An edited version of this review originally appeared in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.
“The Edge of Seventeen” could have been easily written off. Its premise is one we’ve seen on screens both big and small countless times. Avid movie buffs can probably see the major story beats coming, and generally predict how it will end.
First-time director Kelly Fremon Craig easily could have settled for that – a potentially charming, but mostly cliché-filled and forgettable film.
Thankfully, she doesn’t. Buoyed by a breakout performance by Hailee Steinfeld, “The Edge of Seventeen” ends up being not only the opposite of forgettable, but also one of the very best and most satisfying films of 2016.
It took six years, but Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Academy Award at 14 for “True Grit,” solidifies her resume as an actress who can only elevate a movie several notches solely with her involvement.
Her turn as socially troubled and consistently quotable Nadine commands the audience’s attention. Even though her character is colored with many shades (the quirky outfits, the 64 oz. slurpees) of Ellen Page’s Juno, a modern icon of the “coming of age” story in her own right, Steinfeld is just as effective a scene-stealer.
And she is virtually in every scene of “Seventeen,” excelling in a performance that is as emotionally charged as it is demanding.
It helps that Craig has supplied Steinfeld – as well as her uber-effective supporting cast of Woody Harrelson, Blake Jenner and Kyra Sedgewick – with a script bursting at the seams with as much energy and angst as Nadine herself. It’s equal parts hilarious, profane and poignant, and it balances all those in a way that comes across as perfectly natural.
In that sense, “The Edge of Seventeen” is particularly effective in how genuine it is. It’s an honest portrayal of high school life – of teenagers trying to hook up with crushes who throw parties when they have the house to themselves, and how their self-centeredness affects those around them.
Sure, its messages apply to 38-year-olds as much as 18-year-olds, but there’s something refreshing about recognizing that many of our high school experiences are decidedly R-rated, and making a movie with an aesthetic that reflects that.
The film is endearingly satisfying even in its predictability – something to be admired. A lot of that has to do with its pacing, which works a little too well. The film is a kinetic force, most of its moments of pause offered to the audience by Harrelson’s wise-cracking history teacher. He personifies the film’s honesty about the harsh truths of life, and the consequences we sometimes face with our relationships.
Even still, I was left wanting just a little bit more, even if that came in the form of some expendable scenes that stretched the film another 20 minutes. As long as Steinfeld chews up that time with what is one of the most obsessively entertaining performances of the year, I’m game for more.
At the very least, it makes me very excited for what she does next.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking — all involving teens
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner and Kyra Sedgwick
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig