Rating 4.5/5 – The success of any movie depends on how they present character and The Edge of Seventeen is a movie that centers on character. Yes the story matters, and the villain/antagonist adds something, but first and foremost it’s about character. If your main character is in exactly the same place they started you don’t have an interesting character. Edge of Seventeen is one of the best films illustrating this point. There’s nothing really original about The Edge of Seventeen, we’ve met these characters before and we’ve seen the main storyline before in one form or another. However what’s different about The Edge of Seventeen is the performance by Hailee Steinfeld and Blake Jenner as the barely getting along brother and sister (Darian and Nadine) and Woody Haroldson whose getting a lot of traction from his switch from manic go-hard-or-go-home characters to the wise elderly adviser. The focus is on Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine, whose the protagonist of the story and the driving personality in this nicely made little movie.
I have no clue why I’m not tired of the disaffected youth trope because The Edge of Seventeen is one big bag of that. I admit it gets annoying. It’s always white kids with pretty much stable homes who are constantly bitching about how unfair life is while eating three square meals a day, wearing the latest fashions and able to afford laptops, tablets and smart phones. Most of The Edge of Seventeens cast are not likable characters. Nadine is not a likable character but in her head it’s because she feels the world is against her therefore she’s against the world.
Hallie Steinfeld is on an interesting career track. She seems to pop up in movies with varying degrees of success. I liked her in Ender’s Game and 10,000 Saints, and I’m the only human being who thought Barely Lethal was funnier than I expected it to be. The Edge of Seventeen shows she can headline a movie, but I hope it’s not a string of movies about disaffected youth raging against the world from their two-car garage homes while listening to their Bose headphones.
Nadine’s brother, Darian, is popular and outgoing and pretty much the American dream of what young white males should be. Nadine’s only friend is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) and the only teacher she can relate to is Mr. Bruner (Haroldson) an aging history teacher whose entire attitude is “I really don’t give a fuck.” Her world as she sees it spins into a bad place when during a drunken night Krista hooks up with Darian and the two decide to hook-up permanently. She’s against it as she feels Darian somehow represents everything wrong with her world and Krista being her only friend. The rest of the movie follows Nadine as she finds herself on her own and makes good and bad choices.
Did I mention that Nadine is a very unlikable character? Not a total asshole but pretty close. Most certainly she’s the type of person whose so defensive she could miss out on many things in life due to that defensiveness. Unfortunately she’s also completely self-involve and narcissistic (mostly in a negative way). We’ve all had her kind of person in our orbits, the ones who make mountains out of mole hills and relates every single thing to themselves. But in the end she’s a seventeen-year-old kid whose doing what every teen her age is doing – trying to make it out of high school with some part of her sanity intact. The inciting incident of her best friend hooking up with her brother pushes her out of a comfort zone she’s built up for herself since childhood – especially after an especially bad tragedy. She decides to do things that would never have happened if her relationship with Krista did not change and with all things in life these decisions have very mixed results.
This was not a movie about anyone being a good guy or a bad guy either. Nadine is unlikable but has a manic charm to her that would make people smile if she’d drop her 24-7 defense grid of snark. Darian has is own issues and life and things he has to deal with, including a sister whose determined to make him the enemy. Unfortunately Krista was more of a McGuffin in the story and we never really learned much more about her out of relation to Nadine and Darian.
Let’s talk about Woody Haroldson and a teacher in The Edge of Seventeen. Woody Haroldson is one of those actors who reach a level where he commands a universal cult status reserved for only a few. Where a Robert De Niro or an Al Pachino or Jack Nicholson enjoy a larger than life status, when they do a really bad movie it’s just a bad movie. Haroldson is one of those “made the movie more interesting even if it was bad” actors in the vain of Christopher Walken or Bruce Willis (though for the past few movies, Willis’ status has been decreasing.) His portrayal of Mr. Bruner only made Edge of Seventeen that much more worth watching because Woody Haroldson has a great delivery and excellent comedic timing. Of course in real life a teacher like him might be in some hot water for reading a sext message from one of his students out loud and only commenting “You should really watch out for those run-on sentences.” However this is Hollywood where poor people can live in loft apartments and teachers can say “fuck” whenever they want. While Mr. Bruner was only a supporting character Haroldson makes him one of the most memorable of 2016. Of course he did, he’s Woody Fucking Haroldson, right?
The Edge of Seventeen is About Character
The main reason why Edge of Seventeen succeeds is because the main characters are not in the same place at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning. Nadine grows, Darian finds some balance, Krista gets a boyfriend. . .okay, that sounded better in my head then when I typed it out. . .we find out Mr. Bruner is not just a teacher who gave up and said ‘fuck it” and even Krista mother begins to learn to let go of her growing children. That’s that difference between a good movie and a bad one, how you handle character. I believe this is a directorial debut for Kelly Fremon Craig and if Edge of Seventeen is any indication we’ll be seeing great things from her in the future. Edge of Seventeen is a neat little movie with more then a few laugh out loud moments and even the “obvious jerk” wasn’t exactly the obvious jerk and that was refreshing. It’s well acted, has a good story and wraps up better than I expected it. I recommend you give this one a watch.