THE FILM 4.5/5
“I don’t wanna take up a ton of your time,
but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought an adult should know.”
Growing up is hard, and life is no easier for Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), who is already at peak awkwardness when her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating her all-star brother Darian (Blake Jenner). All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever. With the help of her reluctant sounding-board (Woody Harrelson), she soon discovers that what feels like the end of the world may just be the beginning of growing up.
It’s about time someone made an R-rated movie about teen girls and for teen girls.
I know: that sounds really weird. Before you chase me down the thoroughfare with pitchforks, hear me out.
It’s less that a rating makes a film better, and more that a film just needs to live and breathe and create its own universe necessitated for telling its story – and whatever rating comes out of that, so be it. The reason I’m musing on this is that in order to tell an accurate story about the trials and tribulations of teen girls, it’s gotta be R-rated. And the more grounded that story is, with less Mean Girls-levels of screwball fantasy and more reliance on real issues that the teen-aged face, the more necessary it becomes to revisit themes that are forced to exist within the confines of such a rating. That’s not to say The Edge of Seventeen is some seedy Lolita-esque fuckfest; it’s quite the opposite. But I was a teenager once, as were you – and you remember the hormones, the clumsy sexual advances, and the utter drama that usually came out of both. Along with that I’m sure you remember the ineloquence, the immaturity, and the impulse to dive headfirst into your first bout of sexual exploits before stopping to realize that you’re probably not emotionally ready to handle them yet.
The Edge of Seventeen, the genuine and genuinely funny directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, tackles all those issues, along with a lot more. When a film opens with your lead, a high school girl named Nadine (an astounding Hailee Steinfeld) boldly proclaiming to her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) that she’s not only going to kill herself, but is willing to go into specifics as to how she plans on doing so (even if this is done for comedic effect), you know you’re in the company of a filmmaker willing to cast an honest light on what it’s like to be a teenager in a post-Facebook America. The synopsis for The Edge of Seventeen sells it as a 90-minute dramedy based on a first-world problem, but the smart script by Craig and the honest performances from Steinfeld and her dysfunctional family members, comprised of mother Moana (Kyra Sedgwick) and brother Darian (Blake Jenner), help the audience to experience the same kind of heartache and confusion as is being experienced by their heroine. The script spans several years, and pits Nadine against a seemingly insurmountable amount of unfortunate situations, but Craig handles it all so that it never feels like too much is going on. And one of the best inclusions is the relationship between Nadine and Mr. Bruner, her history teacher at first, a friend later, and finally the unexpected paternal figure she’s been missing since the absence of her father. The reason their relationship works so well is because of how wonderfully atypical it is. Nadine often looks for sympathy from him, even if it’s for shallow purposes, but Mr. Bruner refuses to play her game, telling her the exact opposite of what she wants to hear. Unwittingly, and despite this, he eventually gets sucked into her life in a way that transcends the teacher-student relationship (but one which never feels inappropriate). But by film’s end, he offers no nugget of wisdom by which he thinks she should live her life — there’s no obvious scene between the two of them where she experiences her epiphany – but his presence in her life is what ultimately sets her in the right direction and it’s the most rewarding aspect of the film.
The Edge of Seventeen seems to be one of last year’s best-kept secrets, which is kind of a shame. It’s not often that the teenage demographic actually gets a film made entirely for them, yet which doesn’t talk down to them and assume they want nothing more than feature film adaptations based on a handful of apps in their phone. Here’s hoping with its pending video release that it finally finds its audience, which it absolutely deserves.
THE PICTURE 4.5/5
The video presentation doesn’t have too much to offer in terms of dynamic environments, as the film mostly takes place in high school interiors or within Nadine’s home, but what is presented comes off very well, offering bright colors and great clarity. Every so often a scene in particular breaks the mold — such as Nadine and Nick’s drive alongside the cityscape at night, which offers a lit-up skyline — and captures very well.
THE SOUND 4/5
The Edge of Seventeen is a dialogue-heavy film, first and foremost, and it always receives top prominence alongside the healthy dose of pop tunes both new and old-(ish). Besides for the music, there isn’t too much cause for rear speaker activity except for the occasional usage of high school ambience (as the film doesn’t really require it), but what is presented works well.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 1.5/5
Unfortunately, a gag reel and a handful of deleted scenes are all she wrote.
Produced by James L. Brooks, The Edge of Seventeen has been compared to the likes of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club and both are apt comparisons. It might just be one of the best teen-oriented films to come along since then, written by a person who — like John Hughes — not only understood the teenage struggle, but who could write directly to teenagers without ever talking down to them. The lack of special features is a bit disappointing, as a commentary with writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig may have shed light on how she was able to tap into the teenage experience so well, but stellar PQ and AQ and the film itself still make this Blu-ray release an easy recommendation.
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