A couple of years ago, high school Hunter got decently excited about a new “coming of age” film about to be released, named Edge of Seventeen (2016). Because it was a smaller budget film with a somewhat limited release, I didn’t end up going to see it in theaters, but still kept up with it, seeing its overwhelmingly positive reviews. Walking through the video rental store this past week, in search of something else, I saw it, and decided to give it a watch. So are the critics right? Did I love it as much as they did? The answer may actually surprise you.
The best parts of this movie are also those that were highlighted in the trailers leading up to the movie’s release. Coming in, I was expecting a film about a high school girl, and her great relationship with her teacher. That’s how it was kind of framed from the start, but it was far from that. While in a way, it was, that relationship was very much thrown to the side, and wasn’t even introduced until over an hour into the film (except for an intro that is kind of unnecessary and thrown in there). This didn’t frustrate me because it was misleading. I would’ve been perfectly fine with a film told from another perspective, if it was great. The problem I have with this is that their relationship and their interactions are quite obviously the best parts of the film, and everything else is pretty mediocre, or even bad. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the teacher, and Hailee Steinfeld’s work as the main character (Nadine) are both pretty fantastic, and their chemistry is as well. Several of their lines are hilarious, and I just wish there was more of that. Sadly, they shifted away from that in the majority of the movie, and most of it didn’t end up meaning anything or accomplishing anything…
As I said, the acting from Woody Harrelson and Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic, and overall, the acting in the film isn’t poor. They did the best with what they had, and most of the performances are pretty genuine. The problem is the writing, which can often stifle good acting. For example, while Hailee’s acting is great, the character she is portraying isn’t. Nadine is very polarizing at times, because while you want to like her based on several of her life experiences, the things she does don’t make her likable. It’s as if they’re trying to establish relatability/likability through the character’s trauma, rather than their actions, lines, etc. They do their best to create a character who is very much an “outsider,” but if they’re also kind of just rude, and unbelievable, it ruins the effect and doesn’t make them good characters.
A lot of the events in the film are also just not believable. One of the main conflicts in the film occurs when Nadine gets frustrated, randomly decides to write an incredibly sexually explicit message to her crush, and accidentally sends it. She really hasn’t talked to him ever. She doesn’t have any rapport with him. And yet, she decides to do this? Also, the friend that betrays her horribly is randomly forgiven at the end, just because Nadine has a heart to heart with her brother? I understand that they need to end it with a happy ending, and she forgives her brother, but that doesn’t mean everything is immediately okay with their relationship. A large portion of these things just don’t make solid sense, and just happen because the plot needs to develop or there needs to be some resolution.
The lines in the film are also often overplayed and unbelievable. The awkwardness that typically goes with interactions in these adolescent films is overdone, and therefore more cringe-worthy than relatable or charming. The guy who has a crush on Nadine for the entirety of the film, not only doesn’t know how to speak to her, but doesn’t know how to speak at all apparently. I myself know from personal experience what it can feel like to be socially awkward. The man, Erwin, gets a call from Nadine at a certain point in the movie, and literally spouts gibberish for about 45 seconds, making zero sense whatsoever. That’s just one example of the horrid interactions between these two characters, and there’s several others throughout the movie. I don’t know if the filmmakers and screenwriters have ever been in an awkward situation, but it doesn’t seem like they have been.
This brings me my main observation, and problem with the movie. It’s as if the writers of this film didn’t go to high school or understand what it was like to be an outsider high schooler. Instead, they have seen a lot of stereotypical high school films, and based it all off of that. As I’ve said several times, nothing is believable, but more importantly, beyond that, they rely on so many tropes within the film that I called about 5 or 6 main events way before they occurred. The main character’s only friend betrays her. She also dates Nadine’s brother. Her father; the only person in her family that she enjoys, dies. The message she types was accidentally sent somehow. And the guy she likes is a douche, so she ends up with the nice guy best friend in the end. I know that to some, this seems like griping, but you can be creative in many ways. You can either shake things up by ridding the film of tropes, or if it were a good film in other ways, they wouldn’t be such a big deal. Sadly though, the rest of the film is also pretty not great.
Finally, the ending is just not sweet or worthwhile. After a traumatic night, she has one or two conversations with important people in the film, and everything turns out alright the next day. She goes from loving life to hating life, she gets a boyfriend who was there the whole time, and he introduces her to his friends so she’s not lonely. There was really no character development leading up to any of these things, but instead they just kind of happen immediately. And there’s really no big message here either. I have a list of several messages that are talked about as some point in the movie, but none of them really stick, or discussed more than once. So I really don’t know what to take away from any of this.
Overall, the film is a collection of high school cliches, inconsistent messages, and unbelievable writing (in a bad way). The production is obviously quite high, the acting is actually above average, but it doesn’t get to shine through as much as it would because the poor writing undermines the performances. I’m going to give this a 3.5/10. The acting is good enough, and there are enough genuinely funny moments to make it alright and not entire garbage. It’s much better than another film I reviewed, in Cruel Intentions (1999), but with the poor writing and attachment to classic tropes, there’s really no big reason to see it aside from decent actors. I don’t understand why it is so highly rated, but at the end of the day, it’s just all opinion. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing or I’m nitpicking.