Nadine Byrd is not having the best time. Her life is already terrible enough just being a teenage girl in her junior year of high school, and her dad dying when she was in middle school hasn’t made things better.
So, it’s only natural that when she discovers that her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is sleeping with her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), it sends her spinning into a crisis and more alone than ever.
A classic teen movie scenario if there ever was one, “The Edge of Seventeen” provides a much-needed palate cleanser to the endless young adult movies that have been coming out ever since “The Hunger Games” first launched Jennifer Lawrence into the spotlight.
In most teen movies, the main character is misunderstood but fundamentally still likable. They may not be popular, but they’re funny, warm–someone you might actually want to hang out with. Not Nadine.
Portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld (finally putting her “True Grit” skills to good use), Nadine is a selfish, often abrasive presence defined as much by her myopic world view as she is by her own self-hatred. She resents her older brother purely because he seems to be popular and liked by his classmates in comparison to her, and Krista’s burgeoning relationship with him only feels like a further betrayal of their relationship.
It’s in these moments that “The Edge of Seventeen” truly shines and a big part of that is writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s script.
Nadine rips into people with some ferociously harsh lines and generally she pushes everyone away with her mix of awkwardness and intense selfishness. But the moments of embarrassment that come always feel couched in some sort of truth so that even the most outlandish things feel like something that could happen to you.
One of these occurs at a party soon after Krista starts dating Darian and drags a reluctant Nadine with her. Left alone, she tries to strike up a conversation with a drunk girl outside that seems to go well until she compares Nadine to Danny DeVito from “It’s Always Sunny”.
The adults in her life don’t seem to be as helpful as they could be either; her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson, perfecting a tired, funny educator) wishes she would stop bothering him, and her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) can’t seem to connect with her daughter in any way.
Of the two adults, she seems to connect with Harrelson’s character the most and their rapport gives some of the funniest scenes in the film. Rounding out the cast are Alexander Calvert as her unobtainable crush and Hayden Szeto as the guy who just wishes she would acknowledge him. It’s a testament to the writing that the latter never comes off as pitiful or obsessive and, in fact, Nadine hurts him much in the same way she hurts everyone.
It’s refreshing to see a movie so willingly accept that teenagers can be terrible and selfish without turning them into stereotypes or one-dimensional characters.
Nadine is obviously dealing with a lot of issues in the wake of her father’s death and her own insecurities haven’t helped that; she’s surviving the only way she knows how, which is to be as abrasive as she can.
What “The Edge of Seventeen” remembers is that there’s a person lying underneath the snark and given the wealth of jokes and scenes throughout, it’s enough to start a hunger for Craig’s next project. Whatever it is, you can be certain that Nadine won’t be forgotten so easily, nor will this wonderfully dark comedy.