As Nadine, the attention seeking hellion in ‘The Edge of Seventeen’, Hailee Steinfeld gives a performance that defines teen angst in this generation of selfies, smart phones, texting and sexting. She is a caustic, smart seventeen year old but a drama queen living in her own crazy movie of life that begins every single day of her life. A stunning beauty, with gorgeous hair and deep eyes, she is the girl everyone looks at when they enter the room, not realizing she had sized each and every person in the room up, and wants to fire bomb the whole place….she’s a handful, hell she is downright toxic. She threatens suicide, she barges into her teachers life to tell him about her own, she rages about her dead father, she literally crawls around the house when hung over, she uses her brilliance like a demon, lashing out at everyone in her effort not to hurt and wound, but to push people away from her. Even the guy she thinks is a dreamboat, she manages to alienate with her sharp and vicious tongue. She rages, she seethes, she over turns the lives of everyone around her, she is attention seeking, manipulative, lost and sad. It is a stunning, career defining performance from a young woman who burst into film with a commanding performance in True Grit (2010) that should have won her an Oscar, and she just might break through this year.
Films about high school life are either spot on, capturing the angst and turmoil, or they are garbage, sugar coating what can be a time of absolute hell for the youth. The best of them, Fast Times at Ridegmount High (1982), or The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) are astoundingly accurate depictions of that life, whereas The Breakfast Club (1985) despite its standing as classic film is too pat, too easy, the kids are so much smarter than the adults around them. In ‘The Edger of Seventeen’, Nadine thinks she is, but when her teacher, portrayed with bored wisdom by Woody Harrelson talks back to her refusing to take her garbage, she does not know what to say back to him.
Watching the film I could not help but think I knew Nadine. It hit me part way through the film, I had lived with a Nadine, I was the father of a Nadine. As a father of two daughters I can say with all certainty, my oldest girl was Nadine in her teen years. Brilliant, manipulative, overly dramatic, it seemed not a day went by without a major crisis of some kind and it was never a big crisis. And like a thunderstorm, it was over in a heartbeat like it had never been there, though she had disrupted the entire household and impact the rest of our day with our behavior. My daughter grew out of it, and is now a brilliant young woman, speaking four languages and traveling the world.
Steinfeld’s performance has earned her rave reviews, and in a different year she would be a shoo-in for an Oscar, a win not just a nomination. But 2016 is a unique year and her performance might miss being nominated, but let me clear: she deserves a nomination. This is a blazing, intelligent, ferocious performance that demands to be seen, celebrated and understood. One of the many miracle performances of this year, young Steinfeld could, like Nadine, barge her way into the Oscar race. Her brash performance is remarkable because she captures, to utter perfection, a fiercely intelligent young girl hovering on womanhood and not yet prepared emotionally to make the plunge, but as the film tells so eloquently, it does not matter if she is ready, it is happening. Her soulful, feeling all eyes absorb everything said to her, about her, and she feels, so deeply, so intensely, she just cannot process it all. So she reacts, she lashes back with toxicity because she is whether she knows or not, she is defending herself.
It is a stunning piece of acting.
I hope the Academy realizes that.
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