The edge of seventeen

reviewed by clare martin

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Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut The Edge of Seventeen feels familiar for two reasons. First of all it comes across as incredibly real for anyone who had an awkward adolescence. Secondly the film recycles tropes that most other coming-of-age movies have beaten to death. Nonetheless it is an enjoyable, hilarious, and vulnerable teenage dramedy, mainly due to its stellar lead players.

The Edge of Seventeen starts with a frantic Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit and Pitch Perfect 2) announcing that she is going to kill herself to her crank of a teacher (Woody Harrelson, who essentially plays himself – the lovable, wise curmudgeon). The film then traces back to what brought Nadine to her suicidal thoughts. It turns out that Nadine is a misfit, and always has been, but while she’s been a misfit she’s had her best friend Krista by her side. She had her dad as well, until he died of a heart attack. Now her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) relies on her son Darian (Blake Jenner of ‘Everybody Wants Some!’ fame) to serve as her emotional rock while she gallivants around trying to find romance and keep her neurotic self together. Life wasn’t perfect for Nadine, but at least she had Krista – until Krista and Darian fell for each other. Nadine’s life spirals from then on. There are some romantic misadventures, and voila, she ends up in front of Woody Harrelson hyperventilating.

Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine carries the film with the sincere, empathetic, and hilarious performance you would expect from a Hollywood leading lady. There’s a reason she was nominated for an Oscar at the tender age of 13 for True Grit - the girl has chops. She’s a brilliant actress and also incredibly likeable. Despite Nadine’s many missteps during the film, it’s hard not to empathize with her throughout because Steinfeld plays her that well.

Her friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), looking like an extra from Hannah Montana, is probably the weakest character. You see her quickly fall head-over-heels for Nadine’s dreamboat brother and abandon her childhood best friend for him. While Krista makes some efforts to include Nadine and says that she is “not going to choose” between them, by saying this she has essentially already made her decision. She’s going to go out with Darian, even if it makes Nadine uncomfortable. Also, at no point do you see what it is that makes Krista so incredible. Why does Darian feel he absolutely has to go out with her at Nadine’s expense? Her laugh is nice. She has one of those warm, trustworthy lower-pitch voices while still being conventionally attractive. That’s about it. It’s obvious why Nadine needs her – she has no friends otherwise. At the end of the day, Krista is an utterly boring character who simply serves an important role in the plot.

Perhaps one of the most inspired choices Craig makes (she wrote the script as well) is choosing a Korean teenager as Nadine’s primary love interest. Asian men have long been maligned in Hollywood when it comes to their sexuality, often portrayed as effeminate and asexual. However, Hayden Szeto as Erwin Kim quickly turns around this stereotype. Though he fumbles in his attempts to court Nadine, it all fits along the lines of the “adorkable” trope he is playing. As for being asexualized, that notion flies out the window as Erwin shows off his Adonis-like muscles when he and Nadine go swimming. Thank you, Edge of Seventeen, for employing the female gaze. The only time Erwin’s ethnicity is directly addressed is when Nadine guesses what his parents are like, and effectively typecasts them as a Tiger Mom and a stoic, distant father. And even then, Nadine apologizes and acknowledges she may have been racist.

The narrative on sexuality in this movie feels a bit trite. While it feels obvious to the viewer that Nadine should be with caring and funny Erwin, she is infatuated with bad boy Nick (Alexander Calvert, who’s apparently in Arrow). When she asks if he goes to her school he responds coyly, “Sometimes.” This storyline is old. It’s tried, it’s tested, and although it is true sometimes it is also boring. It plays out exactly as you would expect, beat by beat. We need something new and more daring, and Craig has disappointed in this department.

While the dialogue is fresh and the performances lovely, The Edge of Seventeen could honestly use a bit more edge.