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It’s unfortunate that we rarely receive honest, hilarious, relatable coming-of-age films nowadays. Luckily, when films like The Edge of Seventeen come along, they get the deserved attention. Seventeen has a familiar premise, but thanks to writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig‘s perspective, it conversely has a fresh approach. Because of the strong writing and performances, Seventeen lives in a class among the best like Mean Girls, Clueless, and Easy A.
To summarize, The Edge of Seventeen follows awkward high school student Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) as she tries to create a social life for herself. Her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother (Blake Jenner), which drives a rift between the three. In the interim, Nadine befriends a more-awkward, show-stealing kid named Erwin (Hayden Szeto). She also seeks occasional advice from unconventional, crass teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson).
As you read through my synopsis, you should recognize certain plot aspects. We’ve seen an uncomfortable teenager flounder through adolescence on film before. The witty, sometimes-rude teacher isn’t a new idea. The unassuming romance is definitely a trope in teen movies. However, the originality in dialogue and unique traits Nadine, Erwin, and Mr. Bruner possess elevate the film.
To obtain some appreciation for The Edge of Seventeen, I implore you to watch the hilarious red band trailer above. The charming, vulgar humor is immediately apparent and appreciated. This isn’t just true for the trailer, but for the entire feature. In the vein of Superbad, kids curse, and curse often in reality, but in Seventeen, conversations feel more realistic. Instead of aiming for the best gut-busting one-liner, the comedy flick opts for believability in its word choices.
Although the laughs are plentiful at the start, the final third act attempts to be poignant. While Nadine’s arc feels fulfilling, the resolution feels rather predictable and sudden. If you’ve seen one teen movie and watch The Edge of Seventeen trailer, you can guess the film’s ending easily. However, I feel the writing short-changes a particular character on closure that the audience would have welcomed. Regardless, the first two-thirds of the movie balance witty humor and character depth to cover for any finale weaknesses.
Backtracking to the performances, The Edge of Seventeen can certainly brag about its central cast. Hailee Steinfeld’s effortless skills would take years for any other actor to master. Woody Harrelson is impeccably utilized as the charismatic, sometimes-crude teacher. The star-making performance ultimately belongs to Hayden Szeto as Erwin Kim. He’s a love interest unlike any other in the teen comedy/coming-of-age genre. He acts so convincingly uncomfortable in his own body when trying to speak to Nadine. In every nervous twitch and stutter, I saw so much of my adolescent self in Erwin Kim. That earns the timid kid a spot as one of my favorite teen comedy characters to ever exist.
While the central cast’s performances are a bright enough highlight to drown out any criticisms, said criticisms still remain among the supporting cast. Kyra Sedgwick as Nadine’s eccentric mother, Mona, feels slightly mishandled. I’m unsure how the regular moviegoing audience will feel, but I yearned for more meaningful interactions between Nadine and Mona. Also, unfortunately Blake Jenner as Nadine’s older brother Darian simply couldn’t measure up to Hailee’s acting prowess when necessary. Haley Lu Richardson as Nadine’s best friend Krista eventually became moving background furniture after the first half of the movie. At times, I needed reminding that Nadine and Krista were even best friends.
While the supporting performances felt shallow for me, most of that fell on the writing of those characters instead of the actors themselves. The Edge of Seventeen definitely shows Kelly Fremon Craig’s endless potential as a writer, producer, and director, even if some areas could use improvement. Nonetheless, where Seventeen thrives is Craig’s grasp on the principal characters’ identities, the comedic timing, and the fluid pacing. Objections aside, the great outweighs the mediocre or questionable, which can 100% be attributed to Craig’s work.
Speaking overall, if you want a memorable cinematic experience to Mean Girls or Easy A (but R-rated), The Edge of Seventeen is absolutely for you. Prepare yourself for more gravitas behind its emotional moments than most of your standard teen comedies. What you’ll remember most though is the unique, charming, and relatable characters, and the unexpected laughs they bring.