Film Review: ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ Is a Modern Teen Movie Classic

edge_of_seventeenIt’s not often that a new release can feel like an instant classic. It doesn’t at all seem like hyperbole to write that “The Edge of Seventeen” is going to deeply speak to a lot of teenagers as the years progress. It has such a specific yet timeless message about the confusion of growing up. However, in no way do you have to be a teenager to respond to it. This almost 30-year-old man was incredibly entertained, moved and outright blown away by it. Not only is “The Edge of Seventeen” able to stand tall with almost any other 2016 release, it stands tall among many other teen movie classics.

“The Edge of Seventeen” is a film that is indebted to, but doesn’t stand in the shadow of, many notable works. There’s a pinch of John Hughes‘ voice to be found, a dash of “Juno,” and a sprinkle of “Mean Girls” here, but that just scratches the surface. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig does masterful work here, not just with her cast, but with the material she presents as well. It’s the mark of a veteran auteur. Nothing in the lead up to the release of “The Edge of Seventeen” suggested something this good. Furthermore, some of the marketing was iffy, at best. That being said, “The Edge of Seventeen” is one of the 10 best films of 2016 so far.

For teen Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), life has basically been unbearable. High school is doubly so, especially since her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is a popular jock and senior. The only reprieve has been her best friend, fellow junior Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine complains about most things to Krista, and if not her, it’s her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). One day, she walks in on Darian and Krista, who are falling for each other. This makes Nadine feel even more alone than ever. Things continue to spiral, affecting her relationship with her exasperated mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), though a nice classmate in Erwin (Hayden Szeto) offers at least a glimmer of hope. Mostly, she just struggles with growing up and coming of age. Relatable doesn’t even begin to describe this movie.

If it sounds like the plot is somewhat standard, that does it a real disservice. Certain story developments reflect things we’ve seen in other films, yes. However, it’s the way that it’s handled that sets it apart. Almost every aspect of “The Edge of Seventeen” has heart and humor to it, with real emotion held within. Nadine is a sarcastic character, one who comments pithily on most of the world around her, but the pain of growing up is all too real. No one who went through their teenage years can sit through this and not reflect on the similarities, regardless of your gender.

edge-of-seventeenThere’s a case to be made that this is Steinfeld’s best performance to date. She is just so real and heartbreaking here, even if parts of her character are less than fully likable. Steinfeld all too rarely gets to carry a picture, and she does it with gusto in this movie. In a different world, she’d be a contender in Best Actress. Harrelson matches her beat for beat, putting forward a scene-stealing comedic turn that also happens to function as a fairly realistic portrayal of a modern teacher. Laconic and sarcastic, there’s also a wellspring of heart to be found within his performance. Voters searching for an under the radar contender in Best Supporting Actor would do well to take note of Harrelson.

Harrelson and Steinfeld aren’t the only ones worth talking about. Jenner, Richardson, and Sedgwick have the supporting roles of note, along with the somewhat under-utilized Szeto. Jenner is solid, though far better in “Everybody Wants Some.” His part is just slightly less developed than the others. Richardson shows some excellent chops, suffering only when the focus of the film moves away from her. As for Sedgwick, she is her ever reliable self. Other parts here go to the likes of Alexander Calvert, Nesta Cooper, Eric Keenleyside and more. The star here is obviously Steinfeld, with Harrelson the shining supporting turn.

Remember the name Kelly Fremon Craig. As a filmmaker, Fremon Craig is going places, and quick, too. Producer James L. Brooks certainly thinks so, as he backed this movie early on. Her direction is crisp and unfussy, shining a light always on the actors and her very sharp script. Cinematographer Doug Emmett traffics in bright colors, much like you’d find in any public school. Fremon Craig really stands tall with her creation of Nadine. She’s as tremendous a character as the title one in “Juno.” If voters were truly paying attention, she’d be a lock for a Best Original Screenplay nomination.

If you love teen coming-of-age stories, you owe it to yourself to check out “The Edge of Seventeen.” It will make you laugh, cry and just appreciate cinema in a very real way. In much the same way that “Easy A” represented a modern yet timeless teen movie, this one does the same. From Steinfeld to Harrison to the work of Fremon Craig, everyone is on point. A nearly perfect dramedy, you really can’t go wrong with this film. Oscar may not take notice of this, shamefully so, but you shouldn’t make that mistake, too. “The Edge of Seventeen” demands to be seen.

“The Edge of Seventeen” is distributed by STX Entertainment and will be released on Nov. 18.

GRADE: (★★★½)