The Edge of Seventeen

November 20, 2016 at 9:09 am | Posted in 2016 | 1 Comment
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In the long history of coming-of-age films, the truly successful ones (think “The Breakfast Club” or “Juno”) all have the same core message: you’re a weirdo, but we all are, so forgive yourself. That theme of self-acceptance against the weight of alienation is what makes these films resonate so deeply, both with young people in the middle of that struggle and with the rest of us, who so keenly remember those painful days. While that same trope could seem tired and cliche after a while, writer and first time director, Kelly Fremon Craig, has given it her own spin. Just as Jason Reitman did with “Juno” a decade ago, Craig has managed to tell this story for a new generation. The film is essentially a millennial’s “Sixteen Candles.” And, as with most of everything else in media these days, it is far edgier and less innocent that film. It’s hard to know if that is because teens are so much more worldly today or if films are just more willing to be honest about it. The fantastic Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit,” “Ender’s Game”) plays Nadine, the awkward teen at the center of our story. Around her, the typical group of peers and family circle, played mostly by unknown actors. We have her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson), her “perfect” brother (Blake Jenner, who you might recognize from “Everybody Wants Some!!” or “Glee”), the bad boy who she wants (Alexander Calvert) and the nerdy boy who wants her (Hayden Szeto). Despite not looking remotely like a teenager (he’s in his 30s), Szeto does a terrific job of playing the bumbling and awkward Erwin and is one of the real joys of this film. Woody Harrelson, who plays one of her teachers, is also great to watch. Though his is the one character that rings false (neither how he treats Nadine nor how she responds to his treatment feels remotely realistic), his interactions with her are genuinely funny. However, the character I found the most compelling was Nadine’s mother, Mona, played by Kyra Sedgwick. In John Hughes’s films, the parents are essentially invisible; they float irrelevantly in the background. But Mona is the backbone of Nadine’s story. Who she is completely explains who Nadine and her brother are and why they behave with each other the way they do. She is the most fully developed parent I can remember seeing in a coming-of-age film and Sedgwick portrays her beautifully. Without her, this film would have been cute, funny, clever, but not much more than that. Mona gives more impact to everything in the film because she gives depth to the central tension. Nadine is a typical sixteen year old; she is melodramatic and unrelentingly self-involved. She could be very unlikeable and, in moments, she is. But, understanding her home dynamic softens her edges and allows the audience to connect on a deeper level. It allows this film to be more than just funny; it allows it to also be insightful.

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  1. […] to the day a year ago, I saw a film very similar to this one. That film, “The Edge of Seventeen,” was a real delight, full of honesty and insight. “Lady Bird” made me feel very […]


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