Billed essentially as the teen movie that’s been missing in our lives since Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman brought us 2007’s Juno, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen doesn’t disappoint when it comes to delivering on the distinct brand of sentimentality in the triumphant vein of the John Hughes’ school of adolescent-geared films.
Indeed, Hailee Steinfeld as the awkward, insecure protagonist, Nadine Byrd, is a natural progression from the likes of Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) and even Angela Chase (Claire Danes). Elsewhere in the necessary formula of teen girl-centered movies, her contentious rapport with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), is established from an early age and through a flashback to her eight-year-old self being dropped off at school with her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner–no relation to the ones you’re thinking of). While Darian effortlessly gets along with all the other kids, Nadine is either ignored or ruthlessly tortured, making her refuse to get out of the car most days when her father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), and Mona take her to her own personal hell. But at least Tom has a way of managing Nadine’s expectations and comforting her in a manner that Mona can’t–what is it about girls and their fathers (it’s all very Molly Ringwald and Paul Dooley in Sixteen Candles)?
Fremon Craig’s evolution from the rather clunky 2009 movie, Post Grad, is a testament to her sensitivity to the subject matter, proving that regardless of how much older we get, the feelings of insecurity and inadequacy often associated with being an adolescent rarely go away. Whether or not this is assuaging or depressing is at the viewer’s discretion.
Mercifully, however, Nadine is able to secure one lifelong friend in elementary school: Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), a kindly girl who non-judgmentally offers to co-mother her caterpillar with Nadine. Cut to one of the heights of Nadine’s gawkiness–2011–when she’s now thirteen and channeling the look of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite. Meanwhile, Darian only gets better looking and more popular. But the future holds far worse for Nadine when she witnesses her father having a heart attack as they’re driving back home from picking up fast food (it’s a cautionary tale about eating habits, really).
Now, four years later, at seventeen, Nadine’s life is no more enjoyable, save for the fact that Mona’s often gone trying to seek a man who will make her feel even just a little bit less alone. In fact, Mona’s grand life advice for coping to Nadine is: “Every once in a while I like to get really quiet and think to myself: everyone in the world is as miserable and empty as I am–they’re just better at pretending. You should try it some time.”
But the after effects of a drunken night at Nadine’s house in the wake of Mona’s absence leads our heroine to realize that her brother and her best friend have feelings for each other–which essentially means she’s totally alone in the world. Unless you count her dark-sided, Mr. Feeny-esque teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), and a fellow student vaguely obsessed with her, Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto). Naturally, Nadine’s own obsession is with a guy totally unaware of her existence, Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), former juvenile delinquent and Petland employee.
Though she tries to “tag along” with Darian and Krista to a party, the tables woefully reversed with regard to her role in the trio, her ungainly nature only gets the best of her, especially after the only other loner at the party asks, “You ever watch TBS?” to which Nadine replies, “Yeah, sometimes.” The loner then probes, “You know that movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger and the little short guy from It’s Always Sunny…?” Nadine encourages,”Uh huh. Twins.” And the loner shuts it down with, “You and your brother kind of remind me of that.”
Alas, ostracism and a constant sense of self-loathing/doubt are not exclusive to being a teenager. While, at times, Nadine verges far too close to what non-Hughes enthusiasts will write off as white girl problems, she always reins it in before things get so out of hand as to not be empathetic. And really, the core of The Edge of Seventeen is a comfort to those in all age brackets: it never really gets any easier, but at least there is ice cream and occasional romance in between.