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The Edge of Seventeen

Year: 2016
Production Co: Gracie Films
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Hayley Lu Richardson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto

After several generations of teen/high school comedies in every possible style and genre – many of them classics to us all depending on the year of our birth – there's very little that's new.

Plenty have followed in the footsteps of The Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dead Poets Society, Mean Girls or Easy A, but few have anything really new to offer.

All of which makes The Edge of Seventeen a pretty amazing achievement as well as just a great movie. Lots of teen/high school films include elements that try to make them stand out from the crowds and still fail. For The Edge of Seventeen to not have to resort to such gimmicks and still be great is fairly amazing.

After all the failed entries in the genre it would seem like wrangling the elements for a successful teen/high school movie are as difficult as herding cats, but writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig proves that all you need are great actors playing great characters with a great script.

There's one conceit that's designed to give it a narrative hook of sorts, and it's Nadine's (Hailee Steinfeld) lifelong best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, toning the chirpiness of her role in The Bronze right down) starting a relationship with Nadine's brother Darian (Blake Jenner), making her feel even more alone in life.

But where that's the kind of plot device that would form the zany comic backbone of a far lesser movie, it's not even that prominent in the narrative, it's just a way to give Steinfeld a stage upon which to play Nadine and for us to sympathise with her – even when she does something dumb or selfish.

She's going through her mid teens trying to keep her dignity and sanity intact in the face of awkward hook-ups, friends, sexting, bestie betrayal, her seemingly perfect older brother and a mother who's always threatening to crumble (Kyra Sedgwick).

But Nadine is so self-absorbed she can't see either how great things really are or that everybody's going through the same thing. She doesn't even notice how smitten classmate Erwin (Hayden Szeto) is with her. Instead, she hates her life, hates Krista when she gets together with Darian, hates Darian for having everything so figured out and takes it all out on the strange friendship she shares with her sardonic teacher Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson).

There are a couple of trailer-worthy gags but plenty of deeper comic moments, and it also contains heartfelt emotion of every stripe from people that seem more real than those played by far more seasoned performers. Nadine (along with the movie as a whole) is touching, funny and smart no matter how sociopathic or misdirected she is.

And that's all down to Steinfeld. Dressed gawkily enough to be a lost soul but just pretty enough to be dangerous, she combines her constantly pleading eyes and worried expression with natural smarts and a very good script that wins you over in every scene. In 20 years we might very well be talking about this movie in the same reverent tones as Sixteen Candles.

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