The Edge of Seventeen
Posted on November 17, 2016 at 5:42 pm
A psychiatrist once told me that just as an infant can have fevers that would be lethal in an adult, a teenager can have symptoms that would be evidence of psychosis at any other stage of life. Mood swings, the feeling that everyone is looking at you, disordered thinking, bizarre appearance: you might be having some sort of breakdown, or you just might be an adolescent. Stories about that intensely traumatic age connect to those of us who have been through it and those who are in the midst of it with a visceral sense of recognition, and, if we’re lucky, a bittersweet humor.
“Edge of Seventeen,” written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, captures the intensity and chaos and drama drama drama of this age. Hailee Steinfeld plays Nadine, who, like many 17-year-olds, is certain that she is the only person on earth who truly understands what it is to suffer. She actually has experienced a terrible loss, the death of her father, which has left her remaining family fragile. Her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner of “Everybody Wants Some!!”) compensates by being perfect in every disgusting way possible, from Nadine’s perspective. He is handsome, talented, athletic, and popular. That leaves nothing left for her but to be awkward and miserable.
The only thing good in her life, she thinks, is her endlessly supportive and understanding BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who sympathizes with Nadine about the misery of having no father, a perfect brother, and a crush on an unattainable boy who works at Petland in the mall (Alexander Calvert as Nick). She also has a teacher named Mr. Bruner, played with perfectly dry, understated wit by Woody Harrelson, who knows teenagers well enough to understand that the best way to reassure Nadine is not to try to comfort her. When she trounces into the classroom where he is eating lunch alone to tell him she has to kill herself, he responds by noting mildly that in fact she has just interrupted his own creation of a suicide note. “As some of you know, I have 32 fleeting minutes of happiness per school day during lunch which has been eaten up again and again by the same especially badly dressed student and I finally thought, you know what, I would rather have the dark, empty nothingness.” She thinks she wants everyone to be as fraught as she is. He knows how to strike just the right balance of detachment and sympathy.
So when she tries to cancel a sexually explicit invitation to Nick but accidentally sends it instead, Mr. Bruner is there to take a look and point out that she should be more careful about run-on sentences. The reason she is talking to him about it instead of Krista is that Krista, the single good thing in her life, has committed the ultimate betrayal. She and Darien are in a relationship. Nadine is in such a severe state of collapse that she does not notice that there is a smart, handsome, very nice boy interested in her (Hayden Szeto in a star-making performance as Erwin).
The film itself has that same perceptive sympathy for the agonies of adulthood, allowing us to laugh at Nadine only because we know she’ll be fine — she’s going to grow up and make this movie.
Parents should know that this movie has very explicit and crude language, sexual references, and non-explicit sexual situations, a car accident with a sad (offscreen) death of a parent), and teen drinking.
Family discussion: How did Nadine, Darien, and their mother express their grief differently? Is it easier being the perfect one? What do you do to feel better?
If you like this, try: “Rocket Science,” “Thumbsucker,” and “The Duff”