Saturday, September 18, 2021

Movie review: The Edge of Seventeen


Much like The Breakfast Club and Say Anything, this coming of age film about an unpopular, awkward high school junior who corrects her history teacher on minor errors in his lessons, explores the complexity of growing up in America.

At a young age, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is driving with her dad when he has a heart attack and dies. He was playing the role of buffer between Nadine and her mom (Kyra Sedgwick), so by the time she gets to high school, she finds herself frequently confiding in Mr Bruner, her history teacher (Woody Harrelson, at his best), whose banter with Nadine is a delight.

She tries to hurt his feelings by commenting on his partial baldness and low salary, but he takes it in stride, leading to a change of heart on her part, symbolic of the antagonistic role she plays with other characters in the film.

For example, her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is basically a rock star at the school. The chemistry between Nadine and Darian, sometimes positive and sometimes negative but always powerful and cutting, largely drives the action in the film, since he has stepped into the role of head of household, given the father’s death, their mom’s mishaps with internet dating jerks, and Nadine’s failed attempts to put it all together.

Most important, though, Nadine’s only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), takes a liking to Darian, and the two end up sleeping together one day, only to have Nadine walk in on them. She’s devastated: her only friend has been taken away, and her brother is the thief.

As she wallows, Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who sits next to her in Mr Bruner’s class, pursues her. He aspires to be an animator and enters one of his films in a student film festival, but before that, he’s a rich kid who ends up being just as awkward in social settings as Nadine.

But his great decency is a welcome relief after Nick (Alexander Calvert), with whom she’s infatuated and to whom she sends an accidental text message saying she wants to have sex with him where he works, which is PetLand. Getting such a message, he naturally assumes she wants to park at a place with a nice view and get naked, which isn’t quite what she had in mind.

“I hope you get paralyzed,” she yells at him as she escapes from his car, in a scene that I’m sure has been played out with many high school couples today.

And the shades and nuances of the Nadine-Nick, Nadine-Erwin, and Nadine-Mr Bruner relationships, while pronounced, don’t hold a candle to the new plane her relationships with Krista and Darian take this high school film. Even though Krista is the only girl Darian has ever dated who lets him breathe, he says—and he’s dated a lot of them—Nadine’s, Krista’s, and Darian’s ability to keep loving each other, despite momentary lapses in the connection, has a real “through thick and thin” feel.

Viewers of the film might not like Nadine, as she can be bitter and nasty at times—like an old person, she declares. But Ms Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for True Grit, doesn’t seem to care if we like Nadine. She plays her true, and with that, love just flows.

Writing prompt: What events have brought you closer to your family and friends?

On wide release in US theaters, November 18, The Edge of Seventeen is written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. It’s rated R for sexual content, language, and some drinking, all involving teens, and runs for about 100 minutes. We saw the movie in McLean, Virginia. Ms Steinfeld, a rising pop star, will be in concert in Chicago on December 14 and in Baltimore on December 16.

We review movies in order to support Illinois Learning Standards in the fine arts, especially 26.A.4b (Understand how the primary tools, support tools and creative processes—researching, auditioning, designing, directing, rehearsing, refining, presenting—interact and shape drama, theater and film production), 26.A.5 (Analyze and evaluate how the choice of media, tools, technologies and processes support and influence the communication of ideas), and 27.B.5 (Analyze how the arts shape and reflect ideas, issues or themes in a particular culture or historical period), among others.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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