Coming-of-age stories are hard to tell. Many end up falling flat. Some only appeal to a certain demographic. The Edge of Seventeen strives to be both a comedy and a proper story about growing up. There’s some heartwarming honesty in the film, but not enough.
Blake Jenner and Haley Lu Richardson
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has a tense relationship with her family. She and her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), are always at odds. Mona relies on her eldest, Darian (Blake Jenner), to mend fences after family squabbles. Nadine hates her brother for being the perfect child and turns for support to her childhood friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). When she discovers that Darian and Krista are dating, her world is turned upside down. Estranged from Krista, Nadine is forced to navigate alone.
The Edge of Seventeen’s storyline touches on many issues that should resonate. Being a teenager is hard. There are conflicting emotions and the ongoing struggle to adjust to life after puberty. The film’s delivery of these messages, however, is messy. Nadine’s petty behavior makes it difficult to feel any empathy for her situation. At one point, she uses her father’s death to get out of a homework assignment. When her teacher, Mr. Brunner (Woody Harrelson) sees through her plan (her father died four years ago), she reacts by giving him a hard stare. There’s no remorse or guilt.
Hailee Steinfeld and Hayden Szeto
In order to fit into Nadine’s angst-ridden narrative, the remaining characters come off as wooden. Sedgwick does well with the limited amount she’s given, while Harrelson is used for comedic relief and not much else. The true standout, however, is Hayden Szeto as Erwin, Nadine’s classmate and love interest. Sweet and awkward, he’s the one person, besides Harrelson, who really seems to ground Nadine in reality.
The Edge of Seventeen has a lot of potential. Nadine’s final confession and release of pent up thoughts and emotions is the kind of thing the rest of the movie badly needs. The confession is honest, heart-twisting, relatable, and understandable given all that she’s going through.
Nadine is a little part of all of us, but the movie plays on her problems for too long without a proper payoff. The Edge of Seventeen showcases Hailee Steinfeld’s ability to carry a movie. Hopefully next time that vehicle will match her talents.
The Edge of Seventeen opens nationwide November 18, 2016.
Top photo: Hailee Steinfeld
Photo credit: Murray Close courtesy of STX Productions