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« Celebrity Mischief: Anne, Lin, or Mae? | Main | Posterized: Ang Lee »
Friday
Nov182016

Review: "The Edge of Seventeen"

by Chris Feil

You may have already been reading plentiful superlatives thrown at the new teen comedy The Edge of Seventeen starring Hailee Steinfeld. Perhaps a lot of that love comes from its refreshing lack of condescension or cynicism - Seventeen definitely comes with its share of authenticity. The film is actually a (mostly) good time, thanks to Steinfeld delivering what feels like a second breakthrough after her Oscar-nominated debut in The Coen Brothers' True Grit.

Steinfeld stars as perpetual outsider Nadine, who begins a depressive cycle when her sole friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her "perfect" brother (Blake Jenner). What follows is a series of diversionary mishaps on her path to self destruction, the brunt felt mostly by her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and favored teacher (Woody Harrelson, a cuddlier rehash of his Hunger Games character). By turns witty and touching, the film allows Steinfeld to play a fully believable teenager and all the considerable contradictions and sarcasm without turning Nadine into a precocious cliche.

The actress has already fared better than most youngsters nominated for Oscars, with steady work even if she's mostly played third fiddle to more crucial roles. Here she launches herself into more mature roles and shows herself to be quite a natural comedic actress while revealing layered pain. She makes the sharp turns in Nadine's behavior seamless without ever missing a hilarious beat. In a fair world, she would be a shoo-in for a comedy Golden Globe nomination.

The Edge of Seventeen is sharp in unpretentiousness, keeping it real in unperformative ways. For example, the film doesn't pat itself on the back for Nadine's asian love interest (a positively dreamy and delightful Hayden Szeto) and comes of as more progressive for this normalcy - race is mentioned, but not trivialized. When its contemporaries are using minorities as checked-off boxes, this honesty goes a long way.

But while Nadine's depression is treated with empathy and unreductive exploration of her condition, the film shits the bed by defining her depression as selfish and vindictive at the conclusion. What provides momentary catharsis (and solid delivery from Steinfeld) feels opposed to the entire film before it. Considering the film is aimed at a younger impressionable audience that might be working their way through similar issues, this only comes across as irresponsible.

It's a significant misstep in thematic consistency, but writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig delivers an otherwise very warm and adept debut. Whether or not the film is a new classic, Hailee Steinfeld gives a smart and funny performance you shouldn't miss.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (12)

Great review! I absolutely love Hailee, and dig that this movie has an Asian love interest. Will definitely see it when it gets its UK release next week!

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

The Ice Storm is a perfect perfect thing.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDON

A really lovely teen comedy. Clever dialogue and memorable supporting characters, especially Harrelson. The film belongs to Steinfield though. Glad to see her in something as meaty as True Grit was.

I would expect her to get a Globe nod in the M/C section. Stone got one for Easy A, a similar film and the way things are looking now it seems the only locks in that category are Stone, Benning and Streep.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

^ Yeah, but Emma Stone got nominated because it was her breakout. The only way I can see Hailee getting nominated is if they wanna say "hey, youre a star now and we didn't nominate you for True Grit." but I don't know, they already have plenty of options for that category tbh.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Blake Jenner. Sigh.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@ Philip

My point being who else would the other two slots go to?

The film is critically acclaimed, given a timely release, with her performance being emphasized. It seems like a likely case. I can't even think of any dramedy ones they could sneak in.

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

@Jordan: re the Golden Globes comedy/ musical category: Agreed, that some actresses come to mind immediately. I've always liked Hailee, and I'm glad she has a showcase deserving of her talents.

Other possibilities:

Kate Beckinsale: Love and Friendship
Sally Field: Hello, My Name is Doris
Carmen Ejogo: Born to be Blue
Susan Sarandon: The Meddler

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

@adri

Thanks. I can't believe I forgot about Beckinsale. She seems like a sure thing.

Given more time to think now, Winslet for The Dressmaker could also take a spot.

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

the Globes aren't actually that great about nominating young women in non-prestige flicks for that prize. they skipped Lindsay Lohan for Mean Girls and Winona Ryder for Heathers and Kirsten Dunst for Bring It On (etcetera)

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel: You're right, but I've also noticed that HFPA tries really hard to make sure every actor who's recently been nominated for an Oscar is also nominated for a Golden Globe (or maybe that's just the only way Quvenzhané Wallis' nomination for that atrocious Annie makes at least a little sense to me). I think the fact that Hailee Steinfeld is already an Oscar nominee will help her get her first Golden Globe nomination for this. I haven't seen it yet and probably won't for a long time (it hasn't even been announced in Mexico as a potential release), but I'm dying to (I loved Hailee in True Grit and have enjoyed pretty much everything she's done since, even if they have been small roles, so I'm happy she's headlining a movie).

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

the film doesn't pat itself on the back for Nadine's asian love interest

An Asian male love interest is political by default. Hollywood isn't solely responsible for the desexualizing of Asian men, they experience the real thing stateside in the dating pool.

November 19, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I really enjoyed this in the moment, but agree that the ending is odd, and the overall messages are mixed. I'm all for complex female characters in film, but there's a real pattern in this one - the women are emotional wrecks and the men are largely saints and centers of rationality. I guess it could be an inversion of the supportive, supporting roles actresses are often stuck with, but it's weird to see "Edge" use this one dynamic so consistently.

November 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDave S.

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