California-born filmmaker and screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, The Edge of Seventeen (2016), a portrait of the familiar struggles of youth for 17-year old Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfield), initially risks falling into the well-weathered genre of Hollywood’s pseudo-existential teenage dramas following a profoundly confused and angst-ridden protagonist’s journey from pubescence to maturity. Yet, the film’s sharp script, unabashedly satirical treatment of its subject matter and deeply poignant portrayal of Nadine’s adolescent turmoil has allowed Craig’s work to forge a unique space for itself in the highly saturated genre.
The film opens with Nadine’s frantically hurried arrival into the classroom of her wackily comic and subtly endearing high school teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), to whom she dramatically declares, “I don’t wanna take up a ton of your time, but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought an adult should know.” The proclamation encapsulates the bold irony and authentic wit of the film’s tone that deals with the abrupt emotional upheaval Nadine experiences in her already alienated high school experience when her well-loved, good-looking older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), begins dating her long-time best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).
Craig explores Nadine’s struggles navigating the treacherous terrain of family life, the heart-squandering strains of romantic entanglements and the perilous maze of high school, while treating quintessential anxieties pertaining to not only adolescent but universal human experience – learning to accept one’s true self, struggling to forge one’s self-identity. Yet, Nadine eventually finds some solace from her struggles with the determined presence of her endearingly earnest and devoted classmate, Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto), who failingly vies for her affections on numerous occasions before succeeding in gaining her adoration.
While the film garnered the ingénue helmer accolades for Best Breakthrough at the Detroit Film Critics Society and Best First Film at the New York Film Critics Circle, a significant portion of the success of the film hinges on the lead actress Hailee Steinfield’s remarkable performance, for which she was nominated for Best Performance at the 2017 Golden Globes. The young wunderkind imbues a deep sense of authenticity into her character’s struggles and effectively conveys the draining emotional cartwheeling Nadine experiences, which could otherwise have easily lapsed into an over-zealous, trite and cringe worthy performance.
The Edge of Seventeen made a triumphant entrance into last year saturated, coming-of-age drama scene, offering a refreshing take on the ripened subject matter while retaining a sharp wit and relatively down-to-earth realism – Craig successfully strays from the uber glamorous and overly sensationalised portrayals of teenage experience in the vast cornucopia of Hollywood films.