The “teen movie” genre is undoubtedly lucrative business, and whilst there is a plethora of forgettable and throwaway movies in this category, every now and again there is an instant classic, which can join the pantheon of teen movie greats. A Clueless (1995), Mean Girls (2004), or an Easy A (2010) only comes along every once in a while, and hopefully it’s not premature to assume, but The Edge of Seventeen seems like one of those films which could easily stand alongside these.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) feels like she never fits in, and she struggles to make friends throughout her schooling life, however she soon finds a kindred spirit in Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Fast forward to seventeen years old, and life becomes a whole lot more complicated when Krista starts dating Nadine’s brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Struggling to deal with losing her best friend to her brother, Nadine has to navigate the perils of High School life alone.
14 year old Hailee Steinfeld made waves back in 2010 with her big screen debut in Coen Brother’s directed True Grit (2010). Appearing alongside Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley in musical drama Begin Again (2013), and in the all-star ensemble cast of Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), Steinfeld has certainly been keeping busy. Now at the ripe old age of 20, she is back in a starring role, delivering perhaps the best performance of her career so far.
The success of this film completely rests on the strength of Steinfeld’s performance, as there is rarely a moment when she isn’t on the screen. Fortunately, she completely sells it! She is instantly likeable, and a protagonist that it is easy to get alongside and empathise with. She plays the kooky, awkward teen oh so well, and has impeccable comic timing. There’s a truly delightful onscreen friendship between Steinfeld, and the always wonderful Woody Harrelson, and their scenes together were utterly brilliant.
The supporting cast are all fine in their roles, but this is really Steinfeld’s show, and in her directorial debut, Kelly Fremon Craig makes sure this is the case. Having a female director for this film really adds to the heartfelt honesty of the storyline, as there is clearly great understanding of the struggles of being a teenage girl, which is essential for making this work. It feels warm, authentic, funny and honest, not shying away from the “warts and all” portrayal of teen life.
The plot is fairly down the line, and it borders a little on the derivative at times, but there is a razor sharp wit that runs through it, which completely forgives the slight predictability of the plot. “Coming of age” stories generally follow a pretty similar blueprint, and The Edge of Seventeen is no exception to this, however the strength of the performances, it’s heartfelt honesty, and it’s quirky sense of humour give it the edge.
The only thing that lets The Edge of Seventeen down slightly is that it feels it shies away from some really hard-hitting issues in places. It covers death, grieving and mental illness, but it doesn’t quite hammer home these issues where needed. It could’ve delivered a really crucial emotional edge, but it never quite feels willing to go there. It’s funny, and honestly told, but it just lacks that extra something to elevate it to the next level.
Overall, The Edge of Seventeen is warm, delightful, funny, heartfelt and entertaining, with a stand-out lead performance from Steinfeld that will hopefully open up even more doors for this talented young actress. It ticks all the teen movie boxes to satisfy that crowd, but it also delivers enough honest humour to win over even the harshest of critics, giving it the edge over some of the more average offerings we’ve seen from this genre. Absolutely worth a watch, The Edge of Seventeen is charming, and one of the funniest films of 2016.