Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2017)
As long as teenagers exist, we’ll get movies about their trials and tribulations. In that vein comes 2016’s The Edge of Seventeen, a tale that introduces us to Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld), a high school student none too happy with her life.
Indeed, as the film starts, Nadine informs history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) that she intends to commit suicide. What brought Nadine to such a dismal state? Her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) starts to date Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner).
Of course, Nadine doesn’t kill herself – it’d be a short movie if she did – but she struggles to work through this change in her life. We follow Nadine’s path to greater contentment.
Whether intentionally or not, I thought the trailers for Edge gave the movie a decided Juno feel. While movies about teen angst go back decades, Juno gave the genre a more biting feel than usual, and that’s the tone I inferred from Edge.
While I wouldn’t call Edge a knock-off of Juno, I do think that some of its cynical, cutting tone carries over to it – and I see that as a positive thing. How can I dislike a movie in which a teacher mocks a student’s suicidal declarations within the flick’s first few minutes?
Edge tends toward a more serious feel than Juno, though, and lacks the earlier film’s consistent zing. Indeed, after the dark comedy of the opening, most of the movie opts for a more dramatic tone – we get occasional laughs along the way, but the project takes on a less jokey vibe than the beginning implies.
In theory, that’s fine, but in execution, I’m not sure it works, as the film feels fresher when it opts for irreverence. The opening fares pretty well, and flashbacks to younger Nadine give us entertainment, but once the movie kills off her dad – which it does early - it prefers melodrama.
Boy, does Edge like to go down that path! While it tosses in enough humor to slightly undercut some of its overwrought tendencies, I still feel like it embraces those elements too strongly.
I’m glad the film opted for more than just barbs and jokes, but I think Edge could’ve struck a tone somewhere between the two poles. The dramatic elements can become too dominant and make the movie feel over the top at times.
I can’t help but feel someone less attractive than Steinfeld should play Nadine. Not that good-looking people can’t feel unliked and unappealing, but I don’t get the impression we’re supposed to view Nadine’s low self-esteem solely through her own distorted lens.
No – instead, I think Edge aspires to paint someone who falls on the naturally dorky/”unhot” side of the coin, and that’s not Steinfeld. She’s an attractive young woman, so because much of the film relies on the audience’s view of Nadine as nerdy and unappealing, it struggles.
Heck, Edge barely even attempts to “frump up” Nadine. Sure, she picks some semi-quirky sartorial options, but these still make her look pretty good. We get little logical reason to see Nadine as unattractive, which makes it tough to suspend disbelief.
Edge does just enough to make it moderately involving, but I find it hard to endorse it as anything special. The movie follows the path of too many teen movies that came before it and it fails to stand out from that pack.