On paper, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen (2016) seems like standard teen comedy fare: an unpopular high school girl falls out with her brother and her best friend after catching them in bed together. There’s also a b-story romance, a sexting plotpoint, and a frazzled single mother. But none of these things play out how you think they might, and main character Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is never a punchline. This is what makes The Edge of Seventeen so refreshingly real and, above all, kind.
Craig paints a portrait of a familiar kind of teen: melodramatic, jealous, self-absorbed, self-loathing, and sometimes downright mean. But Nadine is also smart, funny, passionate, and fiercely loving, even if to a fault. In a world full of lifeless female characters, Nadine gets to be all these things at once, because God knows many of us were—as much as we’d like to forget it. “My entire generation is a bunch of mouth breathers,” she rants to her sardonic history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), in a moment of classic teen pretension. “I’m an old soul. I like old music, and old movies, and even old people.” The film pokes fun at her, but never cruelly; instead of belittling her problems, Craig chooses to critique how Nadine approaches them. When she claims she’s friendless because nobody is up to her standards, Bruner gives a different take: “Maybe nobody likes you.”
The other characters are written with equal care and authenticity. Nadine’s friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) and older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) never stop caring for her, even when she pushes them away. The central love interest, Edwin (Hayden Szeto), is believably awkward and pulls no tropey stalker tricks. Nadine’s relationship with her widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is turbulent without being cartoonish; they’re best friends one minute and head-to-head the next. (I suspect this dynamic helped pave the way for Greta Gerwig’s sublime Lady Bird.)
While coming-of-age films still have far to go in the way of inclusivity, The Edge of Seventeen is a genre landmark. By taking its protagonist seriously, Craig gave lots of girls the recognition and validation they needed. I hope to see much more of that.
The Edge of Seventeen is available to stream on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Netflix. Vudu, and YouTube. Follow The Edge of Seventeen on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and follow Kelly Fremon Craig on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.