by Alan Yudman
John Hughes was to teenaged angst what Donald Trump is to the alt-right. Hughes was the standard bearer and the enabler. In the 1980’s from “Pretty in Pink” to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” John Hughes tapped into that particular vein like no other filmmaker. His characters were stereotypes in the best sense of the word. They reflected teens as real human beings. So when someone says Kelly Fremon Craig made channeled Hughes in her movie THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, it is not empty praise.
The film features Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, a high school junior who defines the word outcast. She has one friend, Krista, who has been with her since second grade. She makes questionable fashion choices, she is self-loathing and angry at the world. It doesn’t help that her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is Mr. Perfect. Perfect body, perfect friends, perfect smile. She hates him for his perfection. So, when Krista and Darian hook up in a “meet cute” kind of way it sends Nadine into an epic tailspin. She lashes out at everyone and everything. She channels her self loathing by being self-centered and narcissistic. She runs to her favorite teacher, expertly played by Woody Harrelson, to vent her frustration and to tell him she is thinking of killing herself (I won’t reveal why, but it involves an unfortunate message to a boy she is infatuated with). She shares this because she thinks an adult ought to know. Harrelson is non-plussed, seeming to not care. He uses sarcasm to talk her down off the ledge, an interesting but comedically effective technique.
Steinfeld shines. She shows the same skill that earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination for TRUE GRIT. She has to shine because she is in just about every scene in the movie. Steinfeld is up for it. I don’t know if acting or music (she has an album out) is her true passion, but she has the chops to be an all-time great actress and the youth to see it through.
What would a John Hughes movie be without music? Not a John Hughes movie. So, I was glad to see Craig paid attention to the soundtrack, because it really helps move the story in the right direction.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is a wonderfully thoughtful and executed comedy about growing up. It is a genre that has been missing its greatest voice since Hughes died way too young. It will be fascinating to see if Craig is that new voice.