The Edge of Seventeen (12A, 104 mins, ★★★)
Hailee Steinfeld made a huge impression back in 2010 when she made her big-screen debut in the Coen brothers’ True Grit at the age of just 14. She played a tough-talking farm girl, giving a performance that proved more than a match for Jeff Bridges’s turn as a grizzled cowboy. Six years on, Steinfeld is playing another spiky teenager, but this time the setting is an American high school, rather than the Wild West.
Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig has lofty ambitions for her teen movie. As far as the comedy goes, she is clearly aspiring to the standard set by 1980s maestro John Hughes (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; The Breakfast Club; etc). The film doesn’t quite make that grade, but at its best it’s very funny indeed, particularly in the exchanges between Steinfeld’s Nadine and Woody Harrelson’s teacher Mr Bruner, who takes what we might call an uncompromising approach to dealing with the adolescent angst that gets chucked his way.
The sensitive handling of Nadine’s backstory involving the death of her father, with Harrelson emerging as a serious and sensitive presence, gives proceedings a genuine emotional weight. However, what lets The Edge of Seventeen down is that it can’t quite stop itself from trotting out the clichéd tropes of the high school movie.
We get all the crude gags, party scenes and sex obsession that one would expect in this type of film, and the central plot, involving Nadine’s disastrous love life and her best buddy becoming her brother’s boyfriend, is about as bog standard as they come. While all of this makes for an enjoyable romp, I was left with an abiding sense that Fremon Craig had missed a fantastic opportunity to much do something bolder within the framework of the genre.
Nadine is the perfect case in point. The script barely develops the outsider potential of the character. We are meant to see her as a difficult, weird kid, but she doesn’t come over as anything more than your standard bolshie teenager, and the writing contradicts the few attempts that are made to make her stand out from the crowd.
At one point, we’re told that Nadine loves old movies, but there is no evidence anywhere else in the film to back this up. She also gets a speech railing against her peers’ obsession with the internet, but she’s an avid Facebook user herself and a major plot point revolves around her use of the social networking site.
Steinfeld’s performance is truly excellent. It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t quite match up to it.
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