Narcissism and angst reign in “Edge of Seventeen”

Kevin Qosja, Staff Reporter

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I am not a big fan of teenage dramedies, so I must assume my desire to see this movie was based on my interest in the actors. Hailee Steinfeld was introduced in 2010 with her brilliant performance in “True Grit” which earned her an Academy Award nomination at 14 years old. She went low-key for a while, co-starring in “Pitch Perfect 2” and making generic pop music for a while, before coming back as leading lady in “The Edge of Seventeen”.

Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a 17-year-old girl who hates the phone-obsessed, hash-tagging youth she has to deal with, claiming she’s an old soul unable to mesh with others her own age. She feels personally betrayed when her kind, intelligent brother (Blake Jenner), who has been helping her and her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) since the tragic death of their father, enters into a loving relationship with Nadine’s equally well-adjusted best friend of a decade (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine’s plight is not exactly sympathetic, but I actually appreciated that about the movie. Nadine is a bit of a jerk, or some other word less suitable for print. She is extremely selfish to the point of narcissism, constantly forcing those who love her into unfair ultimatums. The film portrays adolescence as the time period in your life when you must realize that you are not the center of the universe and that you, not others, are responsible for your own happiness. Unable to realize that yet, Nadine tries her best to stave off a deep sense of loneliness. Fellow introverts can sympathize when Nadine goes to a party and shouts into a bathroom mirror, “Why are you so weird? Why are you so awkward? Just have a good time!” Steinfeld makes the best out of this role, creating a very real young woman who can be confident and fun with her friend but also feel deeply troubled as she tries to fight a world she believes to be completely against her.

Nadine does find solace in her equal in curmudgeonry, the teacher Mr. Bruner, played by Woody Harrelson, the other main draw of the film. The dialogue between these two is razor sharp and hilarious. Mr. Bruner bluntly tears down Nadine for her obnoxiousness and general misanthropy, and Harrelson’s impeccable dry wit making everything more stinging. The interactions between the two make for the best scenes in the movie and I only wish there were more of them. The movie is at its strongest when focusing on the musings of these two compatriots in misery.

Underneath the two excellent main performances, the film has some issues. The biggest problem is the film’s lack of subtlety and depth. The aforementioned brother and best friend do not get enough screen time for character development. They spend most of the movie as antagonists to our lead without characteristics beyond “better adjusted than Nadine.” Nadine’s mother gets the shortest stick as a walking cliché with a surprisingly hammy performance by Sedgwick. The lack of subtlety and the need to over-explain are why the movie’s dramatic scenes did not hit as hard as they should have.

The film is well directed though, with the camera being an extension of Nadine herself, narcissistically keeping her in frame or being from her perspective at all times. The students’ dialogue is always fun to listen to, poetically combining profanity, crude sexual terms and formal language in a way that certainly reminded me of high school.

Overall, this is a mostly good film boosted by some excellent performances. I did not personally relate to the events on screen. Granted, I was never a teenage girl, but I did ask a young lady from my showing who seemed to agree that the scenarios were more stylized than realistic. However, watching Nadine’s journey did make me think about my own high school years and remember lessons I personally learned. In the end, isn’t that what a good teen movie makes you do?

3.5 / 5 Stars

“The Edge of Seventeen”

Rated R

Written and Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig