Unpopped Kernels: The Edge of Seventeen (2017)

There have been plenty of movies that have focused on the teen experience. From Rebel Without a Cause to Reefer Madness, Sixteen Candles to Mean Girls, every era and generation has its look at adolescence and growing up. The films usually star thirty year olds masquerading as sixteen/seventeen year olds but it is often forgiven in very special cases due to the recognisable message at the centre that is wrapped in relatable awkwardness.

With the dilution of films nowadays, teen movies have become the same predictable farce: A young girl struggles to find her identity at school and, eventually, earns self-respect whilst bagging a sexy dude. And true, I’m not saying that The Edge of Seventeen offers anything different to the mix, but the endearing qualities of this latest pubescent romp (perhaps not the best phrasing) an enjoyable watch.

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That is mainly down to our lead heroine Hailee Steinfeld. She plays Nadine, an outcast school girl who spent a lot of her younger years alone. At odds with her mother, jealous of her popular brother, and with her only solace being her father, Nadine has always struggled. That is until she meets Krista and they immediately become best friends. Flash forward several years later and, sadly, Nadine’s father has passed away and Nadine is every bit more isolated than ever. And more so when Krista falls for her brother Darian…

Steinfeld has grown up from a child actress into a prominent leading one. As Nadine, she really captures that spirit of growing up; the vexatious world around you that feels more your enemy than your aide, hormone raging inside you, and also that surreal comedy that has become akin to modern day comedies. Steinfeld is as every bit iconic here as Molly Ringwald was in Sixteen Candles or Lindsey Lohan in Mean Girls, and her chemistry with the audience and everyone around her works ridiculously well. Alongside her, Everybody Wants Some‘s Blake Jenner and Split‘s Hayley Lu Richardson bounce off Steinfeld’s energy to create a detailed look at her friends and family. It smarts with this realism because Steinfeld layers Nadine with enough core drives and thoughts that she leaps off the screen.  It’s a terrific performance.

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Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, the film may have unoriginal elements to it such as the hot guy that turns out to be a jerk, the cool teacher who talks to his students weirdly and is oddly close to the main character (this time played by Woody Harrelson,) and an erratic mother who simply wants to get along with her daughter. They’ve been used before and Craig doesn’t wield them too far from the cliche. That being said, the director and writer gifts the lead and the film with a level of originality by fleshing out Nadine beyond her quirks and lust. Instead, the film pivots largely around her isolated home life and the inherent loneliness since her Dad’s death, rather than her quest for popularity or the boy. Bounding around her emotions since she cut ties with Krista, The Edge of Seventeen is much more an exploration of those sadder youth moments where the world seems so much larger and inescapable and you cannot connect to anyone.

With this understanding of being a teenager, and a great realistic wit, The Edge of Seventeen is pushed over its titular limit and into the depths of great teen films. There are some laugh out loud moments here and identifiable scenes that haven’t been shown on the screen (the moment where Nadine sprays her hoo-ha with perfume after freshly shaving to find it smarts is the truest thing I’ve seen recently.) Never shirking from true emotional power and depth, without over-sentimentality or a stirring speech to the whole student body, The Edge of Seventeen is a fantastic exploration of womanhood and youth identity.

The Edge of Seventeen is available to watch on Amazon Prime 

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