Review: ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is One of the Most Pleasant Surprises of 2016

Is it possible to hug a movie? If so, I want to hug ‘The Edge of Seventeen.’

In an assured directing debut, writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig has created a film we’ve seen many times before and breathed fresh, biting air into every frame. ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ isn’t a cutesy high school film, where the characters have problems like who is going to ask who to prom. There’s genuine, real-life stakes.

Hailee Steinfeld became an Oscar nominee at 14 years old with her performance in the Coen Brothers rendition of ‘True Grit.’ Now 20, Steinfeld has become a bona fide star. She plays Nadine, who is kind of insufferable. She thinks the entire world owes her something and she is the only one who has any problems. The movie opens with her stomping into her history teacher Mr. Bruner’s (Woody Harrelson) classroom during lunch and letting him know that she plans to kill herself; he seems uninterested by her dramatics, like he has experienced them many times before.

Nadine has always had one close friend named Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who has been by her side since elementary school. Nadine doesn’t take it too well when Krista starts dating her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner, from this year’s ‘Everybody Wants Some!!’). Nadine begins to spiral – she has always lived in the shadow of her popular brother, whether it be at school or with their mother (Kyra Sedgwick), and she hates the thought of losing her best – and only – friend to him.

Even when ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ feels like it’s following a worn trajectory, Craig manages to find ways in her sharp screenplay to breathe new life into the material. This isn’t a film concerned with the high school pecking order – it’s a much smarter film than that. ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ earns every laugh and heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking moment.

Steinfeld has been on the rise since she scored that Oscar nomination five years ago but this is her first true shining moment. From her comedic timing to dramatic delivery, Nadine feels real and true. Even at her most unlikable, Steinfeld is great. She and Harrelson have one of the year’s best rapport, giving and taking harsh jabs back-and-forth.

In a genre that often calls for stereotypes, Craig has infused characters with wit and nuance across the board. This is 100-percent Steinfeld’s show but everyone gets a moment to shine. This makes ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ one of the most pleasant surprises of 2016.

Rating: 4/5