Awkward "Seventeen" Ultimately Rights Itself
Like many an awkward teenager, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen takes one step forward and two steps back during much of its development, stumbling here, righting itself there before coming to a satisfying, albeit, hard-won conclusion. Like many of its characters, the film has nothing but the best of intentions in telling its tale of a modern teen and the constant angst she’s dealing with, though it errs time and again in its execution. And like that kid you can’t put out on the curb no matter how much you’re tempted to, you end up loving Seventeen, despite its faults.
Nadine (True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld) is a bit of a wreck. She can’t stand her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), her self-absorbed mother (Kyra Sedwick) is in her own little world, she’s crushing on the local bad boy (Alexander Calvert) and is oblivious to the affections of her classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto), a smart kid who has it together. However, she does have a port in the storm in her best friend Krista (a delightful Haley Lu Richardson), who is unwavering in her support and always has a sympathetic ear so that Nadine can repeatedly recount her endless list of woes. Yet, even this is ruined when Krista and Darian begin dating, an event that sends her over the edge, prompting her to act even more erratically than usual.
Craig’s script is buoyed by irreverent and refreshing humor that gives the film a sense of freshness that helps us overlook some of the lapses in logic that sometimes stand out like a piece of coal on a snow-covered field. While erratic, impulsive behavior in teens is not uncommon, Nadine’s reaction to the news of her brother and Krista dating seems to extreme and comes off as a plot device rather than a genuine response. More troubling is Nadine’s relationship with her English teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), who once made the mistake of saying, “If you ever need to talk, my door is open.”
While the scenes they share are very, very funny as Steinfeld and Harrelson sharply trade sarcastic barbs, there’s something amiss here. Their relationship is hardly realistic in this day and age, as the time they spend alone and the intimate things Nadine shares with Bruner would prompt any teacher to immediately get other staff members to be in the room with them for his own protection. This is a relationship whose only purpose is to generate laughs, however it stretches plausibility to the breaking point.
This is an egregious narrative error, but Craig must be commended for casting her heroine in a less than sympathetic light throughout. There are moments in which Nadine is unbearable and the viewer may even flirt with the idea that she deserves her comeuppance. Credit Craig for going down this road and Steinfeld for embracing it. Confused teens are difficult and at times unlikable, lending enough realism to a film that nearly trips itself completely in its effort to please.