The cast is extraordinary, and the screenplay so sharp, that I want to forgive some obvious directorial flourishes, and some avoidable predictability and neatness. It’s better when it’s messy. Because being a teenager is messy. Nothing should be neat, and wrapped up perfectly…because it almost never is. “The Edge of Seventeen” is a very good movie, that aspires to greatness…and almost gets there. Maybe next time for debuting director, Kelly Fremon Craig. She’ll probably iron out the wrinkles in her sophomore effort. But can she possibly corral a trio of performances as fine as those turned in by HaileeSteinfeld, Woody Harrelson, and Kyra Sedgwick.
Nadine (Ms. Steinfeld, firmly one of our finest young actresses now) is a 17-year-old suburban high school student, with a variety of issues. She lost her loving dad, Tom (Eric Keenleyside), to a sudden heart attack, just as she entered her teens. Her now single mother, Moana (Ms. Sedgwick, her meatiest film work in a while), struggles to raise her two kids in their sprawling Portland home, while also saving time to find new love. Nadine’s brother Darian (Blake Jenner, exceptional) is handsome, smart, charming, and athletic, while Nadine is awkward, and socially inept. When Darian starts dating Nadine’s only real friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson, quite good), whatever stability Nadine had left, begins to crumble. And Nadine’s favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Mr. Harrelson…great) receives the brunt of her angst, in a series of impromptu, classroom chats.
There are love interests for Nadine in this movie, that are polar opposites (of course). Nick (Alexander Calvert) is the dreamy, super-cool dude that doesn’t know she’s alive. Erwin (Hayden Szeto…a star is born!) is the bright, funny, arty guy, that becomes Nadine’s pal. And that’s where some of it falls apart, and follows the standard teenage dilemma pattern. Of course, Erwin is filthy rich, and his parents are always traveling on business–convenient. And is it any surprise when handsome Nick, exhibits traits that prove he may not be dreamy on the inside? Duh. But the performers are super. And I love the fact that Erwin is an Asian wooing a caucasian…with absolutely no focus on it, whatsoever. We’re slowly getting there. But the standout is Mr. Harrelson. He hits all the right beats, he’s the least predictable, as well as the most realistic. He’s more person than type, and Woody’s instincts are impeccable. A little more of that, and “The Edge of Seventeen” would’ve truly been something. As it is, it’s still pretty damn good.