The Edge of Seventeen is the best coming-of-age movie since The Way Way Back. Much like that film, some clichés of the genre are present and accounted for. Non-parent adult acting as mentor to the protagonist, relationship with best friend dissolves for some reason, protagonist likes someone but then realizes they actually like the other nice person, etc. The secret to playing into a genre cliché is that you have to either hit the mark perfectly, or you have to subvert it. The Edge of Seventeen goes with the former, so that means it falls squarely on writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s shoulders to pull that off. Luckily for her, she does.
Just a quick sidetrack. The trailer definitely makes you think that Woody Harrelson is more a part of this movie than he actually is. I get that. He’s the star power here. But, all you Harrelites (that’s a group right?) out there don’t lament because when he is present he doesn’t disappoint.
Really what makes the film click so well is Hailee Steinfeld. I thought she was great in True Grit and The Homesman but then there were the iffy ones like Ender’s Game and Romeo & Juliet, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. If this film is any indication, though, she just needs the right director and she can do great things. I’m sure a lot of the blame (or recognition) falls on the directors she’s worked with for her less than stellar performances. Good director = good performance. Coen Brothers, Tommy Lee Jones, and now Kelly Fremon Craig have all gotten great performances from her, so I’m gonna blame Carlo Carlei for that disastrous Juliet and Gavin Hood for a disaffected Petra in Ender’s Game. Also I haven’t forgiven him for the first Wolverine movie.
After I saw this film I thought about the character Steinfeld plays, and I thought about how the part could have easily come off as insufferably annoying. Her acting definitely deserves attention because never once did I think to myself “just get over it already.” My empathy drive was engaged from start to finish. But with a poster like this, how can you not feel for her?
It’s nice sometimes to have a coming of age film that isn’t about a violent upbringing, or a downward spiral because of drugs, or other such real-life problems that face our youth. I’m not saying that those films aren’t important, because they are, and 9 times out of 10 those are the ones I will choose to watch because they challenge me more. Sometimes, though, we need The Edge of Seventeen so we don’t feel like slitting our wrists as the credits roll. And don’t consider that a spoiler. I’m not telling you what happens at the end is all sunshine and lightness, but I’m not saying it isn’t that either. Merely that the tone of the film does stay light. Again, a lot of that is because of Steinfeld, but Craig (Fremon Craig? Is Fremon part of the last name? It’s not hyphenated on imdb or Wikipedia so I don’t know) also deserves credit because the script doesn’t let the film wallow in pity for any extended periods of time.
The bit players did pretty good too. Kyra Sedgwick was very believably a scatterbrained single mom, Blake Jenner was… well Blake Jenner is always just Blake Jenner so he got the job done.
The other standout for me was actually Hayden Szeto (no, I’d never heard of him, either) as Erwin Kim, the lovesick kid that likes Steinfeld so badly that his awkwardness around her is physically painful to watch.
There were no big problems from any of the other behind the camera folks either. The score was there, not intrusive but not impressive either. The shots were mostly shot-reverse shot. No weird editing moves. All solid. My biggest eye roll moment was whenever something was being typed or texted. The characters spoke along with the words aloud almost every time. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but if you take a look at Tony Zhou’s video essay about it:
If these things had been more interesting I might have been a little more blown away by this movie, but it was a very serviceable addition to the genre so I’m not complaining. Check it out.