Film Review: The Edge of Seventeen

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Here is the verdict on The Edge Of Seventeen from our regular film reviewer Natalie Stendall.

Last time we saw Hailee Steinfeld this good, she was the child star of Joel and Ethan Cohen’s True Grit. Six years on, in this first feature from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, Steinfeld is irrepressible as a jealous, self-centred teen who drives a wedge between herself and those who love her when her older brother (Blake Jenner) falls for her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson).

Fremon Craig plays into the teen genre’s fondness for privileged kids with oversized homes and excessive freedom but succeeds in delivering an emotionally raw and sincere debut nonetheless.

Positioned as a teen comedy, the writing isn’t as edgy as Marielle Heller’s Diary Of A Teenage Girl or Céline Sciamma’s drama Girlhood, yet explores female coming of age and mother-daughter relationships with impressive delicacy and nuance.

We’re introduced to Nadine (Steinfeld) at a crisis point - expressing a flippant desire to commit suicide - before she returns us to the beginning of her own story, a childhood of failed friendships and loss.

Fremon Craig’s lightness of touch is a refreshing diversion from the teen weepy trend that includes The Fault In Our Stars and Now Is Good, while her approach to social outcasts eschews the outright whimsy of The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and Paper Towns.

The most amusing friction occurs not between Nadine and her love interests - the romance plays out much closer to formula - but between Nadine and her teacher. As Mr Bruner, Woody Harrelson is a joy to watch, handling Nadine’s self-obsessed rants with silence, critical glances and a scattering of cutting put-downs: perhaps Nadine is friendless because she isn’t very nice?

Even Nadine doesn’t like herself, her social awkwardness is the product of self-doubt.

As such, the film’s struggle is an internal one: a difficult arena for filmmakers. Fremon Craig gives us our first glimpse behind this flinty exterior with Nadine’s drunken head in a toilet bowl.

The scene’s subtlety speaks much of her skill as a writer and filmmaker. Steinfeld too thrives on the material’s interior dialogue, revealing just enough of Nadine’s awkwardness to evoke our sympathy even at her cruelest moments. Judgemental and self-centred, Nadine is the source of her own problems. Our frequent dislike only serves to make the film’s coming of age threads - facing up to personal responsibility and seeing beyond appearances - more clear.

4/5

The Edge of Seventeen is showing in cinemas nationwide from November 30