The Edge of Seventeen is a vintage coming-of-age picture. It’s a riot of angst and awkwardness that takes its cues from John Hughes and Judy Blume in equal measure.
Nadine is our hero, and for the awkward nerds of the world (and who hasn’t felt that at least once in life) she is all of us. She takes us through her history of being the anti-cool. The kid no one picked in gym class and who wandered around alone during recess — until one day she met a partner in weirdness, Krista. These two become fast friends and grow inseparable over the years. Few things are more true than the simple fact that one friend is all you need to get through the gauntlet of elementary, middle and high school education relatively happily. So, even though Nadine has lost a parent (a father who understood her better than anyone) and pines for a guy who doesn’t know she exists and has seen the lowest lows of puberty, she has Krista, and that’s enough.
But when one fateful night finds Krista and Nadine’s cool kid older brother, Darian exploring an unexpected attraction, her world turns upside down. Her relationship with her sole confidant thrown into turmoil, Nadine turns to her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) for council and solace. For his part, Bruner offers her steadying, if exasperated wisdom as she hurdles through this highest of teen trials alone and feeling not exactly herself.
What follows is a near universal story of feeling lost and awkward and alone anchored by a character who is enough of a stubborn outsider that her reckoning with these forces of the teenage world is cinematic joy of the highest order — even when that joy is sorrow and fear. Even if nothing in the world around Nadine was up to snuff, it would be enough. The Edge of Seventeen gives us the most honest and compelling turn we’ve yet seen from Hailee Steinfeld. It’s a glimpse at what she can do outside the bounds of the “kid” roles we’ve seen up to this point. The promise we’ve so long been promised is clear for the first time.
Fortunately, however, Nadine is not the sole element that weighs in favorably for The Edge of Seventeen. The characters around her a dynamic to a person, with Woody Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner and Hayden Szeto, as Erwin, the boy Nadine never expects, standing out as particular bright spots. Kyra Sedgwick walks the storied parental line between hero and villain with a turn that inspires empathy and upset in equal measure.
With The Edge of Seventeen, writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig sends a love letter to the coming-of-age genre at its finest. Her first directorial effort also makes a strong case for Craig to be given power over her voice and story in future projects as well.