Several years ago, Hailee Steinfeld gave one of the best youth performances ever as Mattie Ross in True Grit. Owning the screen with the sophistication of a young Jodie Foster, she immediately became an actress to watch. As with all child stars, though, it was uncertain what would lie on the horizon for Steinfeld. Would she fade into obscurity or mature into one of our most promising performers? Fortunately, it was the latter.
Steinfeld had a strong supporting role as Mark Ruffalo’s daughter in Begin Again and charmed everyone’s socks off as Emily in Pitch Perfect 2. In Edge of Seventeen, she pulls off a truly remarkable feat. She takes a whiny, self-absorbed, pretentious, anti-social teenager and makes her 100% lovable. It also helps that Steinfeld is given a wonderful script from writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig. Edge of Seventeen is a much better coming-of-age story than Craig’s previous screenwriting effort, Post Grad. It’s an honest, funny, and endearing little comedy that actually understands the teenage mindset.
It’s an honest, funny, and endearing little comedy that actually understands the teenage mindset.
Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a seventeen-year-old girl who has been in a downhill spiral ever since her father died. She’s constantly at odds with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and lives in the shadow of her practically perfect older brother (Blake Jenner). The only person she can confide in is her best friend since second grade, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine is sent over the edge, however, when her bestie starts dating her bro. Nothing makes sense anymore, sending Nadine on an antsy journey of self-discovery.
Antsy teenagers are usually the most insufferable characters in popular culture. That’s largely because people in Hollywood simply don’t know how to write for them. This isn’t the case with Craig, however. In her directorial debut, she crafts a central character who’s impatient, reckless, and often makes poor decisions. At the same time, though, Nadine feels like a real teen with relatable insecurities. She talks and acts exactly like a girl her age would, giving us a protagonist that might not be the best role model, but is certainly identifiable.
She talks and acts exactly like a girl her age would, giving us a protagonist that might not be the best role model, but is certainly identifiable.
Speaking of role models, Nadine finds a mentor of sorts in her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). Of course he’s not exactly a regular Mr. Feeny. Unapologetically blunt and often reluctant to help, Bruner isn’t afraid to tell Nadine that sometimes life just sucks. Despite his rough edges, he does care about his students and will help resolve their problems with a brutally honest sense of humor. It’s a welcome change of pace from the teachers we usually see in film and Harrelson actually molds Bruner into a believable character.
Edge of Seventeen might not reinvent the coming-of-age story, as it’s not without a few overly familiar moments. It doesn’t quite rank up there with Juno, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, or any of the John Hughes classics. Nevertheless, it’s still sharp, smart, and even makes time for an adorkable romance with an admirer named Erwin (Hayden Szeto). And then there’s Steinfeld, who continues to prove that she can do little wrong.