Movie Review - The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

It's great to have a film about a teenage girl that's written and directed by a woman. There are a lot of interesting and well-done elements to this work. It also has some very funny lines and moments. It's just frustrating that by the end of this film, nothing is learned about the teenage girl in question except she has cool shoes and is obsessed with a boy.

Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit and Ender's Game) stars as Nadine, a junior in Lakewood High. She's subject to bullies. It's not exactly sure why. It's not like she's Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). Steinfeld is a very pretty girl. She should be fighting off boys coming on to her, not desperate to be with one in particular.

Yet, for two decades, from movies like She's All That (1999) to Mean Girls (2004) to The Duff (2015), we're supposed to suspend disbelief and think that pretty girls who star in these movies have self-esteem or social interaction problems. I can accept that media and the culture-at-large can have an adverse effect on a girl like Nadine. I can even accept that a tragedy, which happens to Nadine, a very predictable one at age 13, can also have a negative effect, which prevents her from socializing properly.

However, writer-director Kelly Freeman Craig has to inject a ridiculous plot into the whole thing and doesn't really do enough to justify it. First, the movie starts when Nadine is a little girl in the first grade. She's bullied by over-the-top movie bullies, little girls pulled right out of an evil-villain, comic book.

Yet, she's magically rescued by a little girl named Krista who becomes her best friend. Ten years later, Nadine is hurt when she sees teenage Krista, played by Haley Lu Richardson (Ravenswood), having sex with Darian, played by Blake Jenner (Glee). Darian is Nadine's older brother and she has issues with him.

Nadine gives Krista an ultimatum. Basically, Krista has to choose Nadine or her brother. Nadine won't be friends with her if Krista continues to date Darian. The movie never addresses how old Darian is, so the issue of statutory rape is never a question, so obviously Krista and Darian are free to be together. Therefore, Nadine's position is petty, selfish and ultimately untenable.

Yet, the movie cheats. Krista basically chooses Darian over Nadine, and we never understand why. She's been friends with Nadine for presumably ten years, ever since the first grade. If Krista is going to toss that away or walk away, then some explanation is required. Has she always been interested in Darian since being kids? If so, we don't see it and it's not articulated by either Krista or Darian. Even if that's not the case, then Craig could have done more to show us the evolution of their relationship.

As petty and selfish as Nadine is about the two of them, they come across as equally so by Craig not inviting us into the evolution of their relationship and why it was worth going to the mat over Nadine's objections. The way they spin it, Krista and Darian are the love of each other's lives, yet I couldn't tell you why. What does Krista see in him? What does Darian see in her?

Asking that question though might be unfair given that Craig gives us nothing about her protagonist. Nadine must have interests or hobbies. She's a junior in high school. She must have thoughts about what she wants to do with herself post-high school. More is learned about the boy who likes her named Erwin Kim, played by Hayden Szeto. Erwin loves to draw and aspires to make animated films. As for Nadine, who knows? What does she do in her free time? This movie would have us believe it's only obsessing over a boy.

When it comes to films this year about young girls, this movie isn't the most empowering or feminist. The Fits is more a standout, but T-Rex is a great documentary and April and the Extraordinary World is a great cartoon-feature that does more to advance the idea that girls aren't just objects to be attached to men. This movie does have a great little cartoon in it, which at the end feels like the ending to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. At least, here the girl doesn't die.

Rated R for sexual content, language and some drinking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.


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