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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Edge of Seventeen Review

"The Edge of Seventeen" is on the verge of greatness

The ad campaign for the new teen dramedy, "The Edge of Seventeen" has been unabashedly eager to showcase glowing early reviews that herald the film as a new classic in the vein of "Sixteen Candles," "Juno," and "Say Anything."  This onslaught of cheery self-promotion might ordinarily provoke wariness in the marketing-weary moviegoer, but in this case?  Believe the hype:  "The Edge of Seventeen" is, to borrow a phrase, some kind of wonderful.
The beauty of "Edge" is less in its plot, more in its characters and execution, but here are the basics:  Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit") is a self-described high school nerd, garrulous and brainy, socially awkward, and mostly a loner except for her lifelong friendship with Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).  Her quasi-functional family consists of neurotic mom Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) and popular jock brother Darian (Blake Jenner, "Glee").  Nadine's history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) provides a periodic lifeline as they trade complicated barbs and he dispenses prickly wisdom.

A seismic shift occurs for Nadine when Krista and Darian begin dating, and her tailspin ushers in a rash of erratic behavior: she battles with her mom, runs away from home, and accidentally sends a hilariously over the top text to her latest crush, thereby instigating an ill-conceived romantic encounter that's awkward as hell to watch but conveys some unexpectedly sophisticated, clear-eyed truths about gender relations and boy/girl miscommunications.

It's equally awkward but much more entertaining to observe the fits-and-starts courtship that springs up between Nadine and fellow nerd Erwin (Hayden Szeto).  He's a classmate who randomly strikes up a conversation that leads to a promising friendship, and the scenes between the two are some of the best in the film.  Ms. Steinfeld and Mr. Szeto are absolutely believable together, deftly handling the occasionally sharp turns from interest to hope to discomfort to humor and back again that characterize their shared moments.  Ms. Steinfeld previously demonstrated her prowess by holding her own onscreen against Jeff Bridges and thus earning an Oscar nom for 2010's "True Grit," and Mr. Szeto is a major find:  if Hollywood is paying attention, he should have a solid career ahead of him as a smart, funny, romantic lead.
"The Edge of Seventeen" is also an unexpected showcase for Woody Harrelson.  He made his mark as a dumb, sweet bartender on "Cheers" then went on to play sharp and cynical in a wide range of productions, including the "Now You See Me" outings, and HBO's "True Detective."  "Edge" allows him to meld a number of his strengths: as Nadine's long-suffering history teacher and sardonically tetchy mentor he's quick-witted, appropriately cynical, and ultimately sweet.  Viewers will have great fun following the volley of words between them as they banter and holler, and, as in the tradition of all great student-teacher relationships, lessons are imparted as much by what is unsaid as by what's openly communicated.
If "Edge" is about navigating the daily indignities of the high school universe and fumbling through one's first attempts at romantic connection, it's also equally focused on charting a course through the complications of family life.  Nadine's mom Mona is fretful and self-absorbed and her brother Darian seems to be a stereotypical shallow jock, but "Edge" plays true with these relationships just as it does throughout, so we learn that there's more to the picture than what appears on the surface.  Ms. Sedgwick and Mr. Jenner both find the depths in their initially unsympathetic characters, and it's instructive to watch as these facets are revealed and light is shed on the true nature of the family's structure.
"The Edge of Seventeen" is an absolute pleasure.  It's a teen movie that's effortlessly smart about relationships and connections, fresh and fast-paced without being glib, incisive and knowing without tipping over into irony or cynicism.  It's also sharply funny, and shamelessly genuine in its emotional appeal.  All of those glowing reviews?  Add this one to it - "Edge" has "classic" written all over it.

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