DIR/WRI: Kelly Fremon Craig • PRO: Julie Ansell, James L. Brooks, Kelly Fremon Craig, Richard Sakai • DOP: Doug Emmett • ED: Tracey Wadmore-Smith • DES: William Arnold • MUS: Atli Örvarsson • CAST: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
Coming-of-age stories have undergone something of a renaissance in the last few years particularly in the case of films. The likes of The Spectacular Now, Diary of a Teenage Girl and Me, Earl and the Dying Girl being just a few examples of those that were well-received. The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t stray far from the path that these films have trodden before but it does make strides in subtler areas.
The Edge of Seventeen focusses on the awkwardly jumbled life of teenager Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) who must deal with her jock brother Darian (Blake Jenner) dating her best friend Krista (Hayley Lu Richardson). Throw in Woody Harrelson as her unwilling mentor Mr Bruner and Kyra Sedgwick as her bemused and barely together mother, Mona, and the film becomes a whole mess of teenage issues and hormones. The Edge of Seventeen is a good coming-of-age movie but it deals with the problems associated with mental illness far better than it does with other issues that crop up throughout the storyline.
Nadine’s mother Mona is ill in some way that is never explicitly mentioned. Instead a seven-year-old Mona says that “Mommy has to take a pill every morning otherwise she gets sad and buys too much at the mall.” Nadine herself is characterised by crippling anxiety and the selfish desire to designate herself as a so-called ‘special snowflake’ because of her social awkwardness. Darian, buff though he maybe, obviously struggles with holding together a family that is desperate to tear itself apart. Both Steinfeld and Sedgewick excel in portraying the various problems and neuroses that affect their characters in increasingly explicit ways. Jenner plays Darian more subtly as a man slowly cracking under pressure. An Atlas brought low by carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. However, despite all these great performances, The Edge of Seventeen is more impressive from a technical standpoint than from a narrative one.
Director Kelly Fremon Craig’s decision to bring a more John Hughes’ vibe to her film rather than the sun-drenched depression the likes of The Spectacular Now and The Perks of Being a Wallflower brought to the screen was a brave one. It’s visible in every detail from the damp autumnal setting to the way Nadine’s style veers between Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club and a grungier Cher from Clueless. Cinematographer Doug Emmet’s tendency to shoot Steinfeld in isolated positions adds a greater deal of sympathy to the character and distracts from her more negative traits. She is often framed in corners, empty corridors and in close-ups that cut out other characters. Like all great teen coming-age movies The Edge of Seventeen lets its scenery and soundtrack speak when its characters can’t. It’s just a shame that Craig’s dialogue often can’t keep up with the other elements of her film.
The Edge of Seventeen is a good coming-of-age film but that’s all it is. Parts of it shine brighter than others but in a genre so packed, films that are merely ‘good’ stand little chance of ingraining themselves in the history of the genre. Craig has made a modern interpretation of John Hughes’ greatest hits and shown great potential while doing so but The Edge of Seventeen is no landmark.
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Edge of Seventeen is released 2nd December 2016