The Edge of Seventeen is the funniest teen comedy since Superbad. Hands down, no contest, and that’s a high bar, because Superbad is everything a teen comedy should be. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the film offers a female perspective on this genre, and manages to balance being hilarious but also sincere and heartfelt in the vein of the best of Judd Apatow’s stable.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is an awkward teenage girl with only one lifelong best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), a perfect brother (Blake Jenner), and an overwhelmed widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick). She is already stressed and depressed about her social life when the unthinkable happens: her best friend and her older brother start dating. Nadine’s life is thrown into utter chaos with only two rays of hope, a bourgeoning friendship with Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a fellow awkward boy in her history class, and her grumpy teacher (Woody Harrelson), who becomes her reluctant mentor.
The highest compliment that should be paid to Kelly Fremon Craig is that the film feels completely realistic. Nothing here is melodramatic or false. Rather than writing a film that sports stylized dialogue, Craig makes everything the characters say sound natural, even to the point of uncomfortable awkwardness. Everything is heightened when you are a teenager, we know this, so additional layers of drama are unnecessary to create a meaningful film.
Seventeen is fresh and original, but is well aware of it’s genre predecessors and manages to seamlessly incorporate some of the tropes we love in high school comedies in new ways. My personal favorite, the “inappropriate teacher-student relationship” is on full display with the always aptly cast Woody Harrelson. Between Nadine’s curse-fueled rants and blatant over-sharing, Harrelson is quick with a witty, equally biting retort that would have even the most well-regarded teacher out on his ass with a restraining order in a second.
And then there’s Hailee Steinfeld. In creating Nadine, she gives one of the best performances of the year (it’s November, so I’m allowed to start throwing that around). The film never tries to create the idea that Nadine’s looks or clothes make her unattractive, she is just the right kind of awkward that either A.) makes her go unnoticed, or B.) gets her noticed for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of, “Why would you even say that/do that/think that, what’s wrong with you?” going on in this movie. You could say she marches to the beat of her own drum, but she is also uninterested in trying to get in step with the other kids in her high school other than Krista.
Really what makes Nadine so special is she speaks the language of anyone who has ever paused in front of their mirror and asked themselves, “Why are you always like this, why can’t you just … XYZ.” As adults, we are able to manage our lowered expectations of what we can change about ourselves, and even learn to appreciate the stuff we can’t. As a teenager, there is little self-love, and Nadine feels it more acutely than others. Steinfeld’s performance allows us to easily sympathize with her, but we are also allowed to not like her at times too, which is refreshing and makes for a more complex character on screen.
The Edge of Seventeen embraces the familiar aspects of high school comedies, but is truly a contemporary update for a genre in need of a makeover.
The Edge of Seventeen opens today in Philly area theaters.
“This is the business we’ve chosen!” Jill Malcolm and Ryan Silberstein, two self-described film aficionados, tell it like it is about the latest and greatest movies. They are Contributing editors here at Cinedelphia, writing partners, and founders of Filmhash.com.