‘The Edge of Seventeen’ hits close to home

On the Rise: Lead actress Hailee Steinfeld is currently juggling a successful pop star career on top of her acting, her latest hits being “Starving” and “Rock Bottom.” Steinfeld initially garnered acclaim as an actress in 2010 when she costarred in the remake of “True Grit.” 

Colleen Kelly

There’s something undeniably fun about an awkward coming-of-age story, and the spin on the genre “The Edge of Seventeen” presents makes it a modern classic.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always been a black sheep, what with her snarky attitude, social awkwardness and perfect older brother Darian she’s always being compared to. Her childhood best friend Krista makes high school bearable, though, until one day Nadine catches her and Darian hooking up. In the wake of the fallout, Nadine tries to step out of her social comfort zone and navigate new experiences, leaning heavily upon Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), her sarcastic history teacher, for guidance.

Films such as these don’t come around often. Sure, television and film alike love to push the relatably awkward teenage coming-of-age story on a regular basis, but none have felt this raw, honest, sweet and truly funny since the 2012 film adaptation of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

A large part of what makes this film work as well as it does is the dynamic direction and clear vision of writer, co-producer and first time director Kelly Fremon Craig. A self-proclaimed John Hughes fan, Craig takes obvious inspiration from Hughes’ classics “Sixteen Candles” and “Pretty In Pink,” and adapts them for modern day. While “The Edge of Sixteen” follows familiar tropes from the coming-of-age genre and is predictable at times, that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the smartest, most snappily written and well executed projects of the decade.

Film buffs will catch a lot of references throughout the film and appreciate the quirky editing choices, while the general audience will surely fall in love with the solid dramatic scenes, swoon-worthy romances and sarcastic comedic stylizings of Steinfeld and Harrelson.

So much of the film’s success hindered on the main cast’s stellar performances. Steinfeld had the hardest task of the bunch: balancing snarky sarcasm with likable vulnerability. She knocked it out of the park with her dynamic performance, maturing before our eyes and perfectly capturing what it’s like to be a teenager today. Her character is crass, cranky, selfish and pessimistic, but she has just enough sympathy and understandable pain to her to make you like her anyway.

Harrelson, too, brought a lot more to the table than just wise-cracking humor. His character acts as Nadine’s reluctant mentor, and he brings a surprising amount of heart and depth to the third act of the film, making the most of his brief screen time.

An unexpectedly outstanding performance to round these two out was that of newcomer actor Hayden Szeto as Nadine’s classmate Erwin. To avoid spoilers, just take it on good faith that he’s more than you think he is. He holds his own with Steinfeld in a way that can only be described as adorkable, and I hope to see him land more roles in the near future.

“The Edge of Seventeen” has a lot going for it. It subtly references cult classic teen films, polishes tried and true tropes in a way that makes them feel fresh and presents an honest, endearing look into the modern teenage condition. Between its fresh talent, smart directorial vision and snappy writing, there’s nothing not to love about the film.

Rating: 5/5 stars