“And I say to myself, ‘Everyone is as miserable as I am. They’re just better at pretending.'”
The Edge of Seventeen is being called a “teen-angst masterpiece,” but this darkly comical coming-of-age portrait of youth is a walk in the park in comparison to my teenage years.
What immediately captured my attention was this movie’s masterful marketing: “In the tradition of classics like Clueless, Mean Girls and Juno…” and “This film captures the essence of what made John Hughes movies so special.”
Classic and timeless are being tossed around by many critics describing this movie. I don’t want to start this review on the wrong foot, because I enjoyed the film, but I missed the masterpiece that everyone else is experiencing. This glimpse into a suburban teenager’s world is as average as it is predictable. If you want to see something you haven’t seen before, you won’t find it here.
When I think of high school, I think vulnerable, insecure and awkward, which is exactly what Seventeen’s director wanted to translate on screen of 21st century teenagers.
In her directorial debut, writer-director-producer Kelly Fremon Craig conducted extensive research for inspiration for the film.
“I didn’t try to emulate specific movies. I interviewed teenagers across the country and asked them a lot of really personal questions, and hung out at high schools to see what was happening for this particular generation. What I found was that 99 percent of everything is exactly the same as how I remember it. Technology has changed, but no matter where a kid is on a social spectrum, everyone deals with that feeling of ‘everybody’s okay except me.'” Kelly Freemon Craig via Nylon
The premise of Seventeen is simple: high school life becomes more unbearable for Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.
Seventeen collected the details of modern teenage life, but failed to hit the mark on dialogue and significance. There’s nothing profound spoken that hasn’t been expressed on screen before; even as whimsical and silly as Clueless was, the script had razor-sharp dialogue that created a new vocabulary that is quoted to this day.
The film also treads heavily on the telling and not showing methodology making the protagonist less believable as awkward youth.
“I don’t want to take up a ton of your time, but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought that an adult should know,” Nadine says to her favorite teacher (Woody Harrelson).
Teenagers are notoriously melodramatic, but when the movie opens with this conversation, you’re immediately questioning what could be so horrible for this victim of youth?
The movie glosses over a lot of what made childhood difficult for Nadine; she’s bullied by other girls for being weird, her brother is the trophy son of the family and her relationship with her mother is conflicting. There’s a brief scene in the beginning where Nadine loses her father, which could have left a significant scar on-screen, but the script only lightly touches upon that with brief dialogue and an anti-depressant to soothe the pain.
Hailee Steinfeld, whom you might best know for her Oscar-nominated turn in 2010’s True Grit (when she was just 14) is both the greatest strength and weakness of the movie. Her acting is tremendous for such an unlikable character; one scene even made me consider her performance Oscar-worthy. But the fault of the character falls upon the script and not the actor. Her problems on the surface are traditional, yet we’re expected to believe they’re tremendous. Nadine asks herself, “Why are you so awkward?” while trying to socialize at a typical high school party. But the character isn’t that awkward. “I am an old soul. I like old movies and old music and even old people.” But never once does the movie cover any of this. All I can gather from her conversations and interactions is that she’s a self-absorbed, bratty and spoiled teen forced to battle the ‘who am I?’ struggle that we all go through.
“Sometimes it seems as if Craig was struggling to find a way to move Nadine through the story. The structure gets wonky when she runs out of ideas, even sending Nadine to the playground and then to the yogurt shop for many minutes to have a kind of epiphany, á la Cher’s moment in Clueless — Amy Heckerling has her heroine strolling by well-timed fountains and getting distracted by designer sales (her passion) as she comes to realize she’s in love with her ex-stepbrother. But, here, there’s still not a lot of revelation, and the only visuals supporting Nadine’s incessant self-talk are her sitting down and texting. That’s realistic, but it’s not very interesting.” via Village Voice
It may be an accurate depiction youth, but it’s certainly a watered down portrait of our tumultuous teenage years. I don’t think this will be the staple of teenage flicks like Juno was a decade prior, but it’s certainly a well-made film with a tremendous performance from it’s lead that deserves attention and recognition.
22 thoughts on “Coming of Age: The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review”
Interesting analysis Courtney 🙂 Looks like the film tried to get the teen part right but provided the same perspective as most other teenage flicks. The best ‘finding yourself’ kind of movie I’ve seen this year is Girl’s Lost.
I guess we teens are after all just a little spoiled bratty and moody HAHA. But yeah I will keep your review in mind when I watch this.
Thanks! And like I said, it’s a good flick with a great performance by Steinfeld. She’s certainly one to watch for future performances. The film just doesn’t really introduce or explore anything I haven’t seen before
I really wanted to see this at TIFF but I had already gone home when it premiered. Still looking forward to seeing it. And I love your last photo. I think heathers might be my favourite teen movie.
Thanks, Matt! Definitely check it out, and let me know what you think.
I liked this better than you did. What I think it gets right, and better than others: it does the adults justice. Usually they’re cardboard cliches in teen movies but this one pays attention to them.
The details with the adults is on point; I can agree with that.
If it’s on TV, I’ll take a look into it though with low expectations. I do like Hailee Steinfeld though I think the music she’s making as a pop star is just… blah….
This movie definitely solidifies the fact that she needs to stick to acting, because she’s very, very talented.
I gotta admit I’m not really into teen movies, but I will give this a chance as I like Hailee and I’m always supportive of female filmmakers.
It’s worth watching just for Hailee’s performance, although her character is quite annoying. She’s definitely an actress to watch for future roles!
I’ve liked her since True Grit. She’s 20 now but could definitely pass for 17 🙂 Btw, what did you think of Haley Lu Richardson who plays her friend? I met her a few years ago when she came to TCFF, she’s a talented young actress too, hope to see her in a lead role one of these days.
Honestly, the supporting cast of young actors were just okay. It was really Steinfeld’s interactions with Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick that really saved the movie for me.
It’s tough going in to a movie that people have hailed a ‘masterpiece’ because it just sets the bar so high. This movie came out of nowhere for me, but I’ve read a lot of positive reviews so I’m looking forward to seeing it. Great review! 🙂
Thanks, Allie! Those marketing quotes definitely lured me in, so they did their job 🙂 haha
I’m curious to see it now that I’ve read your review. Like, more curious, because I’ve heard great things, and now I’ve heard less great things. I’m all for unlikable main characters in movies, it’s in books I tend to hate them, but in movies, I don’t mine for some reason.
By the way, I started to think about what movie reflects my high school years, and to be honest, I don’t think there is a movie like that. I thought that maybe DUFF would have a similar feel to it, since I loved the book so much, and related to it more or less, but the movie just took the DUFF part and changed the plot completely. Oh well.
Definitely see it for Steinfeld’s performance if anything. Not familiar with DUFF, but I guess if I were to choose a teen movie to describe my high school experience, I guess it would be Perks of Being a Wallflower meets Gossip Girl, without the subplot drama haha!
It’s a nice high school comedy for the new generation. Nice review.
You’re 100% right on the it not having the quotable dialogue of a Clueless or (thankfully) Juno. I would only argue that, while generally everything is melodramatic for teens, I think there is an added layer of that for Nadine due to her “world” being significantly smaller than the average teenager, so the upheaval of it all is a bigger deal for her.
I also love that they’re willing to make her a little self-absorbed, unlikeable, and wrong. She’s 17, even if she is an “old soul” what does she really know about the world? I also loved that the movie made me laugh so much and cringe almost as often.
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I also have my “show, don’t tell” radar on at full force when watching movies, since too many have scarred me(Star Wars prequels), so I completely agree with the Old Soul part. It was not evidenced enough. However, I loved how the movie made you consider if this girl was a victim of circumstances, or a self-destructive narcissist. It is more so the latter, despite going through some tough life experiences. This is why I like the scenes with her and Woody Harrelson, because she is acting like the whole world revolves around her, and he is just smirking as he knows the big picture.
Good review. I liked the movie a lot.
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I think Steinfeld is a solid actress, though…one of the better performances of the year to be honest!