THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN SHINES ON EXCELLENT SCRIPT AND LEAD PERFORMANCE
In the 1980s filmmaker, John Hughes produced a series of teen films that not only provided audiences with laughs but produced a surprisingly complex emotional connection to its characters that shed some spotlight on what it meant to be a young person. Since that time there have been only a select few films that have reached the cinematic quality of Hughes’ work in the teenage dramedy genre; alas writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen takes up the legacy of the late great Hughes and offers a wonderfully funny, touching and witty film accentuated by an outstanding lead performance by Hailee Steinfeld.
For 17 year old Nadine (Steinfeld) life could not be any more difficult; socially awkward amongst her classmates (despite her obvious maturity and keen perception into things) and insecure in her appearance her already tumultuous world is turned upside when her all-star brother Darian begins to date her best and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Add to the mix Nadine’s struggle to get the attention of her crush and her widowed mother Mona’s attempts to get back in the dating scene and it seems like this 17-year-olds daily existence is a never-ending nightmare.
Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation and delivers a great and touching depiction of teen angst and self-doubt; she is not only skillfully funny and wonderfully sarcastic but convincingly vulnerable. In the hands of another, this sharp script may have fallen flat, but Steinfeld commands the screen when she is on it and makes Nadine a truly sympathetic character even through all her quirks. Acclaimed for her other performances including True Grit in which she received an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress, The Edge of Seventeen is a shining vehicle for her talents; a nomination perhaps this time in the Best Actress category would certainly be a very welcome and deserving gesture.
While Steinfeld makes the most of this fine script, Kelly Fremon Craig must also be praised not solely for her direction (her directorial debut) but indeed in creating this witty and emotional screenplay. Like Diablo Cody’s screenplay for Juno, Craig has crafted a work that touches exactly on the themes John Hughes so masterfully did over 30 years ago. There is humor, wit, genuine pathos and that ever-present vulnerability that populated so many of Hughes’ characters; it’s not just Nadine, but Krista, Darian, Mona and others that are very real in their characterization and make that connection to the audience. Insert a remarkable deadpan turn from Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s history teacher and we have a cast of characters and situations that make us laugh, feel sad and remind us that no matter how bad we may think our lives are, there is always someone who has it worse.
The Edge of Seventeen belongs to a genre of films about teenage uncertainty, but unlike so many of them, it has the distinction of being an astute, touching and funny film. With a solidly crafted screenplay and an outstanding lead from Hailee Steinfeld, the film transcends the clichés and stereotypes of some teen movies and instead produces an entertaining and poignant commentary on the precarious time between adolescence and adulthood. If John Hughes could share his thoughts on it I’m certain he would be most pleased and know that the work he began decades ago can still be as fresh and relevant today.