Easily one of the best films of 2016, Kelly Freman Craig’s “The Edge of Seventeen” is a wonderful drama comedy teeming with engaging characters and compelling human dilemmas all of which garner a sense of sheer sadness. Not since “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” have I seen a drama comedy evoke the themes of John Hughes so beautifully. Too often when directors and writers try to invoke Hughes, they forget the key element to their narrative that the main protagonists can be and often are as flawed and selfish as the supporting characters and antagonists. The same can be said for “The Edge of Seventeen” where Hailee Steinfeld is incredibly adorable and compelling as Nadine Franklin. From the moment we meet her, Nadine is her own worst enemy, she’s someone who is always doubting herself and on the verge of a break down.
Through these insecurities, she time and time again self-sabotages her own life. Growing up she gained resentment toward her older brother Darian who not only teems with self-confidence, but is hopelessly idealized by their mother to a sickening degree. The only consolation Nadine has is her father who is able to touch a part of his family’s dynamic that keeps them from self-destructing. There’s also Nadine’s best friend Krista who is often a sponge for Nadine’s self-loathing and frustration toward her family and life. After Nadine’s father Tom suffers an untimely death, Nadine finds herself drifting through high school and life, incapable of finding a place even among her own family. With Darian finding his own social circle, and her mother looking for new ways to meet people, Nadine begins to feel a sense of insignificance in her home.
The situation becomes even more troublesome when she learns that Krista has been secretly dating Darian. Incapable of accepting yet another change, Nadine begins to experience a crisis of character, confronting a humongous life change and acceptance of things she can’t control. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in Nadine’s life is the feeling of lack of control, often trying to keep her life exactly the same. She presents a very interesting dichotomy from her mother Mona, as played by Kyra Sedgewick, who is so terrified of change that she’s often overbearing and over protective toward her children. Hailee Steinfeld is brilliant in the role of Nadine, presenting glimmers of Molly Ringwald in her peak, as she bears witness to shocking turn of events in her life, and has to figure out whether she wants to swallow it whole, or simply accept it and try to stick a healthy landing.
As Nadine, she tends presents a slew of flaws including a sense of self-destructiveness and inherent mean spirited nature that makes her difficult to empathize with. Thankfully Steinfeld’s turn in the character is so charming, warm, and genuine, that even when we don’t like Nadine, we never stop rooting for her and hoping for the best. Steinfeld is helped by a wonderful cast, including Sedgewick, Hayden Szeto, and Blake Jenner, as the idealized Darian who reveals dimensions to his personality that end up quite surprising. Woody Harrelson is the icing on the cake as Nadine’s grumpy mentor and teacher Mr. Bruner, who not only puts up with Nadine’s constant self-hatred, but is never afraid to slap sense in to her, no matter how many times she threatens suicide.
Harrelson is simply fantastic in what ends up being a very crucial character, and works brilliantly off as Steinfeld as someone who’s seen more than enough in his life, and is wise enough to stand back and allow Nadine to either figure it all out for herself, or fall face first in to her self fulfilled prophecies. “The Edge of Seventeen” is a superb, and riveting teen drama comedy that offers laughs, rich characterization, and a wonderful coming of age tale about change, and how incredibly hard it is to accept and adapt to it.