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Coming of age films can only really go one of two ways. They either crash and burn, suffocated to death under a bed of never ending clichés; or they actually succeed with audiences, by not patronising them, and are created by people (as opposed to robots) who actually remember what it was like to grow up; to fall in and out of love, to obsess about every aspect of one’s appearance and personality, and above all, to make mistakes. Without question, The Edge of Seventeen falls into the second group of films with Roadshow producing one of the most refreshingly realistic and relatable studies into the teenage psyche that we’ve seen on the big screen in years.
This film has a hell of a lot of heart, and for the most part channels it the right direction. Teenagers or “Young Adults” are without question the worst represented and most misunderstood demographic in the entertainment industry, often the victim of one apathetic and whiney stereotype after another. It is a testament to writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig that she has created a film that both aesthetically and on paper evades these stereotypes to produce a script that is incredibly relatable and relevant to anyone that currently is, or ever has been, a teenager.
Of course a solid script is nothing without a talented and believable cast, something that Seventeen doesn’t struggle with given its confident line-up of both rising stars and experienced veterans, none moreso than the film’s lead: Hailee Steinfeld. With the perfect balance of quirkiness, wit, emotional instability and even a few horrifically cringe-worthy moments, Steinfeld’s ‘Nadine’ is the imperfect protagonist so many of her generation will find it easy to relate to. Second only to her impeccable comic timing, Steinfeld also excels in making the audience feel her moments of grief, heartbreak and utter hopelessness. Woody Harrelson’s heart-warmingly crude ‘Mr Bruner’ similarly impresses, as does Kyra Sedgwick’s provoking portrayal of Nadine’s long-suffering mother ‘Mona’, who owns one of the most emotionally impacting scenes of the entire film towards the movie’s conclusion like the badass actress she is.
From moments of hilarity to heartbreak, there is a lot to love about this film; in spite of some structural issues that sadly hold it back from becoming the generation-defining movie it had all the potential to be. The biggest problem lies not within the film’s execution but instead with its provocation, in the way that it seems unfortunately preoccupied by a demographic and an aesthetic over a narrative. This unfortunately means that at times, despite nailing various character dynamics, the plot seems a little uninspired and empty. Also contributing to this is the film’s narrative structure. Cramming both the film’s emotional climax and major plot development into the first 10 minutes, while making for an utterly impressive opening sequence, leaves a rather large fraction of the film devoted to reactions. At times you can feel the storyline strain to progress the plot in anticipation for the next big joke, fight or emotional outburst. Tonally however, the film excels by mixing the perfect amount of comedy, emotion and drama to simultaneously maintain the audience’s attention throughout the movie and make it mean something once it is over.
Ultimately, The Edge of Seventeen achieves its primary goal: to capture the chaotic and unique mind-set of a teenager navigating the most turbulent years of their life, as well as nailing the different inter-generational dynamics that resonate with us all. Witty, heartfelt, sincere and strikingly relevant; The Edge of Seventeen may have a slightly transparent storyline that doesn’t quite do its story justice, but it succeeds at establishing a benchmark for the film industry in terms of its portrayal of young people.
With thanks to Village Roadshow Australia