Every year there seems to be a hoard of new “teen” films that populate the movie theaters. Whether they are based on a book or a remake, very few have been able to capture the cross generational lines of the John Hughes film of the 80s. That is, until now with Kelly Fremon Craig’s new film The Edge of Seventeen. Not only does this movie find its dwelling among the greats, but it quite possibly could be the start of a whole new movement within the genre itself.
To say I loved this film is not only an understatement but a disservice to how brilliant this movie is. It’s not just in the magnificent way they were able to find actors that understood and brought to life these unique characters, but also in the breathable truth that is explored throughout the film. The Edge of Seventeen is not just a movie for teenagers and their angst, but everyone who is going through the teen-angst years well after high school graduation.
When truth is explored in films, it’s never really honest. There are always miscellaneous elements that are added to heighten the emotion in any day to day situation. That’s silly, because nothing is more dramatic than our daily lives. The way Craig and producer James L. Brooks conveyed truth wasn’t through harsh images shoved in your face, but instead with delicacy.
Adolescence sometimes becomes the butt of the joke, it’s the “if we knew then what we know now” syndrome of reminiscing on how those so called traumas were just a walk in the park. Whileour view of our place in this world is skewed when we are children, that doesn’t mean some of us are not dealt some heavy cards we must play with. Instead of brushing over the difficult times, Craig embraces them in an overstuffed hug.
At times, the best medicine is a giant loving hug. Nothing is more comforting than knowing that you are not alone in this world. Situations are different for everyone, everyone has their own unique difficulties and triumphs, but everyone has felt defeated. In us consoling each other, only then can we move forward. That is exactly what The Edge of Seventeen does, it provides the viewer with a unique look at something that everyone has experienced in their own way. I know that sounds like it’s a million different forms of contradiction, but within truth we find peace.
The actors who brought to their grace to the multiple roles throughout the film range in familiarity of viewers, but they all embody the characters with unbelievable integrity. Each one signifies a distinct personality, that we can either latch onto as a mirror image or of a friend we’ve long forgotten. I know I’ve talked about this before in other reviews, but when there is an ease to the acting technique by actors, they make it look easy. It’s as if they aren’t acting at all, but instead playing themselves as they remember what they did in a past life. Everyone in this film was perfectly cast and could not have been played by anyone else, but there are two actors who blindsided you with their sympathetic complexity.
As our guide on this honest navigation through troubled times is Hailee Steinfeld as the lead, Nadine. Steinfeld first came on the scene in the pivotal role of Mattie Ross in the Coen brothers remake of True Grit. The vulnerability she was able to posses in that role while still being strong has only escalated in the following six years. Compared to other young actresses of her age, her filmography is scarce. That may be due to her angelic voice and her music career, but it also could be because the roles she decides to do are given her entire concentration of her being.
We’ve already examined the candor that this film communicates through the sentiments of the situations at hand, but the way Steinfeld not only traverses the landscape of story but also with the emotional connections to her fellow characters is stunning. The relationship Nadine has with each individual in her life is solitary. The audience never questions who she choses to have, or not have, a relationship with; the audience is able to experience the emotional connection with Nadine in every scene. It’s a heavy weight to place on an actress, but luckily The Edge of Seventeen has Steinfeld’s talent on its side.
The skill exhibited by Steinfeld can be matched by few people, but whether or not Hayden Szeto was up to the challenge was never in question. I was not familiar with this actor before this film, but I can guarantee I will be tracking his career now. From the moment Erwin is introduced as Nadine’s classmate, you immediately recognize that he is the big hug that she so desperately needs. The best part, though, is that even though he wants to be that for her, he can’t seem to overcome his clumsy nature.
Adorable clumsy is not something that is easy to pull off. Most of the time it seems artificial, as a tool to move the plot forward in some way. This attribute of Erwin was so much more than a device, and he quickly becomes the backbone of the entire film. Whether his character was meant to symbolize the friend we all have or the beckoning hope of the future, the film could not survive without Szeto. Besides, if you don’t instantly fall in love with Erwin, there might be something off about you.
To classify this film as a “teen-angst” film in the end might do it disservice. Sure it takes place in a high school for part of the film and revolves around the life and lives of high school students, this film progresses past that categorization rapidly. It’s a film about finding your place not only within the larger world we live in, but within the smaller nucleus we sometimes can’t see past. The time period of this film may take place a decade after my own high school experience, but if I can claim the films of a decade before as my films, there’s no reason I can’t claim this one as well. After all, the hells of high school cross generations.
Lastly, it’s a film that reminds us that we are not alone in this world, and that behind every corner is our champion waiting to give us a giant comforting embrace.
The Edge of Seventeen opens nationwide on November 18th, 2016.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Fons PR