Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit") and Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, "The Bronze") bonded as second grade outsiders, still an inseparable team as they navigate Lakewood High School. But when Krista begins dating Nadine's resented perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner, "Everybody Wants Some!"), her world's turned upside down. Acting out in all the wrong ways, Nadine learns perspective after hitting a humiliating bottom at "The Edge of Seventeen."
Producer James L. Brooks shepherds first time feature writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig into one of the best new teen comedies of recent years. Featuring a fleet footed, witty performance from Hailee Steinfeld, who keeps Nadine sympathetic despite her bad behavior, "The Edge of Seventeen" is an entertaining reminder of how preconceived notions can cloud one's judgement.
The film begins with a flash forward to its last act as Nadine marches into history teacher Mr. Bruner's (Woody Harrelson) classroom during his lunch break to announce 'I just want to you know I'm gonna kill myself,' before flashing back to Nadine's bumpy adolescence. The loss of her beloved dad (Eric Keenleyside, "Dreamcatcher," 2014's "Godzilla") four years earlier has left her with an overwhelmed mom (Kyra Sedgwick) and a popular older brother she's convinced glides through life. Krista is, as ever, her lifeline.
But after flustered mom Mona departs for a match.com weekend date, the girls get into the liquor cabinet, Nadine the far worse for wear. When she awakens on the bathroom floor, she goes looking for her friend but finds her in the last place she expects - her brother's bed. Feeling betrayed, Nadine furiously condemns the couple.
Now alone in school, Nadine cautiously responds to the Asian student, Erwin Kim ("Seventeen's" breakout star Hayden Szeto), she finds 'pathetically' adorable. He's clearly crushing on her, but she keeps him at arm's length, using him for friendship while pining for bad boy Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert, TV's 'Arrow'). By the time we work our way back to that suicide threat, Nadine's alienated just about everyone, but Bruner, who responds to drama with sarcasm, has hidden depths of compassion and understanding and isn't at all the man Nadine had pigeon-holed. It's time for Nadine's apology tour, her first step towards genuine happiness.
You may be able to see where Fremon Craig is headed, after all it's a well worn path, but her writing is sharp, her direction assured. Steinfeld deftly mixes self-absorption with cracking wise, a shield for the underlying layer of pain that motivates her fury. Harrelson's cool dismissals are a hoot, the actor deflating Nadine's tirades with knockout quips, his own defense mechanism. Sedgwick gives us flustered exasperation and insecurity while Jenner slowly unveils the burden of the under appreciated man of the house. But it's Szeto's awkward charm that steals the movie, his Erwin gaining confidence the more he is revealed. Also notable is Keenleyside as the jovial, understanding patriarch gone too soon.
"The Edge of Seventeen" isn't quite original enough to achieve classic status, but it's witty and wise and well acted. Kelly Fremon Craig and Hayden Szeto are off to the races.
Robin also gives "The Edge of Seventeen" a B.
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