The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

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The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. These films have a few things in common – they are all directed by John Hughes, they were all nostalgic classics of 1980s cinema, and they are all centered around high school. They also have something else in common – they are films that defined a decade and helped an entire generation find themselves and their identity. These films have the rare quality of both being dated and nostalgic, but also relevant to today’s issues, and while the times may change, teenagers are always the same – looking for love, and more importantly, an identity and a sense of belonging. Since the 1980s, there have been some attempts at banking in on these kinds of films, with various different kinds of films that bear similarity popping up every now and then. I used to think the closest film that came to matching Hughes’ style was the already classic Easy A. However, this year we were blessed with another film that is not only a great homage to John Hughes, but a film that he would’ve been utterly proud to have made himself. That film is The Edge of Seventeen, an astoundingly touching film.

The Edge of Seventeen follows Nadine Franklin (the utterly incredible Hailee Steinfeld), a junior in high school, who may have charms and a sense of humour, but she lacks the most important asset a high school student can have – friends. Her only friend is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), but when Krista starts a torrid love affair with Nadine’s brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine finds herself losing her only friend, as she tries and finds her own place in the world, with the help of her cynical and sarcastic History teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), her adorable class-made Erwin (Hayden Szeto), and without the support of her own troubled mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). Nadine has to come to terms with the fact that the teenage years, especially those that segue into the years of adulthood, are difficult for everyone, as we all search for a sense of identity and acceptance, while still trying to stay true to ourselves, and throughout the film, Nadine comes to realize that life is a series of curveballs.

Hailee Steinfeld is one of the more talented actresses of her generation. I saw her astounding potential in True Grit a few years ago, and even in some sub-par films, she has certainly stood out as someone with talent. Luckily, she was given a showcase for those talents in The Edge of Seventeen, where she is handed the role of Nadine Franklin, a character that is destined to become an iconic cinematic figure, with her constantly quotable lines and her droll sense of humour, the character is made for the halls of cult status. Steinfeld is just amazing in this film – she takes a character that could otherwise be seen as just unlikable, and turns her into an endearing and very funny, but also very complex, figure. I can’t underestimate the fact that despite her young age, and the theme of youth in this film, Steinfeld gives a mature and very honest portrayal of a teenager growing up in contemporary society, and I don’t see a single false-note in the entire performance. I need to give massive kudos to Steinfeld, because she proved her utter worth as an actress in The Edge of Seventeen, giving one of the most extraordinary performances of the year (and with the exception of the luminous Isabelle Huppert in Things to Come, Steinfeld gives my favourite leading lady performance of the year). If you want to see a performer who is going to have an astounding career, then I urge you to watch The Edge of Seventeen, because you’ll come out with hope, because Steinfeld is going to be a great part of the future of cinema.

The Edge of Seventeen does begin and end with Steinfeld, and the film is essentially carried on her shoulders. But the rest of the performances in this film can’t ever be ignored. Particularly that of Blake Jenner and Kyra Sedgwick, both of which start out as stereotypical characters – overly dumb jock brother, and nasty and cynical mother who doesn’t understand her daughter. However, both through the impeccable script, and dedicated performances from them, they actually grow into complicated and interesting characters, with their own internal conflicts. They are far from being cookie-cutter stereotypes, and its refreshing to see two of the most commonly exploited stereotypes made complex and interesting. Hayden Szeto is also absolutely wonderful, and he brings such a unique energy to his character. I hope he becomes a big star.

Of course, I cannot go without mentioning Woody Harrelson. I can not name an actor more committed to the fact that he is utterly incredible and likable, and who has built his career just off his strange offbeat charisma, even when he is in villainous roles. In The Edge of Seventeen starts off as a sarcastic and sardonic History teacher who serves as a foil to Steinfeld’s character – but over the course of the film, we see that he is a far more layered character, and he manages to steal the show once again in his supporting role, and is responsible for some of the most emotionally resonant moments of the film. I love Woody Harrelson, and I love the fact that he is one of the most consistent actors in Hollywood today, and he is one of the select few actors that I will follow their careers, wherever they may go. Harrelson is incredible in The Edge of Seventeen, and he manages to give a truly memorable performance in a film that should have depended solely on the performance of the lead.

The Edge of Seventeen is a complex film, because at the surface, it seems like a teen comedy about acceptance and friendship – and on the superficial level, that is exactly what it is. However, going deeper into it, you realize that it is an extraordinarily written piece of social commentary, and it may just be my favourite screenplay of the year. The Edge of Seventeen is not close to being as simple or funny as it appears – and it actually covers something quite bleak, which is the issue of acceptance. It may seem silly to make a film about a girl who does not have friends, but this kind of isolation and loneliness does cause considerable despair for a lot of people, and its an issue that a lot of films don’t cover – so many films just concentrate on the romantic subplot, and very few just go for the friendship aspect – and while The Edge of Seventeen does cover some ground in terms of teenage romance, it is essentially a film about acceptance and overcoming the isolation that comes with being an outlier in the teenage world, and the dangers of being a non-conformist.

The Edge of Seventeen also has some of the most extraordinary character development I’ve ever seen – the main characters all undergo considerable change, and the film does show that people do change, and that they are very different from their surface personality. Nearly all the main characters in this film undergo their own personal challenges and overcome their issues, and grow as human beings. It makes The Edge of Seventeen all the more real and heartbreaking – these are beautifully human characters, that are undeniably well-written and realistic. The Edge of Seventeen is just such a complex and layered film, and I adored it so very, very much.

I’ll go ahead and call The Edge of Seventeen one of the most wonderful films of the year, and it is right there amongst my favourites. It was such a pleasant surprise (even though the promotion around it did make me very intrigued), and it manages to rise about its high school-based story and become something truly special. This is a film for the current generation that will become as iconic as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles were. It is an incredible film, and I absolutely adored it. I just know that I could connect with a lot of the themes of this film myself, and its always wonderful when that happens.

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