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A High-Strung Teenager’s Life On ‘The Edge Of Seventeen’ (Movie Review)

edge of 17 thumbThe Edge of Seventeen falls under the category of one of the many types of films you expect to get in a given year. This is a coming-of-age comedy drama about a teenager navigating the socially awkward experience that is high school. Generally, when you see good versions of these types of movies come out, John Hughes is among the references to come to mind. It makes sense, as you have a central teen character speaking with confidence and solid dialogue, despite being a mess of emotions. This film does not exactly break any new ground, but it does have its share of charm, thanks to some strong performances.

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Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine Bryd, a high school junior with only one friend in the world, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). When Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) stars dating Krista, everything gets turned upside down. The solutions range from Nadine annoying her widowed mother (Krya Sedgwick) to annoying her openly blasé teacher (Woody Harrelson) to confusing the one boy who has a crush on her (Hayden Szeto).

Seventeen is the directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, who also shares a producer credit with James L. Brooks. It’s fun to point that out, as Brooks always seems like a guy happy to pick out new talent who deliver human comedy from a personal place (think Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket).  The film gets credit for having a female writer/director dig into the high school experience and have the freedom to at least allow the characters to speak as she sees fit. This is exemplified by the R-rating, which is less of an indication for this being a certain kind of film and more of an open acknowledgement that the kids speak like high school kids. There is profanity here and it allows for a level of authenticity.

Of course, the dialogue is also stylized to a point. Characters bounce off each other way too easily to have this sounding realistically natural. That in mind, the film opens with a wonderful scene that sets up what audiences are in for. It also allows us to look at how good Steinfeld and Harrelson are going to be, as the two match wits in a charming sort of way, in addition to nailing the comedic beats Seventeen has to offer. Following that, the film’s story goes down a route that is not entirely original, but does work to make us care for these people and want to know how the journey will go to seeing Nadine eventually realize that the world is not all the bad for her.

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As mentioned, it is the performances that really help the film. While popping up in random studio films here and there, roles like these are ones to help show Steinfeld’s breakout performance in True Grit was no fluke. She carries this film rather well and willingly allows herself to look bad, awkward and vulnerable, as we watch her try and sort out the mess that is her life. Harrelson gives the kind of great performance that we mostly take for granted, as he has the kind of cadence and attitude that perfectly gets across how he can be aloof and intelligent at the same time.

To the film’s credit, while we mainly see things from Nadine’s perspective, there are some wise choices made to delve into her issues from the other character’s points of view. That may complicate things narratively, as you only have so much time to develop new angles, but is also allows us to see additional great work from Jenner. The film begins by doing little to show us why Nadine’s brother is anything more than a jock, but it was impressive to find a new area to explore, as the film went on, with a solid performance coming through, in the midst of everything else. Also, Szeto does a really good job of making things uncomfortable in an endearing sort of way, as he tries to express his feelings for Nadine, as she tries to work things out.

Seventeen works as an awkward comedy and believe me, there is some very cringe-worthy humor taking place here. The drama never gets too intense, but the story is believable enough, even if it does not go too far outside of the norm. There is an enjoyable vibe, which is what makes what we are seeing worthwhile for the most part. Steinfeld does a great job in carrying the film and the way it holds onto a focus means good things for a film that walks the line of making a lead character somewhat unlikable. Of course, that’s what it comes down to when placing a character on the edge of her social life.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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