Chicago-based filmmaker John Hughes set the gold standard for teen-angst movies in 1980s classics such as Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, notable for their mix of raucous comedy and compassionate insight.
He would doubtlessly have applauded The Edge of Seventeen, which chronicles a few particularly fraught weeks in the life of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit), a bright but socially awkward high schooler with a near-constant sense of grievance and an impressive repertoire of sarcastic comments.
Nadine takes an emotional nosedive after her best friend – make that her only friend – unexpectedly starts dating Nadine’s levelheaded older brother, Darian, whom she has always resented for his easy-going charm and social success. Thus “betrayed,” Nadine dumps her girlfriend and fixates on a boy at school she’s never even talked to whose studly good looks send her into hormonal overdrive. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?
Although it superficially resembles umpteen other coming-of-age comedies, Seventeen is laudably different in its emotional honesty. Nadine is often irrational and sometimes unlikable, yet your heart goes out to her because she is so obviously miserable. And that’s before she endures a night of epic humiliation. The film ably captures the messy, painful, and lonely reality of being a teenager, especially for girls. There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, many driven by Nadine’s profane comments. But these aren’t just glib, sitcom-style one-liners, but instead are carefully embedded in a persuasive portrait of full-blown teenage angst.
Kudos, too, to the performances. Steinfeld exudes believability, and almost matches the star-making performance of Emma Stone in Easy A. The calm centre of the film comes courtesy of underrated Woody Harrelson, who plays Nadine’s favourite teacher. Notwithstanding his casual, half-stoner persona Harrelson is a great actor and he brings humour, depth, and nuance to what could have merely been a cardboard character. And Kyra Sedgewick gives a grounded performance as Nadine’s flawed, erratic mother. We’re not talking Oscar nominations here, but Seventeen is an appealing, impressively honest film; a lot of that was the result of the months that first time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig spent doing interviews and walking school hallways in a search for authenticity. She has made a fine debut.
Stars Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
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