An excellent addition to the coming-of-age highschool movies, with a spiky star turn by Hailee Steinfeld which proves that her memorable performance in True Grit was no fluke. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s funny, bittersweet and biting enough to make it stand out. If you found highschool and teenage years in general a trying experience at times, the movie will resonate with you in some moments and probably make you cringe with self-recognition in others.
Just like many other protagonists of the genre, Nadine is a whip-smart yet socially awkward teenager who is intensely uncomfortable in her own skin and always had trouble fitting in, even in her own family. She can’t stand her older brother Darian, the golden boy who can do no wrong and is the apple of their widowed mother’s eye. The only ray of sunshine in Nadine’s life is Krista, a sweet and somewhat better-adjusted girl who’s been her one and only friend for years… until the day Krista and Darian hook up, leaving Nadine adrift, hurt and utterly miserable.
It’s not all hopeless though; she finds an unlikely rapport with her idiosyncratic teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson, dry and understated), whose lunch time she invades at the very start of the film in order to dramatically announce that she’s going to kill herself. There’s also Erwin, a sweet and nerdy classmate who harbours a not-so-secret crush on Nadine, while she kinda sees him as cute and pathetic and instead fantasises about a good-looking bad boy.
While it all sounds like a typical zingy teenage drama/comedy stuff, set to the hip contemporary soundtrack, the depth of characterisation brought to Nadine and Steinfeld’s perfectly calibrated performance are outstanding. The movie is not out to make us like Nadine, but to make her feel true, in all her seething, angry, insecure, self-centred, funny, misanthropic, vulnerable glory. She’s smart and self-aware enough to realise what a pain in the ass she is, but she’s profoundly unhappy with herself and terrified that she might never be able to change. Because this is a movie, Nadine’s story is brought to a conclusion that, in real life, might take some people years if not decades to come to, but The Edge of Seventeen still feels like a more honest and heartbreaking look on adolescence.