High school comedy drama The Edge of Seventeen proves a smart enough vehicle for Hailee Steinfeld, even if it is, to quote the Stevie Nicks song of the same name, hauntingly familiar.
Steinfeld plays Nadine, a sad sack teen who feels she’s always lived in the shadow of her good looking, fitness freak brother Darian (fellow rising star Blake Jenner). He’s a well-behaved nice guy who since childhood was always the favourite in the eyes of their Mum (Kyra Sedgwick). The only person on Nadine’s side, back when they were kids, was her Dad – until his sudden death.
Now 16, Nadine is still poles apart from the cool girls, and the guy she’s crushing on doesn’t even know she exists. All she has is her bestie, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). So when Krista starts going out with Darian, Nadine sees it as a betrayal, and spirals into self pity.
Her regular sounding board is teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson), whose casually dismissive responses are all a part of a banter that hides a strange kind of empathy between the two.
And in true rom com tradition, Nadine fails to see Mr Right sitting right next to her in class. Erwin (who in a rare spot of Hollywood inclusive casting is played by someone of Chinese descent – Hayden Szeto), does everything short of wearing a t-shirt saying PERFECT BOYFRIEND. Nadine, however, is too busy self-destructing to notice.
Taking it’s title from an 80s song may suggest a nostalgic coming of age film, but The Edge of Seventeen is set in the present day. And despite the word Edge in the title, the film isn’t all that edgy. The script by first time writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig is clever, but the closest it comes to edgy is in Mr Bruner’s irreverently blase comments on teen promiscuity and suicide. Harrelson is a great fit for the role and is by far the brightest spot in the film.
All the young actors are appealing and attractive, Steinfeld (an Oscar nominee at 15 for True Grit) is likeable despite all the flaws of her character.
The soundtrack is mostly a lazy wallpaper of indie rock hits, glued together with a score by Atli Orvarsson, which is too lightweight to make any real contribution to the film’s tone.
The Edge of Seventeen is entertaining fare, although lacking the kind of satire or social commentary that would make it appeal to anything other than the demographic of its main characters.
The Edge of Seventeen is currently in general release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee