Every generation needs a defining teen movie, and “The Edge of Seventeen” just might be that film for this generation. The icing on the cake is that director Kelly Fremon Craig’s film will likely appeal to older audiences as well, who can look back on their teenage years with fondness, sympathy and embarrassment.
Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a misfit who’s never found her tribe, aside from her only friend, Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson), a ray of sunshine and goodness. When Krista collides romantically with Nadine’s hunky older brother (Blake Jenner), Nadine is thrown into a suicidal spiral, because in high school, the social stakes are always that high.
But Nadine’s snarky attitude is rooted in real pathos and tragedy. She feels uprooted and isolated, battering futilely against her flighty mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and seemingly perfect brother. But the script makes it clear that her self-destructive and jealous lashing out comes from a place of real insecurity and self-loathing.
There are a few bright spots in Nadine’s tornado of angst. She enjoys a sardonic rapport with her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). She also finds a new friend in Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who is as socially awkward as she is. Szeto is so funny and charming on screen that it feels like we are watching a star being born.
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Nadine’s selfishness can be trying, but it’s real, and “The Edge of Seventeen” never lets her off the hook when she turns her issues into excuses that she milks for all their worth. And her eventual redemption is well-earned. The potty-mouthed comedy has a lightness tinged with realistic edginess that makes the story feel whole and relatable. Teenagers are strange and dramatic creatures, after all.
Steinfeld makes Nadine a high school hero for the history books. Richardson and Jenner are equally good as the suns that orbit the black hole of Nadine.
“The Edge of Seventeen” takes teenagers seriously and meets them on their level, but it also expects the best from them — to be good people, responsible and respectful, even when the greatest of embarrassments rain down (can you say “text I didn’t mean to send”?). Even terrible teens deserve to be treated with a healthy dose of love, support and humor. It’s a message that bears repeating, and “The Edge of Seventeen” proves to be a new classic that deserves many repeat viewings.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’
Rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking, all involving teens. 1:44. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester.