There are two types of people in the world. The people who naturally excel at life & the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.
In The Edge of Seventeen Hailee Steinfeld gives a genuinely brilliant performance as Nadine, a social outcast at high school. She has one friend, played by Haley Lu Richardson; one perfect older brother, played by Blake Jenner; one widowed mother, played by Kyra Sedgwick; and, best of all, one sarcastic, antagonistic teacher, played by Woody Harrelson. Steinfeld is nothing short of wonderful in this movie; the film has the beats of a standard coming of age tale, but Steinfeld imbues the film with a wonderful dose of realism. She’s sarcastic, bratty and deeply flawed; Steinfeld and writer-director Craig make the decision early that Nadine doesn’t need to be likable and they get a lot of mileage out of this. This film is, in many ways, more of a character study than these kinds of stories are. You’re typically supposed to have extreme empathy for the main character in a coming of age story and, while you certainly feel that to a degree with Steinfeld, the film has enough distance to make her an interesting, flawed character at times, even if that means we lose our immediate bond with her. The cast around here is really good as well for the most part. Sedgwick is wonderful, very funny, but also often deeply sad. Based on the trailer, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Harrelson in the movie; he seemed to be playing the kind of sardonic, laid-back smart-ass he kind of always plays. That’s true to a degree, but he’s obviously fully invested and he makes his character really come to life. The scenes between Steinfeld and Harrelson are the best in the film. Blake Jenner, who was pretty good in Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! as the blank slate college freshman, is asked to do a lot more heavy lifting here in the drama department and unfortunately he isn’t quite up to it. A couple of pivotal scenes near the end revolve around his acting and the shallow nature of it robs the ending of some of its impact. Special note for Hayden Szeto as a classmate enamored of Steinfeld’s Nadine. It’s one of the best comedic performances of the year, capturing the awkward feeling of having a crush to perfection. I can’t sell strongly enough how great this guy is and I can’t wait to see him in other things. The film’s clichéd story is the main weak-point. The screenplay is often super-funny, but in about the last twenty minutes, the movie, which has felt very true to life up to that point, suddenly takes a sharp turn and starts wrapping things up in a way that I found entirely too sentimental and sunny for the movie that had followed it. But it’s still a very witty, often laugh-out-loud funny riff on the coming-of-age high school genre. The flaws are more than balanced out by the mostly excellent script and the cadre of great performances. This is Craig’s debut film, so it’ll be interesting to watch her develop. This one is really good and I feel like with this one under her belt, maybe she can do even better with her second attempt. Excited to see it; and you should see this one. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – incredibly funny, often dark character study is more grown-up than most teen coming-of-age movies; Steinfeld is astoundingly great & helps lift the film above its clichéd story. 3 ½ stars.