Movie Review: ‘THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN’ is a teenage dream

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN |  104 min  | R
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee SteinfeldHaley Lu RichardsonBlake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside

Perfect teen-driven comedies don’t come around every day. It takes years for many of them to see the light of day, let alone be pegged as an instant classic. John Hughes set the bar with his brat-pack comedies. The same can he said of Amy Heckerling’s FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and CLUELESS. Later, we got MEAN GIRLS to cherish with its insanely quotable lines. But it’s been a while, and now the drought is over as writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN quenches our cinematic thirst for the perfect teenage dream.

Angst-riddled sixteen-year-old Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) was born an outsider. She never got along with her unbearable mom (Kyra Sedgwick) or her disgustingly perfect brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). She’s only had two champions in her life: her dad (Eric Keensleyside), who passed away five years prior, and her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who’s the yin to Nadine’s yang. However, Nadine’s world changes drastically for a second time when she finds Krista in bed with Damian, and the stinging sense of her bestie’s betrayal begins her tailspin into narcissism-fueled madness. Hijinks – like mistakenly sending a dirty text to her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert), stealing her mom’s car and trashing her bedroom – and hilarity – like her screwball conversations with her only adult counsel, acerbic history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, who does his best work in years here), or her antics with Erwin (Hayden Szeto) – ensue.

Never has there been a truer, more authentic portrayal of the awkwardness of teen years than in Craig’s film. Minus any obnoxious quirk, but with all the pathos, this captures the anger, angst and anxiety of that specific age through a precisely witty lens. It is real, honest and genuine to the modern teen experience, while also being resoundingly timeless – even with the teens’ prevalent use of texts and technology. She nails the feeling of how, at that age, you can think you know everything and yet you actually know nothing. Nadine is Samantha Baker for a modern generation – right down to the Spandau Ballet music cue when she meets her Jake Ryan.

Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Courtesy of STX Entertainment.

Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Courtesy of STX Entertainment.

It would bring tears to John Hughes’ eyes and make his heart swell to see his milieu captured in such a universally relatable manner. The only difference is Craig’s characters aren’t heightened versions of archetypes, nor are they romanticized versions of them either. She challenges the teen caste society, drawing them as dynamic people with complex, often hidden facets. They are all filled with depth and dimension not only on the page, but in the actors’ performances. Craig’s also not afraid to confront the truth, revealing the raw messiness of their emotional connections – most evident when Darian’s perspective sneaks in to douse your face with tears. Grief is gut-wrenching and buried the emotional crux of the narrative, but it’s tackled in a healthy, heartrending way.

This one’s for those who know teenagers, have teenagers, are teenagers or have ever been teenagers. You know. Everyone.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN opens on November 18.

 

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.