To be honest, I don’t really watch a lot of “coming of age” stories but, I would if more of them were like this.
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is your typical child outcast. Her only real friend is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). The two grew up together after a less than ideal childhood where they sheltered each other from the bullies around them and from Krista’s fighting parents. Nadine was a particularly difficult child to raise; but she had a good relationship with her loving father, Tom (Eric Keenleyside). Her life fell further apart when died of a heart attack in front of her when she was a preteen. A few years later and Nadine is seventeen. She lives with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedwick) and her infuriatingly perfect brother Darian (Blake Jenner). Her mother spends her time bouncing from man to man while trying to provide for her children. Darian spends his time working on his body and sports while trying to keep Nadine and Mona from tearing the remains of their family apart. Nadine seems to content to spend her time partying with her best friend while obsessing over a boy named Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), who doesn’t even know she exists. She also seems to have taken an interest in nitpicking the teacher of Mr. Burner (Woody Harrelson), who has no problem telling her just how insufferable she is. She’s also got an admirer in class; an awkward boy named Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Of course, she’s too busy pining after Nick to give Erwin the time of day.
One weekend, her mother goes out of town to hook up with a guy. Nadine and Krista take the opportunity to get drunk in the house, but they’re soon interrupted by Darian and a bunch of his friends. After Nadine throws a fit and passes out in the bathroom Darian’s friends eventually head out. Krista and Darian find themselves cleaning up the house together. When Nadine wakes up the next morning, she crawls into her brother’s room to find him in bed with her best friend. This accelerates the downward spiral that Nadine has been on since her father died. After a failed attempt to socialize with her brother and Krista at the same time, Nadine tries to force Krista to choose between Darian and her. Unfortunately for Nadine, Darian and Krista actually like each other and they start dating, leaving Nadine more alone than ever. Nadine and Krista quickly go from being friends to enemies, which also causes friction between Darian and Nadine at home.
Nadine finds herself floundering. She starts spending time in Mr. Burner’s classroom during lunch and immediately starts lashing out at him. Mr. Burner is able to calmly whether the outpouring of teenage emotion and calm her down a bit by telling Nadine that she’s actually his favorite student. Nadine also starts spending time with Erwin, but she’s just doing it as a way to escape from the Darian/Krista situation. She is surprised to find out that Erwin is rich and that he’s a pretty talented artist. She continues to hang out with him, but she’s really just teasing the poor kid and jerking him around. Eventually, she doesn’t even want to be at school with Krista and tries to hide in the car with her mother. Not wanting to indulge her daughter’s behavior, Mona just drives off with Nadine still in the car. When they get to work, the two get into a big fight where Mona intentionally tries to hurt Nadine by bringing up her father. This causes Nadine to break down, steal her mother’s car and go cry in a park.
In a fit of…let’s say “feelings”… Nadine types a pretty explicit message to Nick saying that she wants to (among other things) have sex with him. When she accidentally sends Nick the message instead of deleting it, she’s mortified. She drives to the school and runs to Mr. Burner’s office to ask for help. He tells her to take some time and calm down, which she does. While calming down it slowly starts to sink in just how much she’s messed up. However, all of that goes away when she gets a text from Nick who wants to hang out after reading her message. Nadine hurries home to get dolled up and go meet Nick, who picks her up in his car and drives her to an empty parking lot. When Nick actually starts to make a move on Nadine she freaks out. Nick is understandably confused and the two get into an argument that ends with Nadine storming out of his car.
By this time, Nadine’s mother has gone into a full panic because she doesn’t know where Nadine is, but she’s also fed up with Nadine’s behavior. She calls Darian, who comes home to find his mother threatening to destroy all of Nadine’s belongings. Darian’s able to snap his mother out of it by pointing out that he’s the one who always has to fix things in their family even though she’s supposed to be the adult. Darian and Krista hit the streets to try to find Nadine. Fortunately, she’s already been picked up by Mr.Burner who’s taken her to his house. Darian and Krista eventually arrive at the house, but Nadine refuses to go with them. Darian allows her to stay there but, in an impassioned speech, points out to Nadine that other people (like him) have it just as rough as she does.
After taking some time to calm down, Darian’s words and the colossal mess that she’s made get through to Nadine. Mr. Burner drops her off at home where she apologizes to her brother for being a terrible person for the last few years. The next morning, she sneaks out of the house before her exhausted mother can wake up. Before she goes, she actually talks to both Darian and Krista and agrees when Krista asks if she can call her later. Nadine heads to see Erwin’s animated film, which is basically a cartoon about how she’s been ignoring him. Afterward, she tells him that she had already figured out that he was a great guy and Erwin brings her over to meet his friends.
What did I think?
Writer/Director Kelly Fremon Craig presents a coming of age story that’s almost a deconstruction of the coming of age heroine. Normally, these movies are about how hard it is to grow up and how unfair the world is around you. This movie does that as well, but what it also does is highlight how the main character’s own flaws and selfish behavior contribute to how bad their life is. You want to root for Nadine in this movie but you also realize that, in many ways, she’s a pretty terrible person. It’s also shown that the “terribly perfect” brother is actually pretty perfect. He’s not oppressing her or being fake, he’s a teenage boy who also lost his father and is just trying to do his best. He’s doing his best to control his feelings for Krista because he knows how it makes Nadine feel. He’s trying his best to think about his family first, even though it’s having an impact on his own future.
The same goes for many of the other people Nadine interacts with as a teenager. They’re not villains, they’re actually decent people who just happen to not be Nadine or don’t share her perspective on life. I realized this when Nadia went on her “date” with Nick. In most movies, Nick would’ve turned into an overly aggressive male and probably tried to rape Nadine. After all, he had been promised sex. And you know guys just can’t turn off the motor once it’s been revved up because that’s just how mysterious older guys are in movies like this. Except, in this case, that’s not how they are. Once again, they’re normal human beings. Nick, in particular, is a kid that’s not so blinded by hormones that he doesn’t recognize just how crazy it is for a girl to send him a message like the one that Nadine did. This movie breaks down paradigms of teenage behavior that, in some ways, only exists because it is perpetuated in media.
All of this is balled up in a movie that’s charmingly funny and very well acted from top to bottom. Hailee Steinfeld is the obvious star of the movie, but Jenner, Sedwick, Richardson and especially Harrelson turn in great performances as well. The interactions between Mr. Burner and Nadine are priceless. Just as much as Nadine prides herself on being a straight shooting, old soul who states things as he sees them, Mr. Burner responds to her in kind. He doesn’t baby her or back down from her, but he also has the perspective to react more calmly to everything that’s going on. It makes for a very interesting relationship between people of two very different ages. I also loved the friendship between Nadine and Krista, which had some real hallmarks of a regular teenage friendship. More than anything they said, I think one of their best moments is right after Nadine finds Krista in bed with Darian. The scene cuts to the two of them just sitting on the curb outside with their hands on their heads not knowing what to say. It was just a perfect moment because I thought, “yep, sitting there awkwardly is the only thing you could do in a situation like this”.
I also have to give a special mention to Hayden Szeto, who is absolutely adorable as Erwin. For those who might’ve already forgotten, there has been a big push over the last few months to get Asian actors recognized as viable romantic leads. While Erwin might not be treated as a viable romantic interest by Nadine for most of the movie, the camera definitely treats him as one. His character is attractive, well mannered, relatable, well rounded, in great shape, rich, and has a decent sense of humor. He is everything that people were clamoring for when they were complaining about not having enough Asian leads. Hopefully, we get to see more of him in the future.
I’m not sure how this movie will hold up in the future but, to me, this feels like a kind of modern day version of a Breakfast Club or, at least, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Time will tell if this movie has the staying power to be like the former. Even if it doesn’t, this felt like one of the most entertaining and honest coming of age stories that I’ve ever seen.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
- A different look at the classic coming of age story
- Hailee Steinfield steals the movie as an unlikeable lead
- Having a main character who is objectively making everything worse, may cause some cognitive disonance for viewers.
- Not really a lot of true cons to this movie.