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Review: The Edge of Seventeen (TIFF 2016)

The Edge of Seventeen (TIFF 2016)
09.22.2016
7 10

PLOT: A rebellious teen (Hailee Steinfeld) finds her life thrown into disarray after her brother (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson).

REVIEW: The last few years have been slim pickings for good teen coming-of-age fare on the big screen, with only the occasional surprise like EASY A or THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER coming along to appeal to those of us nostalgic for the John Hughes classics of old. For some reason or other, those kinds of movies just aren’t really made anymore. In some ways, the reason why is obvious. With social media allowing the kids to act out their own teen film fantasies – and exhibit them – why would they bother to go see movies about the same thing in theaters?

Nevertheless, along comes writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Godfathered by James L. Brooks (whose old-school Gracie Films logo opens the film), this is probably the closest millennials will get to their own high-school classic, with it being an uncommonly smart teen dramedy with winning performances and sharp dialogue.

It’s certainly a star-making performance for Steinfeld, who hasn’t had a vehicle this good since TRUE GRIT. Sharp and cynical, but often prone to snap judgments and overreactions, she’s the perfect teen heroine. Believably selfish, it’s interesting that she’s the main character here as if this had been made during another teen movie era she would have been the B-story to her friend’s A-story, where she falls in love with the square-jawed unattainable jock. That drama is done away with Blake Jenner’s nice guy jock – duh – of course falling for Richardson’s bright, pretty and kind character. There’s no arc really needed and Craig never ramps up the drama between them, with it shown that they genuinely like each other. There are no mean girl bullies – at all (the high school seems to be totally free of them) – leaving the whole arc to be more of an internal one for Steinfeld, who has to move on now that her friend has chosen love over friendship.

That she has such a hard time accepting this speaks to the innate selfishness of Steinfeld’s character, but it’s tough not to relate. As a teen, we think the whole world revolves around us, and her character feels authentic in that regard. Sharp-witted, this is Steinfeld’s show all the way although she also gets some interesting actors to play off of, including Kyra Sedwick as her mom, and EVERYBODY WANTS SOME’s Jenner as her brother.

The highlight is definitely Woody Harrelson as her cynical history teacher. Laid-back and somewhat lazy, he’s alternately amused and put-out by Steinfeld. It’s an atypical role for him in that it allows him to play a regular guy for once (he’s usually very volatile or anguished) and he seems to relish Craig’s smart dialogue.

This is indeed one of the best-written teen movies in a long time. Pop culture references are kept to a minimum, except one bit where a girl refers to TWINS as starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and “that guy from ‘It’s Always Sunny…” (is that how Danny DeVito is known now?). Social media only plays a tiny part here, with Steinfeld anguishing over a Facebook request sent to a hunky classmate, while a much better match (the winning Hayden Szeto) pines away for her.

Having seen this at a packed TIFF screening, it’s easy to see why STX Entertainment is so high on it, with it getting a prestigious November release and even an Oscar campaign (although I’m not sure it’s that good). It’s a very solid teen flick – one of the better ones in recent memory, and it certainly has the makings of a potential sleeper.

Source: JoBlo.com

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