Movie Review: Edge of Seventeen
By Ben Gruchow
December 19, 2016
It’s not what it’s about, but how it’s about it. The two genres that stand to benefit the most from this critical outlook are the horror film and the teen comedy-drama; one need look no further than last year’s The Duff to witness the most recent example of a genre film transcending its most obvious limitations. And now we have The Edge of Seventeen, which is a film where we can more or less guess who’s going to end up where and when almost from the opening credits. But the bones of the story are not the surprise; the manner in which it’s conducted is. The trailers market this as a snarky comedy, along the lines of Juno and Easy A; what we actually get is something deeper and more textured, and more heartfelt.
You might not know this from the opening, which initiates in medias res and presents the film more as an heir apparent to 2007’s Juno than anything else. The first person we see is Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), as she barges into her almost-empty high-school classroom during lunch, confronts the teacher, and announces that she’s going to kill herself in any number of ways. The teacher, played by Woody Harrelson, will not be outdone; when she finishes her tirade, he calmly shows her his own suicide note. Glib and overwritten, this scene is, and we think to ourselves that we’ve seen this territory already in any number of teen films with snark and little substance. But this film is giving hints and playing cards we don’t know about yet.
After that opening scene, we back up: Nadine is a second-grader, and meets the classmate who is still her best/only friend to this day. This is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine also has the pleasure of growing up with a brother who is seemingly friends with everyone and successful at everything (Darian, played by Blake Jenner), and gains all of the positive attention from their mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). Nadine’s father is the only family member she seems to get along with, but he’s not in the picture for very long. And as a teenager, the hints that she may not be the most engaging person to have around accumulate: at parties, at school - and most disruptively, in a moment where she discovers Krista in a compromising situation with her brother.
It’s with that compromising situation, actually, that The Edge of Seventeen begins to show its true colors and deviate away from the model of the irreverent teen comedy; rather than simply show this development from Nadine’s point of view, we’re given a few moments with Darian and Krista beforehand, as they clean up the remnants of a party and recognize a mutual attraction. This moment took me by some surprise; rather than accepting the positioning of these two as supporting characters in a Nadine-centric film, they’re given the chance to breathe and engage with us, and it makes their discovery by Nadine - which we know is coming - feel authentic, and therefore more suspenseful. Even more impressive is the brevity that this occurs in; we’re really talking about a minor development in the story here, and yet Jenner and Richardson find the right notes and their characters earn our attachment and sympathy naturally.