It is a testament to how wildly underrated The Edge of Seventeen is that the film is starting to gain traction online after it has left cinema and become available on iTunes. Sure, it opened to critical acclaim, but people still put off watching it because they assumed that the film was just another indy teen film that you’d put on in the living room while you’re making dinner in the kitchen.
How wrong everyone was.
The Edge of Seventeen was written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (a female writer/director whose last work was the film Post Grad starring Alexis Bledel) and it tells the story of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld with a performance that reminds us that her Oscar nomination for True Grit was not a fluke), a seventeen year old girl who is struggling in school and in life. Things have been unbearable for Nadine ever since she lost her father a few years ago and her whole family still continues to cope with that loss. Her mother (played by Kyra Sedgwick) switches between being a caring, loving parent to a paranoid, lost soul at the drop of a hat. Then, her seemingly perfect and popular older brother (played by Blake Jenner) makes things worse when he starts dating her best and only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).
We first meet Nadine as she strides through the halls of her high school half in tears before plopping down opposite her sarcastic history teacher (Woody Harrelson) and telling him that she’s planning on killing herself. It is just that, well…she thinks that an adult “ought to know” about it first. The scene is brilliantly acted, as well as incredibly clever and hilarious. And from this point on, The Edge of Seventeen does not let up on both its dramatic and comedic beats. As we start to get to know Nadine, we find out that she’s not only funny and awkward (as female protagonists tend to be in these teen films), but that she is also overly-dramatic and deeply flawed. The film does not hold back on exploring her shortcomings. She gets called out when she’s acting like a pain in the ass and she gets taken down a peg or two when she thinks she knows everything.
The most impressive thing about The Edge of Seventeen is how brave it is when it comes to unpacking the teenage experience. Unlike in most teen films, Nadine’s awkwardness is not used only as a comedic tool. Craig does a masterful job of fusing the realism into the most lighthearted scenes. There is a real sense of self-loathing to Nadine – a very relatable trait for many viewers whose teenage years were shaped not by wild parties and large groups of friends, but by isolation and a deep sense of inadequacy. Sure, the film is laugh-out-loud funny, and the dialogue is second to none. But what makes The Edge of Seventeen stand apart from other films in its genre is its incredible ability to balance the comedy, the bizarre-nature of adolescence, and the honest experience of the insecure and the lonely.