And now for something…slightly different.
DIRECTOR: Kelly Fremon Craig
PRODUCERS: James. L. Brooks, Richard Sakai, Julie Ansell, Kelly Fremon Craig
WRITER: Kelly Fremon Craig
GENRE: Teen Dramedy
INITIAL RELEASE: September 18, 2017
STARRING: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
So Edge of Seventeen isn’t really the kind of thing I usually go for: but it was something I was willing to make an exception for, given all the positive press it had been receiving…that, and the fact that my boy Henry seemed so keen on seeing it; enthusiasm is infectious, I guess. Anyway, suffice it to say, I was pretty glad I did take a chance on Edge of Seventeen, because it turned to be a very pleasant surprise.
Part of this was just the way in which writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig was able to articulate the very particular perspective that the story of Edge of Seventeen demanded. While the events themselves may not have been earnest, Craig’s perspective- and her approach to the material- felt earnest, and real. And it’s just as well too, as dealing with teenage anxiety and depression can often be a tough nut to crack. I think we tend to beat up on teenagers a lot for being moody, hormonal, and just generally pains in the arse to deal with, but that’s obviously a very callous and unfair approach to people who are in a delicate time in their lives.
Craig’s approach, given all that, was pleasingly nuanced and even-handed: it didn’t make its protagonist Nadine (Steinfeld) out as some kind of snarky-yet-misunderstood hero, nor did it fall into the entirely all-too-easy trap of painting the characters that Nadine clashes with as just one-dimensional and brainless antagonists. What we got instead was something that felt like an appropriate analogue to life, especially in that young and naïve mindset: the kind that says you know everything and that nobody has it worse but you, until you realise everyone else thinks the same thing, especially around that time. Nadine is in equal parts charming and sympathetic while understandably frustrating. Though I could never truly identify with the vast raft of problems that come with being a young woman in the midst of puberty, that well-articulated sense of myopic self-flagellation and “woe is me” perspective of the world and everyone around you is something intensely identifiable to me, and I imagine many other people. After all, anxiety doesn’t really know any boundaries.
Of course, I have to give much of Edge of Seventeen’s nuance to a wonderful performance from Hallie Steinfeld, one that imbued Nadine with that much-needed sense of authenticity. Given how much of the film really hinges on conveying Nadine’s perspective in a believable way, there was a lot of pressure on Steinfeld’s performance to knock it out of the park, and she didn’t disappoint. Woody Harrelson’s turn as one of Nadine’s long-suffering teachers was also an absolute delight, the perfect deadpan foil to Nadine’s teen snarkiness. The cast was otherwise great across the board, but Steinfeld and Harrelson definitely dominated proceedings, and not just for having the biggest roles.
Being also a film that was written by its director, I can also take the rare opportunity to actually talk with reasonable accuracy about the script, which was strong from beginning to end. The dialogue was much of what I was expecting, a great mix of naturalistic back-and forth banter that nicely mixed snark with teen awkward dorkiness in equal measures. I think what pleased me most about it is how often it subverted my expectations: there’s always a risk with these kinds of film of falling into traps of typical and bland tropes, but Edge of Seventeen largely avoided that in favour of presenting characters and a story that was determined to not cut corners in its vision of reality. While the subversions of expectations were never huge, they were frequent enough and satisfying nevertheless. I was also impressed by Craig’s ability to balance so many different characters and imbue each of them with some depth to one degree or another. Almost everyone has some kind of arc, which is pretty damn impressive given that some films run over 2 hours with no arcs. And they’re arcs that unfurl themselves in a way that perfectly articulates that all-important perspective I was talking about before.
That said, there were some aspects of Edge of Seventeen that felt a little too familiar. Most of that was down more to some of choices in editing and music: there were more than a few moments were it resulted in Edge of Seventeen coming across as far more traditional than it actually was. For the most part it was only mildly distracting as opposed to insufferably annoying, but it was noticeable nonetheless. I guess I could also say that the whole “teens don’t talk like this” thought passed through my mind, but I think I’m gonna discount that: because I’m pretty sure I don’t actually know how teens talk. In fact, I don’t think anyone really does; it’s one of life’s greatest mysteries.
So all in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Edge of Seventeen; it was real palette cleanser. Edge of Seventeen is, at its heart, as charming little dramedy with just the right amount of quirk that does a great job articulating an often misunderstood and often mistreated view of the world in a manner that is even-handed, earnest, and mature, and feels truly sympathetic to all involved. Definitely worth a look, certainly for anyone in my age bracket, or slightly below.