If you know me, you know that high school was one massive, “Nobody understands what it’s like to be Reed.” As my life went on, I came to the realization that I’m not special at all and everyone and their grandmother has problems. Only they know how to mask them, and not moan and complain about waking up every day. Hailee Steinfeld (an Academy Award nominee when she was only thirteen in the 2010 remake of True Grit (1969)) stars in The Edge of Seventeen (2016) – the coming of age tale about a seventeen-year-old whose life events and family dynamic have led to her being an awkward, standoffish, and anti-social high schooler… so pretty much a normal high schooler. Of course, anyone in their early 20s such as myself, who’s done both high school and college now, will tell you that being seventeen years old means thinking you have it all figured out when you literally have nothing figured out at all. While I didn’t spend my lunches in the teacher’s classroom because I didn’t want to socialize, I will be the first to admit that I was probably the most difficult person to deal with between 2008 and 2011. Probably bleeding over into 2012 as well… and 2013. Look, I’m just a difficult person in general.
At first I didn’t think I’d relate to this movie at all. The only thing I have in common with Nadine, Steinfeld’s character, is that she has an older brother who comes off as the breadwinner of the family. It’s actually surprising to me that there are themes and elements in this movie I can connect with. Still, I’m hard-pressed to explain to people how a movie about a seventeen-year-old girl can be relatable to a 23-year-old man fresh out of college. Pretty much, if you went to high school and had even a small semblance of a social life, you will find a way to relate to this movie – I promise you.
I think after seeing Hailee Steinfeld be the best part of Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and have such an impactful performance in The Edge of Seventeen, I can safely say I’m on her bandwagon. Steinfeld is great in this movie. Her comedic timing is perfect, and her emotional range is more dynamic than a lot of well-established actors working today. I’m not entirely surprised by this. Of course, a lot of Steinfeld’s success in this movie is due to the writing and dialogue, which I thought was fantastic. When I wrote the script for my senior capstone short-film, EGO (2016) (shameless self-plug), I wanted real dialogue between characters that audiences could see having these conversations. I wish this movie came out before I wrote that script because there are so many notes I would have taken to clarify character and intentions through dialogue.
Woody Harrelson plays exactly who I’m going to be if I ever become a teacher; a sarcastic-yet-knowledgeable man treating his students’ problems like YouTube comments. Not to say that high schoolers’ problems aren’t real. They are, and to high schoolers they are more real than teachers or parents think, because these adults don’t “get it”. But Harrelson’s delivery and demeaning attitude is, sometimes, what overdramatic high schoolers who think they’re going to kill themselves at every waking minute need to hear to stay grounded. Teachers will surely relate to that feeling of wanting to hit a student across the head when they’re being ridiculous, but not being able to, and that’s what I mean when I say there is something for everyone to relate to in this movie. Hayden Szeto, a relatively new actor, plays Erwin, who perfectly encompasses a seventeen-year-old guy just trying to find “the one”. You’ll find him and every teenager out there laughing off uncomfortable situations (only to make them more uncomfortable), or “putting it all on the line” asking someone on a date. Being seventeen is hard on kids of any gender, and it’s hard on their parents, siblings, teachers, and friends. Again, driving home my point that there is a lot more to relate to in this movie than being a seventeen-year-old girl.
Coming of age is an awkward, albeit enlightening, experience. People have different problems and they handle them in different ways while showing their emotions in different capacities. No one is special, no one “has it worse off” than the rest of their high school – you don’t know what the kid in your algebra class has to deal with when he/she goes home. I could really see this movie being a The Graduate (1967), a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), or a Mean Girls (2003) for this generation and it’s nice to have coming of age movies like this to remind someone that just because it’s bad now, doesn’t mean it needs to be bad forever; and only you can decide that.
While the movie can be predictable at times and I found myself correctly guessing how each scene would end, this movie really is about the journey; and I hate that I just said that because I feel like that’s what everyone says about movies these days. But a coming-of-age story is probably the most appropriate place for this trope. I thought I wouldn’t relate to this movie or Steinfeld’s character Nadine’s issues, but there were moments when I realized that some of my issues were similar. Does that make me a seventeen-year-old girl? Probably. Eh, I’ve been called worse. The Edge of Seventeen uses comedy and drama in a synergy that drives home the point that the sky doesn’t need to be falling every day and you can still make your life experiences worthwhile – but you have to want to.