Edge of Seventeen‘s writer/director/producer Kelly Fremon Craig has pulled off something that’s far too rare in the teen coming-of-age genre: making something that feels both heartfelt and genuine. It would be a pretty impressive accomplishment for anyone to pull of, but considering that Seventeen is Craig’s very first film credit it’s all the more laudable.
Edge of Seventeen‘s story revolves around Nadine (played by Hailee Steinfeld), who has grown up as a troubled loner, living in the wake of her sports-focused and too good-looking older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). The film starts off with breaking the genre standard trope in that Nadine isn’t physically an ugly duckling. Her looks aren’t what set her apart from the cool kids, but rather that she’s an introvert, she doesn’t really want to be part of the in-crowd. Her only friend through her school years has been her BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Everything is rolling along until she catches Krista hooking up with her brother and she recoils at the idea that Krista will go off with Darian and leave her alone to face the world.
The story by itself isn’t terribly complicated, but it’s characters are. Nadine isn’t as one-note as Breakfast Club’s Alison; when the time comes for her to step out on a date, she’s entirely aware of how to doll up for the evening on her own. How she lives is because of how she chooses to be, rather than simply not having yet been shown by some well-meaning cheerleader. She does fall for the idea of losing her virginity to the bad boy, rather than letting herself notice the attentions of fellow classmate, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), but even then it feels more natural than forced.
Even the character of one of Nadine’s teachers, Dr. Bruner (played by Woody Harrelson), he helps her, but he isn’t always nice about it. You get the feeling that he has been there before, helped other kids who have been equally dramatic and heartbroken, and because of the, he’s also become a bit jaded. There’s times when you think he’ll fall into the teddy bear teacher mold, or fall to other temptations, but in the end, just like Mr. Holland and Rowena, he helps her stand herself up, and she goes off into the world for another round.
Craig gives her characters natural voices, and they talk like teens do, not like adults tend to think they do. Each character has a backstory, their own motivations and far more complex than most high-school supporting casts. The archetypes are all there, but they’re around for a reason. Nadine herself isn’t a perfect character, she’s not entirely good, in fact more often than not she’s kind of a bitch to her family and friends. She’s built walls, and she’s entirely proficient at keeping them in place. Even by the end of the film, some things have been resolved, but others haven’t; people and their personalities don’t change overnight, but Seventeen leaves you feeling that they’ve taken a first step.
RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10, Would definitely see again
Comparing Edge of Seventeen to John Hughes’ pantheon of coming of age films from the 80’s is both appropriate as well as selling the film short. Nearly every teen film revolves around the ugly duckling blossoming into a swan – most often by taking off the lead actresses glasses, letting down her hair, and throwing on some makeup. It’s too easy, and by the end everything is better. Rather than Hughes’ films, Seventeen is more aptly compared with Boaz Davidson’s tragically underrated Last American Virgin; with the end message being “life is hard, and it’s going to take time to figure out, especially when you’re in High School.”
Edge of Seventeen opens worldwide on November 18th, 2016.