any teen. The journey of Nadine (played by Hailee Steinfeld) is a journey we all can connect to in some way. Nadine can be self loathing at times as she tries to make a connection in this crazy world of high school, but also shines when she embraces her weirdness and finding the humor in situations. It’s a very unglamorous and sometimes brutal look at adolescence, but yet balances out with humor and optimism throughout. We’re covering all spectrum of emotions in Edge of Seventeen. The authenticity and sincerity in the storytelling is what makes the film a cut above the rest.
But what makes Edge of Seventeen truly work is the career performance by Hailee Steinfeld. From snapping witty one liners like a seasoned comedian to emoting all she needs to the audience just through her somber facial expressions, Steinfeld is an absolute scene stealer with her performance matching the tone of the film flawlessly. She brings enough goofiness and gravitas to make the character of Nadine stand out in a great way. In a perfect world, Steinfeld would get some recognition for her electric, potent work here.
Elsewhere, we get amazing turns from the ensemble including an entertaining, cynical Woody Harrelson as a snarky teacher that wants nothing to do with Nadine and her millennial problems. Instead of going for a cut and dry character, the film actually fleshes Harrelson’s character out in the third act to make him more than a teacher with a dark sense of humor. The film goes above and beyond in that sense by doing everything they can to prevent one note characters. Blake Jenner as Nadine’s older brother, Darian, seems like a douchy brother that starts to date her sister’s best friend before a monologue near the end of the film makes you see where he is coming from. Edge of Seventeen actually wants to do something with these supporting characters and make them more than just plot devices.
It seems hard to find flaws in this movie because it does a great job in what it sets out to do. In what could’ve possibly been another trite coming of age film, Edge of Seventeen keeps it fresh and breezy. Kelly Fremon Craig brings a lot of maturity and wisdom for her directorial debut and comes off as a polished director with her first film. She is an exciting voice in Hollywood and Edge of Seventeen is a damn good way to start off a career.