The Edge of Seventeen

 

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A perfect cast carries off a work that offers truth beneath its comic surface.

 
Edge of Seventeen, The

Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson

 

Six years on from the remake of True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld, who has been far from idle, has found the role that fully reaffirms her exceptional talent. She plays the 17-year-old Nadine in this directorial feature debut by the writer Kelly Fremon Craig. It is her screenplay which ensures that what in plot terms sounds like a conventional modern adolescent comedy is a very superior example of the genre. She is aided in this by her casting director, Melissa Kostenbauder, who has picked ideal players for every leading role.

 

The aim here - successfully achieved - is at something akin to tragi-comedy despite the fact that it is the humour that is often emphasised. Craig's story is that of a teenager who feels that her older brother (Blake Jenner) is the favoured child of her mother (Myra Sedgwick) and who suffers a sense of betrayal when her one close friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), takes up with her sibling. Indeed the rebellious Nadine is not always sympathetic in her behaviour and tends to ignore the Korean boy in her class who dotes on her, that's Erwin (Hayden Szeto). But when in her insecurity she throws herself at an opportunistic older boy (Alexander Calvert) her recklessness is so combined with naivety that we fear for her. Meanwhile, one of her teachers (Woody Harrelson), caustic but not unconcerned, balances the need to avoid indulging her with an awareness that she may need help in the long run.

 

In both her writing and her direction Kelly Fremon Craig is adept at getting laughs despite those very occasional moments when she misjudges and hits a false note. But at the heart of the film's impact is its ability to portray through Nadine the difficulties experienced by many an adolescent. That this is achieved  without any sense of condescension make it all the more telling. Early on the inclusion of the sudden death of Nadine's father has alerted us to the fact that this is not a comedy that will eschew darker aspects, and it is the ability of the screenplay  - and of Steinfeld as its interpreter  - to convey authentic truths that makes this such a memorable piece. It is not a perfect one: returning to the film's opening scene a substantial time ahead of its ending results in the late scenes seeming protracted. Furthermore, the film's approach lacks logic. Ideally in a tragi-comedy the blend is made to work by taking care to see that the comedy aspect stays within the bounds of credibility and here, as the delightful opening scene illustrates, the comic tone is often of a more exaggerated kind. That this inherent defect matters so little is further confirmation of the ability of Kelly Fremon Craig and her lead actress to make us recognise that what lies beneath the sometimes fanciful  comedy is an absolutely truthful expression of what it means to be an adolescent today. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Myra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside, Nesta Cooper.

Dir Kelly Fremon Craig, Pro James L. Brooks, Richard Sakai and Julie Ansell, Screenplay Kelly Fremon Craig, Ph Doug Emmett, Pro Des William Arnold, Ed Tracey Wadmore-Smith, Music Atli Örvarsson, Costumes Carla Hetland.

 

STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Gracie Films-Entertainment One.
104 mins. USA/People's Republic of China. 2016. Rel: 30 November 2016. Cert. 15.