Review: The Edge of Seventeen
Hailee Steinfeld is 17 year-old Nadine, who has had to contend with the passing of her father, and the preference of her working mother (Kyra Sedgwick) for her older and more popular brother Darian (Blake Jenner) over her. She forms a tight friendship with Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), but Nadine cuts her off when she learns that Krista is hooking up with Darian. Nadine’s kind of a pain in the arse. Woody Harrelson plays ‘cool’ teacher Mr. Bruner, who meets Nadine’s frequent rants and occasional proclamations of (clearly not seriously intended) suicide with the sarcasm and comedic disinterest that such self-absorbed histrionics deserve.
A lot of people seemed to like this 2017 coming-of-age flick from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. However, a lot of people liked “Juno” and “Easy A”, and this for me plays like my own personal hell: A combination of “Juno” and “Easy A”. I very much did not take to this film, ladies and gents. I didn’t take to it at all.
I knew the film was in trouble when just 10 minutes in, we find out that the main character is already 17. In a film called “The Edge” of 17. Edge. As in, teetering on the edge. As in, not quite there yet. On the verge, if you will. What the hell? How did no one pick that up? Or am I missing something? Speaking of childish nit-picking, I also want to stress that neither Kyra Sedgwick nor the actor playing her soon-to-be dead husband looks remotely like their children. Neither of their children, who don’t remotely look like one another, either. So yeah, this was working well.
If she doesn’t solely focus on a music career, it’s going to be interesting to see how Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld’s career pans out as an adult actress. In “Ender’s Game”, “Barely Lethal” (which was abysmal) and this film, she’s in what I’d call her awkward phase, which you’d think would be perfect for a coming-of-age film. Unfortunately, this is where I encountered my biggest problem with the film: As with the unbearably snarky “Juno” and “Easy A”, Steinfeld’s character seems to be a 40 year-old stand-up comedian in a 17 year-old girl’s body, and I don’t mean that in a creepy way. I mean that in a ‘she’s annoyingly giving a performance at every moment in the film’ way. This chick is always ‘on’, in a way that doesn’t convince and seems like either Steinfeld, the character, or both are standing outside themselves and at a snarky distance to the world of the film. I prefer it when these sorts of films feature relatable characters, not writers’ constructs of what they wish they were like when they were a teenager. Yeah, I know some people will level that charge at my favourite TV show “The Wonder Years” too, but that film plays as nostalgia to begin with, so it’s different. Steinfeld is attempting to give a comical performance, which is the last thing you should be doing if you’re actually trying to be funny, not to mention when you’re supposedly playing a character the average person is meant to relate to or sympathise with in some way. I guess either you’re innately funny or you’re not, and Steinfeld definitely is not, but boy howdy does she ever try. Yep, just used the phrase ‘boy howdy’. I’m not even sure I’m using it correctly. Too late now.
Worse, I’m apparently supposed to be outraged that Steinfeld’s best friend (played by a truly lovely Haley Lu Richardson from “Split”) is dating her slightly older brother (The vacant but palatable Blake Jenner). The problem is I don’t see a frigging problem with it (it’s not like the brother is a social embarrassment, he’s a popular jock), and I quickly came to the opinion that Steinfeld’s character is an insufferable, narcissistic, histrionic cow. Yes, teenagers can be a bit like that, myself included all those years ago I’m sure. However, Steinfeld has all of that and none of the redeeming or interesting qualities to make her palatable. I’m sorry, but if you dump your best friend simply for dating your brother, screw you. You’re an arsehole. I mean, it’s not like her parental unit is terribly stable, dad’s dead and mum is a workaholic who makes zero attempt to hide her favouritism towards the less complicated Jenner, has no time for Steinfeld and offers up terribly trite advice. However, Steinfeld’s a-hole behaviour and all-round personality are all of her own, I’m afraid. It really makes it hard for me to get into a film, and it’s even more of an issue than in “Easy A”. Steinfeld won’t shut the fuck up, her Asian wannabe boyfriend has a 90s Hugh Grant inability to get a sentence out from beneath his own awkwardness, and I just wanted to bash my head repeatedly on the fridge door.
The one plus the film has, and even then I can’t call it a saving grace, is the always interesting Woody Harrelson. As Steinfeld’s seemingly disinterested, long-suffering teacher, he’s immediately perfect and hilarious. Unfortunately, he’s forced to share scenes with Steinfeld, who is completely unbelievable in their interactions. How did no one pick up on how fake her performance is? It feels like those comic flashback bits in “Annie Hall” where a young Woody Allen is being a wise-arse. Unfortunately, the writer-director has seemingly set this in the real world, whereas with Woody you feel like those were meant to be little throwaway bits of semi-fantasy. Meanwhile, Blake Jenner makes no real impression on screen (and wasn’t much more memorable in “Everybody Wants Some!!”, either) and sadly the much more interesting Haley Lu Richardson’s character becomes virtually silent/symbolic in the second half of the film.
And the winner of the Least Sympathetic Screen Protagonist of 2017 Award goes to…this insufferable pain in the arse. Monotonous and unlikeable lead character + phony and overly loud lead performance= A mentally checked out viewer. Like “Easy A” the plot seems to hang on an irritating lead character stubbornly refusing to make life easier for themselves, and it grates on one’s nerves quickly. Woody Harrelson is terrific and supplies all of the film’s humour, but I was kept at a very remote distance here, that is when I wasn’t hoping for an anvil to fall from above and crush me to death.