Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always been quite socially awkward and finds it difficult to relate to the young people around her. A high school student, she has only had one friend all her life, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who is the only person who seems to get her. Nadine is also haunted by a family tragedy and is constantly in the shadow of her athletic older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). When Krista and Darian start to date, it’s all a little too much for Nadine to handle, but she finds companionship in classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) and her cynical teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson).
Between The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this year’s Everybody Wants Some!! (which coincidentally also stars Blake Jenner) and Norwegian hit film Turn Me On, Dammit! (interesting that this use of exclamation marks in titles actually seems to be working), there have been quite a few impressive comedies/dramedies following protagonists in those tentative years of 15 to 18. Unfortunately, The Edge of Seventeen, as much as it wants to, just doesn’t pack the punch of its predecessors.
The first issue with the film is that it’s actually very difficult to warm up to the lead. Self-branded ‘weird and awkward’, she’s just too much of a walking cliché to like. She is spoilt and selfish, but the film reeeeally wants you to like her, and in not one of those ‘film challenging you to like the protagonist even if they’re unlikeable’ purposeful ways. As for the family tragedy, it feels mostly like a vehicle that forces you to never truly loathe Nadine, but you never feel quite on her side either.
Mind you, this is not so much to do with lead actress Hailee Steinfeld’s acting, which certainly fits the role, as it is to do with the inconsistent tone of the script and story. The trailer for the film gives the impression that The Edge of Seventeen is mostly about Nadine’s high school experience and relationship with Mr Bruner, but actually its focus is on the struggles her and her family are going through. Again, the issue here is that none of her family members are particularly likeable characters. It is good to see Jenner on the screen again – he proved himself a force to be reckoned with in Everybody Wants Some!!, one of the best movies of 2016 – but we have yet to see if he can play anything other than the American jock with a heart of gold.
As for other characters in the film, Hayden Szeto and Woody Harrelson are undoubtedly the stand-outs. They give the best performances and have the most interesting, consistent, and thus understandable and sympathetic, characters. Harrelson in particular is excellent in the film, and you mourn the fact that he isn’t on the screen more, given that the dynamic between him and Steinfeld is the kind of energy that the film needs throughout. Bruner’s biting, witty comments are hilarious and the best scenes are between him and Nadine. In their conversations, she corrects him, he tells her to get a life; she says she wants to kill herself, he says he wants to do likewise because he has to listen to her annoying self-pitying all the time.
In any case, The Edge of Seventeen should speak to a teenage audience and is certainly a more interesting depiction of adolescence than all those loud, brash, fantastical epics like The Hunger Games and Divergent franchises. Man, I sound old.