Hailee Steinfeld has come a long way throughout her acting career. We should remember when she started working in film at age 14 as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ remake of the 1969 John Wayne classic ‘True Grit’, (for which she was nominated for the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ Oscar) all the way up to last year’s ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ as aspiring singer/Freshman member of the Barden Bellas, Emily Junk. She was also in ‘Barely Lethal’ and ‘Term Life’ after that, but I don’t think those films were as mainstream as ‘Pitch Perfect 2’. Now, in 2016, she plays the lead in the James L. Brooks produced teen comedy-drama ‘The Edge of Seventeen’, where she not only gives a career-best (I have yet to watch ‘True Grit’, so hold your horses), but also plenty of attitude as Nadine, a 17-year-old with a lot of angst and hatred for almost everything around her.
Ever since she was a little kid, Nadine was always jealous of her older brother, Darian, (Blake Jenner) who she felt always had the upper-hand; (and the superlative ‘Most Likely to Succeed’) she also happened to be the target of bullying and never got along with the other kids. It isn’t until she meets her future best friend, Krysta, (Haley Lu Richardson) who she says is “dressed like an old gentleman” as the first impression, when she starts to enjoy life a little more. But when she turns 13, something tragic happens to her father, (Eric Keenleyside) which causes her to go into a depression all the way to age 17, when she hits junior year of high school. To make matters worse, one morning, she discovers Krista sleeping with Darian. This makes Nadine question herself while going through the motions of her life as a socially awkward teen in high school.
The great thing about Nadine is that she is a relatable character to those who have experienced the “socially awkward” phase in high school. Steinfeld portrays her with humanity and charm, making you laugh at her little impersonations of those around her, (and her Garfield-thinking-I-hate-Mondays attitude on life itself) as well as making you sympathize with her when she is at her lowest. It’s this combination of angsty comedy and heartbreaking drama that helps you connect with her, with the cinematography helping us stay with her through the trials and tribulations of her junior year.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’ almost feels, at times, like your usual cliché’ high school comedy-drama; making it seem predictable. Writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig uses subtle cliché’s for a couple of characters, but she does it in a way that helps add to the emotion we as an audience need to feel, and refrains from heading into that territory again in the future. The movie still feels fresh, and we are invested while getting to know Nadine and the people in her life. Craig has written some depth in these characters and wants you to experience their emotions. An example would be Nadine’s mother, (Kyra Sedgwick) who is trying to move on after that tragic experience in her life; relying on Darian to help with keeping Nadine out of trouble, and even dating men from Match.com to help her get over the hump, etc.
I can’t go without mentioning Woody Harrelson, as Nadine’s teacher; who is always there to listen to her advice, no matter how explicit she comes off. He added more humor, yet didn’t feel like a real character. His part was still worth mentioning. As a whole, ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ is one of the best high school movies I have seen, as well as one of the best films of the year. It is also an improvement from STX Entertainment’s films this year (‘The Boy’, ‘Hardcore Henry’, and ‘Bad Moms’).