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Not that we needed another teen comedy revolving around angsty white millennials, but here’s The Edge of Seventeen anyway, and guess what? It’s really, really good.
Fast, full-hearted and graced with a beautifully modulated lead turn by Hailee Steinfeld, the movie takes the risk of playing it straight and sincere — and the risk pays off. That doesn’t mean this directorial debut from Kelly Fremon Craig, produced by James L. Brooks, isn’t sporadically funny (it is) or doesn’t sometimes strain to be clever (it does). But The Edge of Seventeen is considerably less arch and gimmick-driven — less edgy, for lack of a better word — than other recent entries in the sub-genre (including decent ones like Easy A). Instead, it coasts on brisk humor and clear-eyed empathy for its endearing, exasperating protagonist, neither brazenly satirizing her rather routine adolescent crises nor drowning them in acoustic-strumming earnestness. Taken on its own modest terms, the movie proves that sometimes all you need is a strong cast, a sturdy script and a director who knows when and how to stay out of the way.
Release date: Nov 18, 2016
The Edge of Seventeen may not be embraced by John Hughes nostalgists, but Steinfeld’s Nadine is a direct descendant of Molly Ringwald’s Samantha in Sixteen Candles — as well as of the marginalized heroines played by Winona Ryder in Heathers, Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You, Thora Birch in Ghost World and many others. Brimming with insecurities and hostilities, pathologically self-deprecating and, of course, far more appealing than she realizes, Nadine decided long ago that she was an outsider and has been wallowing in self-pity ever since.
After an unpromising first scene in which the high-school junior rushes into the classroom of history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) to announce her impending suicide, the movie flashes back a decade. Little Nadine (Lina Renna) is a sulky and morose child, seething with resentment toward slightly older brother Darian, who’s the apple of everyone’s eye. Flighty Mom (Kyra Sedgwick) doesn’t know what to do with her daughter, but Dad (Eric Keenleyside) is a big softie (though he may be partly responsible for her social difficulties; at one point, he counsels the pint-sized pessimist to stand up to bullies by farting into their backpacks).
Things pick up for Nadine when she meets gentle soul Krista (Ava Grace Cooper) on the school playground. The two are immediately inseparable and remain BFFs as the years go by, through bad skin, worse hair — we get a glimpse of Steinfeld as a 13ish Nadine with an unfortunate Greg Brady ‘do — and real tragedy when Nadine’s father dies suddenly.
Her friendship with the endlessly patient, positive Krista brightens Nadine’s world view a bit, though she’s still a handful by the time she hits high school — the kind of kid who corrects her teachers, calls herself an “old soul” and, in a move worthy of Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath on Girls, literally crawls around the house when she’s hungover (just to, you know, indulge).
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