Part of the magic of cinema is the notion that a film can relate to an audience through fictional characters, performances, and a story that’s being told by filmmakers that truly understand the words. In the proper capacity, film can strike a nerve with the viewer and evoke a therapeutic catharsis, allowing film-goers to experience more than just a work of fiction as they’re able to take the lessons learned by familiar situations and apply them to their everyday lives. In short, some movies just make you feel. The Edge of Seventeen belongs under that category.
The Edge of Seventeen is a coming-of-age film written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. Starring Hailee Steinfield, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick, the film follows frequently depressed and socially anxious Nadine as she navigates certain changes she’s exposed to in her life as a teenager. Carrying a sharp realism throughout the 104-minute runtime, The Edge of Seventeen is mandatory viewing for anyone who’s ever been depressed, anxious, or felt alone against a world that never ceases to spin out of control.
In large part, the film soars on the assured direction and life-like script of Kelly Fremon Craig. These characters are written so that their bodies feel lived in, delivering the type of genuine dialogue you’d expect from real people. The script is careful, too, to never let the audience root against Nadine. While her actions come across as self-centered at times, the viewer understands the headspace of the character and we’re able to sympathize with her as she takes away lessons of life, love, love of self, and happiness from her journey.
To match the strength of her character, Hailee Steinfield delivers a perfect performance. Seriously, it’s perfect. At a pivotal point in the film, Nadine discusses the way she has viewed herself since childhood and expresses the fear that she’ll never feel any differently. As someone who relates to the character in that regard, as I’m sure a lot of viewers will, I took note that the performance of Steinfield matches a real-life vulnerability that is alternately heartbreaking and funny in a genuine-human kind of way. This is the greatest Steinfield has ever been, and in a film that features a brilliant cast performing at the top of their respective games, she steals the show.
As mentioned, however, The Edge of Seventeen features dynamite performances across the board and it’d be remiss of me not discuss them. Woody Harrelson plays Mr. Bruner as a teacher you wish was your own. A dickish (and comfortable) counter-balance to Nadine’s constant self-loathing, Harrelson plays Bruner with hidden sympathy and moments of crass levity towards his student, but as the film progresses and we learn more about the man behind the teacher, we’re entranced by his true colors. Mr. Bruner is further proof of Harrelson’s superior diversity as an actor.
As Nadine’s best friend and mother, Richardson and Sedgwick nail their roles – both eliciting sympathy for different reasons. Haley Lu Richardson has impeccable chemistry with both Nadine and her brother (Blake Jenner, more on him soon), remaining likable and visibly shaken by the complications she’s caused in the relationship of the siblings. Sedgwick, on the other hand, can be more difficult to like at times, but these are the realistic flaws of her motherly character. Having gone through heartbreaking trauma of her own, Sedgwick plays the mom as someone who is making mistakes with her children but learning along the way. Her final moment on screen is powerful, evoking a million words as she types just one.
Szeto is hilariously awkward as Nadine’s school-friend and suitor, Erwin Kim. In a cast filled with characters to love, he remains the most likable as he puts aside his feelings and attraction for Nadine so that he can be a genuinely great friend to her, even if his feelings will never be reciprocated. To round off the core cast, Blake Jenner is a revelation as Darian, Nadine’s older brother. Through the lens of Nadine, we view the character in a “full-of-himself” type of way, but we’re taught differently through his actions, particularly as the film draws to a close. Jenner is both charming and confident, though he’s harboring a pain and an overwhelming sense of responsibility deep within himself. He and Steinfield share two scenes together near the film’s end, and both are indescribably powerful and fulfilling for their character arcs. Again, catharsis.
Truthfully, it’s hard, or impossible rather, to pinpoint a flaw within The Edge of Seventeen. This is a film that will make you laugh, make you cry, and relate to you in ways that caress your scars and remind you that it’s okay to have them because literally everyone else does as well. The Edge of Seventeen is entertaining, but for anyone who relates to these characters and this story, it will be important. And that, is the magic of cinema.