Review: “The Edge of Seventeen”

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The coming-of-age drama is a staple of cinema the world over. Whether it be an innocent tale about finding one’s voice, or complex narrative exploring a taboo topic, these films always resonate with audiences regardless of culture. The latest addition to the genre is no different, though it is a tad too conventional.

High school outcasts Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) and Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) have been best friends since childhood, there for each other through good times and bad. But all that changes once Krista starts dating Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), who embodies everything Nadine isn’t. Soon Krista is hanging out with the most popular girls at school, leaving Nadine to spend her lunchtimes with her quirky history teacher, Max (Woody Harrelson).

Life isn’t all bad for Nadine, as she manages to befriend Erwin (Hayden Szeto), an awkward classmate whose hobbies include drawing and film-making. He also shows a keen interest in Nadine, though she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings – the object of her desires is Nick (Alexander Calvert), a part-time pet store employee who is barely aware of her existence. Meanwhile, things aren’t much better with Nadine’s mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), who is still recovering from the death of her husband four years earlier.

The Edge of Seventeen should be frustrating to watch, in part due to the number of clichés present. Just four of these coming-of-age tropes are mentioned above – the main protagonist being a social outcast, living in a single-parent household, failing to acknowledge the feelings of a potential suitor and having a love-interest that is ignorant to their affections. For a film which markets itself as being fresh and original, it certainly doesn’t feel that way.

But a lack of originality does not a bad movie make. There are two characters who do provide some enjoyment, both of which are played by the actors with the highest profiles. The first is Hailee Steinfeld, who delivers a frank and sincere performance as the central character Nadine; the second is Woody Harrelson who, despite being relegated to a supporting role, is witty and charming, providing The Edge of Seventeen with its most humorous moments.

Given that these two actors are Academy Award-nominees, it’s perhaps not surprising that they’re the best performers in the movie. One actor who does surprise though, is Hayden Szeto. In his most significance performance to date, Szeto proves to be the most likeable of the supporting cast, and his character the most relatable. And despite being well-beyond the age of the average school student – he’s actually 31-years-old – he makes a pretty convincing teenager.

Pity the same cannot be said of the remaining cast members, who are utterly amateur by comparison. I understand this is a low-budget independent film, and that it’s being headed by a first-time director (Kelly Fremon-Craig, for those interested) but if the likes of Szeto can put in a good performance, surely it’s not too much to ask of the other actors to do the same. Additionally, some of the dialogue comes across as mean-spirited, giving the movie an unpleasant vibe.

The Edge of Seventeen is too strongly associated with the conventions of the coming-of-age genre to be noteworthy, with an unimaginative and unremarkable story. That said, it does have the odd enjoyable performance, making the film a charm rather than a chore to watch.

3 stars

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