Film Review: The Edge of Seventeen

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick. Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.

Growing up is hard.

That’s what new coming-of-age flick The Edge of Seventeen wants you to recall. In the spirit of John Hughes’ pimples-and-all explorations into high school life, Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut film examines the life of seventeen-year-old Nadine (Steinfeld), a loner with a dysfunctional family and real lack of social skills.

Through a series of flashbacks, we discover Nadine’s fragile past – losing her father to a heart attack, and growing up without friends, that is, until Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson) and Nadine bond over a caterpillar in high school and become besties for life. That is, until circumstances at the age of seventeen leave Nadine feeling isolated and alone.

Like many coming-of-age stories, The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t tell much of a story, it’s more of a journey of personal growth for Nadine. Hailee Steinfeld (Ender’s Game, Begin Again) is perfectly cast here, and deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance. She manages to walk the tightrope between playing an isolated teen that you feel sorry for, and a rude sharp-tongued brat that grates. This makes for gripping watching – as Nadine makes poor decision after poor decision – wanting relationship but doing everything she can to cut herself off from those around her.

John Hughes classics The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off took us into the world of a teen in the 80s and Kelly Fremon Craig does the same for millennials. What unites these films however is the feeling of being misunderstood, perhaps even stifled, by others. It appears that the only person who understands Nadine is her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Harrelson), if only because they fire shots at each other with gusto. But like the best films, what you expect isn’t always the end result. The Edge of Seventeen surprises, and it’s very, very good.

What The Edge of Seventeen screams is that life isn’t easy.  Nadine at one point of turmoil cries out to God, but then asks ‘why do I even bother?’ We will go through days, perhaps weeks, where we feel misunderstood, unloved, alone. In the cloud of teenage angst, it’s hard to see clearly. There is a God who not only loves us, but knows us even better than we do. Psalm 139:7-8:

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If we ever feel on the brink of crisis, God is there. He promises that in his Word time and time again. This is not to say that seeking help from professionals or friends is unnecessary. But we know we have a God who understands us, hears our cries, and has experienced life as we have.

The Verdict: The Edge of Seventeen is brutally raw, but also very smart. Be warned that it contains language and sexual references. I’m eagerly anticipating Kelly Fremon Craig’s next directorial feature, especially if it’s as solid and entertaining as this is. 4.5/5

The Edge of Seventeen releases in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 5th January. It is already screening in the USA.

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