There are plenty of coming-of-age films out there, all with the wholesome intention of reaching out to those kids who are struggling, wading through their problems and feeling like they’re not getting that far with it all. They serve to say something useful, something reassuring and something true.
There’s a wealth of them out there that I clung to in my teens and am still clinging to right now in my twenties: Richard Linklater’s, ‘Boyhood’, John Hughes’ ‘The Breakfast Club’, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s ‘Me, Earl and The Dying Girl’ and, of course the British beauty that is, Gurinder Chadha’s ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’.
What connects these four great movies is that they’re all honest representations, I feel, of youth in its various shapes and sizes. The awkwardness, the insecurity, feeling rejected and wanting to feel wanted.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’ slots perfectly into this esteemed string of pearls that I’ve been collecting over the years.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine Franklin, a teen struggling to swim through the depths of high school. It’s the same blueprint I know, but just wait, it’s gets far more interesting than most.
The film begins with Nadine confessing to her teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson- see WAY more interesting already, right?), about her plan to commit suicide. The film veers sharply away from Hollywood’s want of a comforting, and appropriate, adult response with Woody’s wit and charm completely shining in this support role; inadvertently making him an inspirational figure in the way that she needs.
We skip swiftly back in time, four years, to see the origin of the mess on the home front. Losing her Dad to a heart attack one gloomy car ride home created a rebel-guardian divide between herself a her Mum, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and as a result allowed her to slip into the all-consuming role of the less favoured sibling.
Her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), appears to be living the ideal life, in her eyes: popular, easy going with a smile to attract miles of friends. Whilst Nadine is a girl evolving into, what she she feels, is a forever inferior figure to those around her.
The one salvation gained from all the heartache and headaches is her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Formed in the uncertainty of childhood, the pair have stuck by the side of one another, a bond unbreakable.
So what happens to Nadine’s world when her one salvation and her praised sibling decide to get together?
The chaotic crashing of different feelings that you don’t understand fully and therefore cannot explain to others, appearing on the outside as a destructive youth to those around you, on the outside she now looks like an enigma of a person.
Because that is exactly what being on the edge of seventeen feels like, and that’s why this film is so brilliant; it encapsulates the essence of its title to a tee, just like the classics.
The phases of what you like and don’t like, what you want versus what you need, the stutters, random actions and conflicting sentences of script provide a real social commentary so relevant for this day and age.
In one of her rants to Mr Bruner, Steinfeld delivers a wonderful satirical monologue on the presence of social media; recently it feels like there’s been a bit of a backlash following the widespread condemning social media platforms, and forms of technology in general.
Even, aware as I am, of the various perks of social media, in terms of our communication abilities, it’s stifling us. Hollowing us out, taking away our true sense of empathy and replacing it with robotic responses, a desire for likes, comments and follows, ultimately resulting in a newly formed film that is a false sense of connection.
‘The Edge of Seventeen’ boldly highlights how awkward and scary it is to say your name and put yourself out there; Nadine’s first encounter with classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) is the most honest of hello’s. It’s not breezy and comfortable, it’s stunted and stuttered, and representative of the universal feeling of having the desire to speak but having no sense of what to say. But once you begin hurtling over, or even through, those stumbling blocks those interactions can blossom into beautiful relationships.
Just because something is tricky, does not mean that it isn’t worth doing.
Beautiful performances are given all round, enhancing the words of Kelly Fremon Craig (who wrote and produced this as well as it being her directorial debut!), her script a witty exploration into the wounds we gain from life and how we can watch them heal slowly, as we walk on.
Her direction maintains its focus whilst fooling us into thinking it doesn’t know where it’s running to; a lovely metaphor for the overall arc of growing up.
It is a piece grounded in realism, change wasn’t presented as a monster made up of nothing but drama, rather as something that just happens.
And though it is often the greatest cause of fear, and cause your emotions to burst in, around and out of you, it is a natural part of the forward motion that is life.
After all, as Woody Harrelson so beautifully phrases it,
“Life’s about taking risks. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.”