The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

A narcissistic teen finds herself isolated when her only friend begins dating her brother.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto

As Nadine, the narcissistic hero/villain of Craig's film, Hailee Steinfeld is a raging fireball of self-destructive energy, both entertaining and uncomfortable to watch. Think a high-school set As Good as It Gets with a 17-year-old proto-hipster in the Jack Nicholson part.

The Edge of Seventeen isn't that Stevie Nicks biopic you've been waiting for. It's a teen comedy, and a damn good one. It's a genre that has become fractured along gender lines in recent years. Those focussed on male protagonists tend to be unwatchable celebrations of machismo filled with toilet humour and populated by the type of kids you went out of your way to avoid in your own school years. Female-centric teen comedies are a different matter. They usually offer a much smarter, more nuanced brand of humour, and we've had a few gems in recent years - Easy A, The DUFF, and now writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig's debut.

Both Easy A and The DUFF featured breakout performances, from Emma Stone and Mae Whitman respectively, though the latter has struggled to find roles since, no doubt due to her lack of resemblance to a human Barbie doll. The Edge of Seventeen boasts one of the year's best lead performances, from Hailee Steinfeld. It seems odd to call this a breakout, as Steinfeld has been on the scene for quite a while now, but not since her debut in The Coen Brothers' True Grit adaptation has she been afforded such an opportunity to really exploit her talent.

And talented she sure is. As Nadine, the narcissistic hero/villain of Craig's film, she's a raging fireball of self-destructive energy, both entertaining and uncomfortable to watch. It's the sort of role usually given to aging actors, the crotchety know-it-all whose intellectual superiority is balanced with emotional immaturity. Think a high-school set As Good as It Gets with a 17-year-old proto-hipster in the Jack Nicholson part.

Nadine's narcissism is somewhat explained by a series of early flashbacks. As a 7-year-old, we see her bullied by the other kids in her school, making a single friend, Krista. At 13, her life is shattered when her father suffers a fatal heart attack. Now 17, Nadine is exploiting her past trauma to behave like a sociopath, blaming all of her imaginary problems on non-existent external factors.

When Nadine's long-suffering friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating her brother Darian (Blake Jenner), the most popular jock in school and a genuinely nice guy, Nadine refuses to continue hanging out with her friend. Ignoring the attentions of infatuated schoolmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto), Nadine finds herself increasingly isolated.

Craig and Steinfeld seem made for each other here, one of those director-actor partnerships that suggests a psychic bond. Many of the comic scenarios display a clever use of props and surroundings, like when Erwin makes an ill-timed and failed pass at Nadine on a ferris wheel and is left to sit awkwardly until the ride ends, or when Nadine raises her seat slowly after a similarly drastic encounter in a boy's car. In her first film, Craig displays an understanding of the importance of space in visual comedy that's absent in the films of most veteran directors.

While its tone is light and breezy throughout, The Edge of Seventeen does take us to some dark places, opening with Nadine dramatically announcing her planned suicide to a teacher, Mister Bruner (Woody Harrelson), whom she's adopted as a sounding board. Later, after a potentially disastrous social media faux pas, Nadine dramatically pleads to a God she's not sure exists for an out, as though she were the heroine of a Carl Dreyer film.

Nadine says and does some truly terrible things, breaking the hearts of anyone who cares for her, and with the wrong actress in the part, she could have been merely unsympathetic, but Steinfeld sells her vulnerability, and keeps us rooting for her. Few of us can boast of being easy to deal with as teens, but we were given a chance. You should give Nadine, and her smart movie, a chance too.

The Edge of Seventeen is in cinemas November 30th.