By: Muneeb Arshid
Damn, high school was rough, wasn’t it?
Well, if you ask Hailee Steinfeld, she would probably say so. What does a girl have to do to survive high school these days? She only has a single best friend and even she goes and betrays Steinfeld’s Nadine. Now, Nadine, in survival mode, is trying to figure out where she fits in while obtaining the “advice” of Woody Harrelson‘s history teacher Mr. Bruner. This is everything that happens when you’re at The Edge of Seventeen.
Nadine has had a tough life ever since she was young. She never got along with her schoolmates, never got along with her mom, hated her brother for being everyone’s darling until she meets Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) in 2nd grade. The two become best friends and remain so when the film moves back to the present day to 11th grade. Even as a junior, Nadine and Krista have remained best friends, Krista actually being Nadine’s only friend. Complications arise when Krista and Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s brother, start to become “closer” friends, which irks Nadine to the utmost.
Nadine begins to lose the sense of her belonging in the world as she has just “lost” her only friend. She seeks out the help of a very bemused history teacher in Mr. Bruner who wants nothing to do with the teenager’s problems yet is okay with Nadine running her mouth to/at him. Nadine needs time to figure out where she fits in her personal life with her friendships but also with her emotional headspace which is taking her places where Nadine is having trouble understanding. So, exactly how high schoolers would be reacting to these circumstances.
We’ve seen so many films of this genre in the past. Some excellently made, but some that make many audiences cringe whenever a high school film is playing at the theatres. High school drama can be very hard to pull off on the big screen as it can become very sappy and dull quickly. It’s usually the same old rehashing of cliques and drama between the cliché social groups that it becomes hard to watch. That is certainly not the case with The Edge of Seventeen.
The film melds together genuine, heartfelt emotions with poignant humour sprinkled all the way through. And by sprinkled, I mean some serious laugh out loud moments. Hailee Steinfeld is a timing genius when it comes to her comedic tones. She plays the character of Nadine with such heartfelt passion which makes you believe and feel her pain of going through high school alone. But, she’s also able to have some fun with the quirks of her character, which include some of the funniest dialogue sequences between her and Mr. Bruner as well with her new equally awkward friend Erwin (Hayden Szeto).
Oh did I only mention those two interactions, well there’s one more: Nadine’s slightly strained, but completely chaotic relationship with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). This is one of those uber real relationships that plants a seed of Deja vu, as it did for me, of pain, embarrassment, and happiness when interacting with your parents during those teenage years.
However, what’s even better is how closely tied together the narrative and the characters are to each other. The story is real. Each and every one of us has felt or experienced or been in the shoes of one of these characters. And the plot works to manipulate those past feelings and bring them to light. And that is where the success of this film lies, taking you back to, however, many years ago when you were in high school and in Nadine’s shoes or thereabouts. Her eventual strained relationship with her best friend, her trying out new relationships to get over past faults, her ignoring a perfect relationship right in front of her face, and her having a relationship with that one teacher who doesn’t really relate to her but allows Nadine to act like his own peer rather than his student. Oh, did I mention how great Steinfeld and Harrelson are together in their scenes? Well, now I have again!
Filming took place in my hometown, here in Vancouver, and it was nice to be able to make out the landmarks as the movie progressed. The cinematography isn’t anything remarkable in terms of scenic shots, however, it shines when focusing in on the character moments. Cinematographer Doug Emmett knew when to get in close on the characters during the more tense and emotional moments where the focus was on the facial expressions, but also knew when to back off, like in the more confrontational scenes. The score complements the camera work beautifully with a heartfelt score by Atli Örvarsson who uses the score, not to overpower the film but rather accompany and support the strong narrative and cinematography. However, more importantly, Atli Orvarsson knew when and when not to have the score in certain scenes which highlights other aspects of the film to focus on rather than the score. Very well done!
For a genre that has been done to pieces in the past, The Edge of Seventeen is a very well-deserved, emotional teenage drama that holistically takes you back to a better or worse time in your lives. Strong to highly competent work in all aspects of filmmaking ensure the quality of the film. But, the reason why you will enjoy this is the sincere depiction of high school and all its trials and tribulations (in a slightly comedically dark-ish tone).
We, at TFL, give The Edge of Seventeen a very solid grade of B+ (8.4/10).