THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
(2016, Kelly Fremon)
[4 out of 5 stars]
[Image courtesy of Roadshow Films]
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) runs to her favourite teacher, Mr Bruner's (a charmingly sardonic Woody Harrelson) desk at lunch and announces that she wants to kill herself and thought that "an adult should know". We revisit this scene later on after we see how she ended up in that situation. Typical teenage situations occur: conflict with a sibling and BFF, acne, unpopularity and awkward high school parties.
There came a point in the movie when I realised how insignificant the protagonist's problems were and I realised I was comparing her life (egotistically, I know) to my own, as a twenty-three year-old male. But the highly observant and honest script by Kelly Fremon also made me realise that no, her problems are still significant - inside her world. Then I started to think about my own experiences as a teenager and thought, yeah, this situation would have absolutely devastated me and would make it seem like it was the end of the world.
Teenagers see the world through a magnifying glass. Everything is up close, much larger and more intense. We don't attain a telescopic view of the world until well into the first stages of adulthood. During the teenage years, the rest of our lives seem to stop at the immediate future and the distant future is far too large to comprehend. What results from this is introspection that could either be damaging or fruitful - depending on one's perspective.
The fantastic screenplay by writer-director Kelly Fremon authentically illustrates this dilemma through Nadine's voiceover, offering us unmitigated insight into her view of the world (miserable and unfair) but her humour and personality still shine through so that her dour worldview isn't exhausting but wholly relatable. The beautiful thing that happens is that no one really rescues this girl from herself and her mistakes. She becomes an adult by thinking like one - a shift of perspective. Sure, she gets support from her family and friends along the way but it ultimately comes down to how she realises that the kind of person she wants to be is easier than she thought. I'm being vague here as I don't want to spoil it.
Hailee Steinfeld runs away with the script in a role that is (like all the best acting roles) tailor-made for her. She embodies Nadine exactly like a teenager you'd meet on the street. Her mannerisms, voice and facial expressions are spot on. Nadine is a character that is both refreshing and familiar. Many teenage characters I've encountered recently from television series, to YA books and films emphasises their uniqueness and their journeys into realising how special they are. For Nadine it's the opposite. She comes to find out that she is not as unique or alone as she thought. That her problems are shared by many. While feeling special is empowering and is important - feeling normal is itself a relief and comfort. Now comes adulthood, where you undo this once again. I, myself am working on this - someone make a movie about that too.