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The Edge of Seventeen
(2016)

(SPOILERS) It occurred to me during The Edge of Seventeen that it might have approximated Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, if it had been written from the point of view of his sister instead of Ferris, and if Ferris wasn’t only the most popular guy in school but had also bedded Jeannie’s best friend. While Kelly Fremon Craig’s feature debut is darker and gleefully cruder than most of John Hughes’ fare, it owes a significant debt to him (she acknowledges as much), particularly so in cuing up an optimistic, anthemic resolution.


Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine Franklin isn’t one of the in-crowd (a flashback sees her being taunted by other girls: “Nobody likes you, you suck, and you’re going to get AIDS!”), lost her father a few years earlier, has an emotionally fragile mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and an impossibly steroidal brother Darian (Blake Jenner). But until he begins a relationship with Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), Nadine at least has her BFF. And then her already turbulent trials and tribulations only increase.


The John Hughes effect is particularly evident in the supporting characters, with the cool guy Nadine swoons over who turns out to be an incredible jerk (Alexander Calvert) – the accidental sent text is signposted as eventually inevitable, the number of times she’s on the verge of sending a message before wisdom prevails at the last moment – and the geeky guy she initially ignores (Hayden Szeto’s Erwin). The former is more James Spader in Pretty in Pink than Andrew McCarthy, while the latter doesn’t have the comic chops of Jon Cryer, although Szeto lends him a goofy sensitivity. Not so sure about the paean to the healing power of filmmaking, though (Erwin is in the film club).


Mr Bruner: Hey, Nadine, wake up. You had a brain operation. It worked. They made you pleasant and agreeable.

Steinfeld has been handed a gift of a part and duly makes the most of it, running the gamut from acerbically defensive to emotionally raw (I was blissfully unaware of her designs on the pop world, and I remain blissfully unaware of what she actually sounds like). Her most satisfying scenes are played against Woody Harrelson, though, as her similarly droll and pithy teacher and sounding board. Nadine goes to Mr Bruner with every little problem, and he responds with due irreverence until his response actually counts. When he mocks her suicidal intentions, she comments “You are so going to get fired when I actually do”. To which he doesn’t miss a beat: “Well, no, not for sure, but I can dream”. After a tirade in which she lays every insult in the book at his door, she apologies for labelling him bald: “Glad you circled back round, cleared that up. Certainly made me feel better”.


Sedgwick as the mom trying to cope without her husband also makes an impression, in particular for a delightfully bleak pep-talk she gives her daughter: “Here’s what I do when I’m feeling down. I get very quiet and very still and I say to myself everyone in the world is as miserable and empty as I am. They’re just better at pretending. Try it some time. Might bring you some peace”.


While Craig’s decision to resolve matters with unfettered reconciliation and hope may be seen as a slight cop out, given how enjoyable caustic she makes her main character, it’s entirely in keeping with the Hughesian tone. It’s curious The Edge of Seventeen didn’t catch on – did the rating count against it? – despite the mostly rave reviews, but its quality assures it a place in the upper echelons of the teen movie lexicon.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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