THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, US, 2016. Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Kyra Sedgwick, Woody Harrelson, Hayden Szeto, Alexander Calvert, Eric Keenleyside. Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. 104 minutes. Rated MA (Adult themes, medium level sex scenes, drug use).
There is an edge in using the word “edge” in the title of this film. Nadine, the central character, is approaching 17 with all the problems of adolescence, self-image, self-deprecation, touches of narcissism, experiences of depression, sexual talk and inexperience and the potential for shock. But this also indicates the meaning of “edge” in Nadine’s character and how she lives her life – she says she looks out from above on herself and does not like what she sees and realises that she will have to spend the rest of her life with herself. And, she over-dramatises with suicide notes.
One of the difficulties in responding to the film is that it has quite a lot of comic touches, even satiric touches in its portrayal of Nadine’s character. On the other hand, the film really serves as a case study, and that makes it very serious in its implications.
Haille Steinfeld is Nadine.She bursts into her teacher’s office threatening suicide and then starts to tell the story, in flashbacks, of how she arrived at this desperate stage. As a seven-year-old little girl she is bullied at school and continues to compare herself with her always-confident and successful older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner). Fortunately, another little girl befriends her through a caterpillar and they become strong friends for the next 10 years. There are glimpses of the girls at 13 – everything much the same.
While Darian continues to be a success in life, their mother, Kyra Sedgwick, spends a lot of her energy in being frantic, finding it very difficult to cope with the problematic Nadine. On the other hand, Nadine relates very well with her kindly father but he suffers a turn and dies.
By 17, Nadine is able to confide only in Christa (Haley Lu Richardson) who finds herself attracted to Darian – extreme crisis, Nadine thinking only of herself, demanding an either/or decision from Christa and then indulging in sulking and surliness. There are more scenes with her mother who still finds it difficult to manage her daughter, comparisons with her brother and the disdain for Christa.
The main port of call is the teacher who is given the best lines in the film, sardonically funny yet sardonically wise in his ability to deal with this problematic girl. He is played by Woody Harrelson at his best.
Nadine certainly makes some stupid decisions, underestimating the nice student who sits next to her in class but he proves to be something of her salvation. She feels attracted to a hunky student, almost propositions him at his workplace and then sends him at outlandish text. Following it up almost proves her undoing though, rather ignorant, she gets out of the situation, finding herself desperate.
It is a surprise to find some bloggers referring to Nadine as “endearing”. Nadine is hardly endearing and one is tempted to give up on her so self-preoccupied is she, but there is always the sympathy for mental health and depression.
Thank goodness, the ending is not without hope!
Village Roadshow. Released December 22nd.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.