Teen dramedies, as a genre, focus exclusively on the plight of privileged kids who seem to exist and operate in a world somehow divorced from the problems and concerns of the adults they share space and time with. To its credit, The Edge of Seventeen seems to understand and address that.
Its focus is Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), the wildly self-absorbed protagonist of writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s film. When we first encounter the perpetually distraught Nadine, she bursts into a classroom, shattering a fleeting moment of quiet enjoyed by her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), by announcing her decision to commit suicide. It is a grandly dramatic statement, obviously not backed up with any real sense of intention, and Bruner dismisses it with a sardonic quip that sets the stage for a snarky revelation of Nadine’s situation.
Via flashbacks, Craig hips us to the idea that Nadine was a handful from the start, precocious and quite willful with a chip on her shoulder and an unhealthy degree of jealousy for her seemingly perfect sibling. Moving into the present, we learn that her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) has innocently fallen into a relationship with Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). That’s the final straw in a series of unfortunate circumstances that began with the death of Nadine’s father, who was the rock of her otherwise awkward early years. Ever since, Nadine has wallowed in a narcissistic bubble of self-pity, waiting for the world to recognize her.
The Edge of Seventeen watches as Nadine gradually comes to realize how the heavy loss that she has clutched onto so dearly never really belonged to her alone. Waking up to the struggles of others, especially those closest to us, can prove to be challenging, and it is this process — and the movement forward — that drives the film. Steinfeld maintains perfect balance, capturing the myopia of the late-teen years while tenderly exposing a wounded and edgy heart that still has the potential to mend. (Now playing at area theaters) (Rated R) Grade: B