Directed By: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner
Tag line: "You're only young once... is it over yet?"
Trivia: Kelly Fremon Craig's Directorial Debut
In the 2010 remake of True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld showed the world that, even at the age of 13, she was a very talented actress.
Thanks to writer / director Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen, Ms. Steinfeld has proven that True Grit was no fluke. With wit and charm to spare, she takes what would have otherwise been a so-so coming-of-age comedy/drama and transforms it into something quite special.
Nadine Franklin (Steinfeld) has never felt comfortable in her own skin. It doesn’t help that her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is the most popular kid in school, or that her widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is too busy with work and new boyfriends to notice her daughter has an inferiority complex. Even Nadine’s favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), doesn’t seem to care about her troubles. In fact, the only bright spot in poor Nadine’s life has been her best friend Krista (Kaley Lu Richardson). Ever since grade school, the two girls have been inseparable, and the times they’ve spent together have been the happiest that Nadine has ever known.
That all changes, however, when Krista gets herself a new boyfriend: Darian! All at once, Nadine feels as if her life is spiraling out of control, and she has no idea how to put it back on-track.
Teenage insecurity has been a hot cinematic topic since the 1980s (John Hughes became the spokesman for an entire generation with movies like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink), and Hollywood has been churning out one teen drama after another ever since. Story-wise, there’s not much that separates The Edge of Seventeen from the plethora of movies that preceded it. What does set this 2016 film apart from the others is its star, Hailee Steinfeld.
Though painted as an outcast from the very first scene, we feel an immediate connection with Nadine Franklin, and Steinfeld’s quirky, almost frantic performance is the reason why. In the hands of a lesser actress, Nadine would have come across as a whiny, obnoxious brat; she argues frequently with her brother and mother, and is prone to bouts of self-pity (“I had the worst thought”, she says at one point. “I have to spend the rest of my life with myself”). Thanks to Steinfeld, what might have been annoying is instead endearing. We sympathize with Nadine’s plight, and laugh at her acerbic observations (the various scenes in which she interacts with Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner are pure gold). There were even times throughout The Edge of Seventeen when I wished I could talk directly to Nadine. I wanted to tell her she’ll be okay, that she should forget about Nick (Alexander Calvert), the “bad boy” she has a crush on, and instead hook up with the awkwardly shy Erwin (Hayden Szeto), whose feelings for her were genuine. I enjoyed every moment I spent in Nadine’s company, and it’s because of Steinfeld that I found the character so engaging.
For those of you wondering who the next great American actress might be, check out True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen. It’s probably a bit early to rank her up there with Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Meryl Streep, but if Ms. Steinfeld continues on this same path, odds are she’ll be standing on-stage, thanking the Academy in the very near future.
And if there's any justice in Tinseltown, she will do so more than once.