ReelBob: ‘The Edge of Seventeen’

By Bob Bloom

All of us can remember our teens and high-school experiences — some more fondly than others.

For many adolescents, high school was a hell-like boot camp in which, if you did not fit in with one clique or another, you were ostracized, bullied — or ignored.

The teenage years are the most difficult. Young boys and girls are racing toward adulthood with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Physically and mentally, their bodies are sending them mixed signals. It is no wonder that many parents consider the years between 15 and 19 “the black hole,” where their growing offspring are emotionally unpredictable.

All of this is examined in “The Edge of Seventeen,” a wonderful and insightful comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, an unhappy teen battling self-esteem and sibling issues.

As Nadine explains in a voice-over narration near the beginning of the film, even as a toddler she has felt differently and looked at life from a point of view that differs from most of her peers.

She always has been jealous of her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), whom she believes is the perfect child and the favorite of their mother (Kyra Sedgwick).

Nadine’s only comfort is her father. But when he dies when she is 13, her life grinds to a halt.

Nadine is a morose, neurotic, cynical and socially awkward individual. She has one friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who seems to be the only person who can understand Nadine and keep her on an even keel.

Life throws a cruel curve at Nadine, when Darian and Krista begin a relationship. Nadine feels abandoned and betrayed.

She actually confronts Krista and tells her she must choose between their friendship and her brother. You can guess Krista’s decision.

Nadine perceives every bump in the road as a calamitous event. She is very self-centered, viewing everything solely on how it impacts her.

“The Edge of Seventeen” is not your average teenage, coming-of-age feature.

Yes, it is a comedy, but it also is, at times, painful to watch. Nadine often is unreasonable, and you feel as if you want to smack her.

But Steinfeld brings such a vulnerability and openness to the character that you simultaneously want to hug and comfort Nadine.

Steinfeld is the center of the movie, the core that pulls it together. She brings a relatable honesty to her performance that will resonate with audiences — peers and adults alike.

The only bright spot in Nadine’s life is her budding friendship with classmate Erwin Kim (a very likable Hayden Szeto), who is nearly as tentative and self-conscious as Nadine.

Jenner turns in a surprising performance in which his character shows a depth that was kept under wraps until the final reel.

And Woody Harrelson as one of Nadine’s teachers, offers a sly, amusing turn as a man who uses humor to help offset Nadine’s constant rants.

At 98 minutes, “The Edge of Seventeen” offers a sincerity rarely seen in films of this genre.

It is a movie that will take you down a rabbit hole, but not deep enough that you can’t climb out, bask in the sunlight and smile at the vagaries and potential that life has in store for young people.

“The Edge of Seventeen” is definitely worth your time and attention. You will not regret meeting Nadine and accompanying her on her journey toward compassion and empathy.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
3½ stars out of 4
(R), sexual content, language, teen drinking

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