There are a lot of mediocre movies that get made about high school. It’s a fine line to tread, and it’s all to easy for a film to cross too far into being sappy melodrama, or on the other extreme, too far into overt comedy. Looking back on film history, John Hughes was the master of this in his day, and although some of his films have aged quite poorly, it’s easy to see why his films resonated so strongly at the time. Teenage angst, when done well, can be truly universal – we’ve all been there, and we all know the feelings that come with the most awkward high school moments.
The Edge of Seventeen is a strong addition to the canon of high school movies, following in the tradition of films such as Mean Girls and Easy A (and many more – Clueless, Heathers, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, the list goes on) in casting a young starlet (in this case, Hailee Steinfeld) as an awkward ingenue at the center of teenage melodrama. Hailee Steinfeld, in turn, more than fills the shoes of Emma Stone, and Lindsay Lohan before her, ably proving herself simultaneously endearing and charming, but also a willing deliverer of sarcasm and precocious self awareness (and sometimes, lack thereof). Since seeing Steinfeld’s film debut in the Coen brothers’ True Grit (2010), I’ve thought that Hailee Steinfeld had star potential, and this film is further evidence to support that belief. It’s not difficult to see her following in the footsteps of a star like Emma Stone, making her way across both indie and big budget films and eventually into Oscar contention.
Steinfeld’s performance is buoyed by an able supporting cast; 31-year-old Hayden Szeto, in his film debut, surprisingly looks more convincing as a high schooler than 24-year-old Blake Jenner, but the real standout of the supporting cast is Woody Harrelson, whose wry sarcasm is one of the main sources of humor in the film, proving himself to be a charming foil and sounding board for Steinfeld’s teenage angst.
While the film maybe has less nuance or message than some of the other films in this genre, its simplicity and straightforwardness allow it to succeed on all accounts. I’m confident that many-a-high schooler will watch The Edge of Seventeen and find solace and comfort in its messaging; at the same time, it’s broad and encompassing enough that all audiences will find something to enjoy.