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The Edge of Seventeen

A relatable coming-of-age comedy with some standout central performances.
By Sarah Ward
January 05, 2017
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By Sarah Ward
January 05, 2017
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"Look, I don't want to take up a ton of your time, but I'm gonna kill myself," Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld) announces to her history teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson), at the beginning of The Edge of Seventeen. Whether she's making over-dramatic statements in class or bickering with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick), a definite mood is established: Nadine is not only awkward, opinionated and sarcastic, but she's also bitterly unhappy. Actually, as flashbacks from her childhood show, she has always been less than content. Now that she's watching her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) hook up with her brother Darian (Blake Jenner), she's even more miserable than usual.

First-time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig charts the fallout as Nadine tries to cope with this change to her status quo, a development made all the more devastating given her outsider status and lack of other friends. The Edge of Seventeen is packaged as a peppy coming-of-age comedy with humorous yet realistic banter and a soundtrack full of new and retro tracks to match. But it's not just about relaying a story. As Nadine wallows, rebels, chases the hot older guy (Alexander Calvert) and is courted by the shy aspiring filmmaker (Hayden Szeto), the film also interrogates the narrative that Nadine keeps telling herself.

Everyone watching should be able to relate, with even the most perky and positive among us telling themselves a tale about their existence as it is unfolding. Moreover, if you've ever felt like an outsider, the story you've spun probably hasn't always been all that positive. Thoughtful and wise, The Edge of Seventeen understands this. By the time it works through the usual checklist of adolescent antics — think boys in cars, drinking too much, fights between BFFs and run-ins with authority — the film won't just have imparted life lessons to the characters, but to everyone in the audience as well.

That's one of the things that separates a great teen flick like this one from the pack. Even as it follows the same basic formula, Craig's film boasts an abundance of insight and genuine emotion. It also helps that Nadine defies easy categorisation, thanks to a savvy script and a raw yet robust performance from one-time Oscar nominee Steinfeld. She thinks she's a put-upon loser, but her loud-mouthed tantrums often paint Nadine as a petulant brat. If this was Mean Girls, she'd be both Lindsay Lohan's Cady Heron and Rachel McAdams' Regina George.

Not everything about The Edge of Seventeen hits the mark. Some of its jokes try a little too hard, some of its performances fade into the background, and on the whole you shouldn't have much trouble guessing where the story is going. Even so, as you're laughing at Steinfeld and Harrelson's rapport, cheering for Szeto's wannabe love interest, and coming to the same realisations as Nadine, odds are these small issues won't bother you.

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