The Edge of Seventeen


            Ah, youth.  Those of us “of a certain age” may have a tendency to remember it nostalgically, and long for those times when we were young and vigorous and had our whole futures before us.  “The Edge of Seventeen” reminds us that it was also a time full of angst and awkwardness, when we said and did impulsive things, and were still straining under the constraints of our nuclear families while longing for the personal independence that we knew was still a long ways off.

            Writer and Director Kelly Fremon Craig creates a character in Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) that we all identify with, because she realizes she's not presenting her “best self” to others, but somehow can't stop herself from being insecure.  She feels like she's in a high school where she has no place she belongs.  The other kids don't seem interested in including her, and she still suffers from bad memories of being bullied by some of the “mean girls” when she was younger.  At home, things aren't much better.  She loved her Dad very much, but he died suddenly of a heart attack, and since then her Mom (Kyra Sedgwick) has been the classicly stressed-out single Mom who works too hard and is lonely, because she hasn't found anybody else to share her life. Mom also has a tendency to lean on older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), who Nadine thinks of as one of those smart, successful, popular kids who don't suffer from self-doubt the way she does.  So she doesn't feel close to her Mom or her brother, and her only bright spot is her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who seems to understand her like nobody else does.  In the meantime, she has a crush on a boy at school who won't give her the time of day, and she's too self-absorbed to notice a nice boy, Erwin (Hayden Szeto) paying attention to her in class, who's just as awkward about initiating conversation as she is.  Nadine even seeks refuge by eating lunch with a teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), but he's not exactly Mr. Warm and Fuzzy, either.

            All this personal unhappiness gets even worse when her best friend starts dating her brother, and Nadine can't bring herself to be happy for either of them.  She accidentally sends a sexually suggestive text to the boy she thinks she would like to be with, but somehow doesn't put two and two together that his sudden interest would mean that he would expect immediate sexual favors. (How do you say “Just kidding” about something like that?)  She and her mother have a big argument, and she winds up calling her teacher to pick her up from a disaster date.

            At one point, an adult in her life tries to tell her that “this, too, shall pass,” and of course, it does.  The things that seemed so incredibly important then were maybe overblown in our adolescent self-absorption.  Writer and Director Craig raises the scatology bar in the dialogue, and you may not remember thinking or talking that way as a teenager.  But Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld is one of those actors who just mesmerize you with their depth and range. We root for her even when she's not that lovable, because we think her sensitivity and emotional intelligence will serve her well later, when she doesn't feel so vulnerable.

            Yep, this will take you right back to your awkward teenager phase, quicker than a high school reunion.  Steinfeld might even receive another Oscar nomination for this performance.  Too bad the people around her look too old to be high schoolers.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Do you remember feeling awkward as a teenager?

2)                  Did your friends at the time provide encouragement or frustration?

3)                  If you could give some advice to your adolescent self, what would you say?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association