“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.