Movie Review: “The Edge of Seventeen” – Perfect Balance

Written by Matt Butler December 09, 2016

The Edge of Seventeen is an even-handed dramedy. It understands the audience’s emotions and expectations enough to know when to be funny and when to be serious. But these moments are so intermingled throughout single scenes that you’re never sure exactly how to feel. One moment, a girl’s pressed against the front seat of the car, fighting off sexual advances. The next, she’s pressing the seat adjustment button, moving the seat into its upright position. The whirring motor filling the uncomfortable silence.

The film follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school wallflower stuck in a world she doesn’t want to be a part of. Her older brother (Blake Jenner) is insufferably perfect, her mom (Kyra Sedgwick) is overbearing, and her dad (Eric Keenleyside) is long dead. Though she still has her childhood friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). But just as Nadine becomes accustomed to her introversion, Krista starts dating Nadine’s insufferably perfect older brother. So begins all kinds of awkward.

“Don’t be awkward. Socialize…”

Re-reading this premise, I realize how angsty this story could sound, but the way it’s told and performed is what carries it all through. We understand in the first five minutes that Nadine is a cynical comedian. Her social bitterness gives her a dry and biting attitude that’s as funny as it is damaged. She’s relatable because she knows what it’s like to feel alone. A feeling everyone experiences and everyone dreads. But it’s Steinfeld’s comedic chops that keeps us from sulking in this feeling. I did have a fear though that this dry cynicism would be the majority of the film. Another post-modern teen dramedy poking fun at itself for trying to be a teen dramedy. But The Edge of Seventeen knows better than that.

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The script, penned by director Kelly Fremon Craig, dances between comedy and drama. Not the way most dramedies do, with each scene either one tone or the other. The central tone to the film is ‘relatable awkward’. You’ve been there, you’ve done that. You don’t want to be there again, but you’ll watch someone else do that. And Nadine is as much the comic foil as she is the emotional cornerstone of the film. Again, even-handed.

“Life’s about taking risks. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”

But we never sympathize too heavily with Nadine, because we know where everyone else stands. Her mom’s overworked, her brother feels pressured to be the adult of the family, and her best friend is just trying to make everyone happy, including herself. The deceased father looks perfect precisely because he is selfless. He’s Nadine’s dad, and that’s what she’ll always remember him as. But at that critical year between teen and adult, you start to see people more three-dimensionally, especially your family.

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In terms of technical filmmaking, The Edge of Seventeen is nothing spectacular, which only helps make the film as a whole spectacular. Compare it to last year’s Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, another teen dramedy about a self-centred introspective high schooler who learns about other people’s feelings. Every shot of the film screams ‘film student’, and the film student in me loves it for that, but every other side of me feels something’s missing. As much as I think all movies nowadays look the same, The Edge of Seventeen at least offers something beneath the surface. The performances, the drama, the comedy, everything about it feels genuine. And it’s all because the script allows us to see more than one side to each character. It allows us to see the bigger picture. I suppose it just feels refreshing to me to see a teen movie that isn’t a parody of itself, but it still amazes me just how mature The Edge of Seventeen is.

My Rating: 9/10

Image result for edge of seventeen poster

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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