The Edge of Seventeen (2016) (Review)

Some films are always destined for greatness. Some films strive for greatness and fall drastically short under the pressure. Some come out of nowhere, completely surprise and pass the 'greatness' test with flying colours. The Edge of Seventeen falls in the latter category, crafting a touching and poignant coming-of-age comedy-drama that achieves the distinction of standing among the genre's best. Starring Hailee Steinfeld as the film's lead - with a performance that could very easily catapult her into Hollywood stardom - The Edge of Seventeen considers the troubles of growing up in a way that very few writers could get a grip of so well.

Growing up is difficult for anyone, but even more so for Nadine Franklin (Steinfeld), a 17-year old girl. When her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner) and her relationship with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) already rocky, she feels more alone than ever. She attempts to find company with her equally-awkward classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and her class teacher (Woody Harrelson), but finding it difficult to open up may result in total alienation.

Hailee Steinfeld's performance here is truly mesmerising and she balances an awkwardness and likability that few could nail as well as she does. As a performance that could easily become overcooked and exaggerated, Steinfeld instead crafts a nuanced turn as a recognisable and relatable protagonist who one cannot help but root for. Yes, her character is sketched with archetypical strokes but that is how this genre succeeds, and it is arguably how you get the most effective results. Having already bagged herself a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, the award-talk is deservedly strong. The rest of the film is brimming with solid supporting performances too, especially Woody Harrelson, who offers the film more of a biting humour and dry wit that perfectly compliments the fumbling humour of Steinfeld. In fact, the film shines brightest when the pair share scenes and their verbal-sparring allows them to bounce off each other. Also worth a mention is Hayden Szeto, who is adorably awkward and illustrates how men can feel as uncomfortable as women when it comes to love and companionship - a theme often overlooked and undeveloped.

Of course, their terrific performances would amount to very little without the sensitive, thorough and warm-hearted script that truly understands the struggles of being a teenager. Kelly Fremon Craig, who not only writes but directs and co-produces this bundle of joy, has a real gift for portraying a honest portrait of youth, making what appears to be a really personal and intimate story immediately recognisable and affecting, offering a refreshing perspective from other genre offerings that do not have this additional insight. The characters that are crafted are not always likeable but they are human, for all their warts and flaws, which is what makes The Edge of Seventeen such a compelling piece of cinema.  Aside for the well-sketched characters, at the heart of this film is the essential themes that play such an integral role and create such absorbing viewing. Placing an emphasis on acceptance - of yourself, your feelings and others - and that everyone hurts but some people are better at hiding it conjures an added sentimentality and authenticity that hits you emotionally if you have experienced such difficulty in growing up. So, basically, everyone. These themes are considered in a truly moving way, with an extra poignancy for how effectively you can relate to them - all combined in a teen-drama that is surprisingly hilarious, with these combination of tones perfectly demonstrating the ups and downs of adolescence.

If one could find something to complain about with this piece, it eventually winds up somewhere a little too conventional to be recommended as the genre-busting film it very nearly is. It indulges just a little too much in 'Hollywood' with its overly sanguine ending that softens the general bite of the piece. It is also perhaps just a little on the long side that just a ten minute tightening could easily fix. Still, that doesn't stop The Edge of Seventeen from being an absolute gem of a film. It's poignant, honest and authentic, with wonderful work from Steinfeld, Harrelson and Craig in particular, who are central pieces in the brilliant work the film does. It succeeds because of how perceptively it approaches its subject matter, how tenderly it considers its themes and how efficently it touches a nerve with everyone that has ever experienced/is experiencing growing up. The Edge of Seventeen is a film you need to see now - you'll kick yourself otherwise.


Summary: The Edge of Seventeen not only succeeds on the wonderful lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld but the poignancy, honesty and humour that lies in its smart and biting script from Kelly Fremon Craig.

Highlight: Steinfeld's performance.