What comes to mind when you think of a teen film? Prom, ponytails, clichés and well, John Hughes for starters. It is worth saying upfront that Edge of Seventeen has none of these, but it has what most others don’t – a refreshing combination of relate-ability and authenticity, alongside committed and engaging performances, which makes it worth bunking off school for.
I have always been a fan of teen films. Not because they are relatable, as I don’t think anyone who went to school in South London will find much in common with an onscreen depiction of an American high school, but because they seemed so exciting compared to my school years.
For me and I suspect, many others, my high school experience can be summed up in one word – awkward. Well, after actually thinking about it, maybe we need a couple more words to do it justice. So let us throw in some anxiety and confusion for good measure and then it is starting to feel about right – such special times…
In Edge of Seventeen, writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig, cuts straight through the clichés of the 80s and instead offers a funny, yet fraught, perspective on high school. Craig focuses on events that actually happen in real life, so they have substance and feel authentic. Impressively while doing all this, Craig still manages to retain the overall feel and comfort that is so intrinsic to a teen film. Everything is kind of the same, but different, though in a good way.
Craig introduces us to Nadine (Hailee Steinfield), an awkward 17-year old high school student, whose life is upended when her only friend, Kirsta (Haley Lu Richardson), starts dating her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner).
Compared to most teen films, this is a simple and innocent premise, yet it cuts to the heart of what you need to survive high school, which is friendship(s). When hers is threatened, Nadine starts to spiral out of control in a frenzy of poor choices fuelled by a cloud of anxiety-induced confusion (this is all starting to sound worryingly familiar).
Craig shows you everything from Nadine’s perspective, which pulls you further into her spiral, so you experience things alongside her. You see what she sees and feel what she feels – this is efficacious and puts you smack bang in the middle of the story. The school bell comes as a relief to you both.
The cast is uniformly excellent with Steinfield bringing just the right amount of teenage angst to Nadine. Furthermore, a wide supporting class including Woody Harrelson as a brilliantly dead-pan English teacher and Hayden Szeto, a student who takes a shine to Nadine, despite being almost permanently baffled by her behaviour.
If you are looking for the ponytail or prom dress reveal, then you will be disappointed. But if a self-aware, relatable and at times cringe-worthy, though deeply funny black comedy about high school is more your bag, then Edge of Seventeen is for you.