With the release of her debut film The Edge of Seventeen writer and director Kelly Fremon Craig joins Andrea Arnold (Fisk Tank) and Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) in the exclusive, entirely made up club reserved for filmmakers who manage to accurately depict the painful, lonely, exhausting experience of being a teenage girl. Fremon Craig’s wonderfully low concept story centers on seventeen-year-old high school junior Nadine Franklin (beautifully played by actual teenage girl Hailee Steinfeld) and the crappy turn her life takes after she finds out that her best friend is dating her older brother.
In The Edge of Seventeen’s first act Craig uses flashbacks to help the viewer understand why something that might seem trivial (i.e. finding out that your friend is dating your brother) could actually be seen as a world-shattering, heart-breaking event from Nadine’s point of view. We learn that Nadine is a loner who has suffered from social anxiety since childhood and has always resented her confident, popular, golden boy older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), the apple of their mother’s (Kyra Sedgwick) eye. There are only two people in the world who really understand and accept Nadine, her father and her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson).
Then Nadine’s father dies of a heart attack and Krista becomes the one person Nadine can truly trust, the one person who is always, always on her side. When Krista begins dating Darian and hanging out with his friends Nadine perceives it as a deep personal betrayal. Darian tells his sister to stop being so dramatic and Krista insists that nothing has to change but all Nadine can focus on is the piercing pain of rejection. Hurting and desperate, she demands that Krista choose between her and her brother and when Krista refuses to pick Nadine terminates their friendship and retreats into resentful isolation.
Realizing she now has no one to sit with in the cafeteria, Nadine starts spending her lunch hours trading barbs with her history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). Bruner projects an air of indifference to Nadine’s problems (he responds to her threats of suicide with deadpan jokes and sartorial insults) but Harrelson makes it clear that the character acts this way because he knows Nadine’s self-loathing will lead her to reject any obvious signs of affection or compassion. He also knows exactly what Nadine needs to hear during her lowest moment following a particularly nasty fight with her mother and the accidental sending of an extremely embarrassing and explicit text message.
Hayden Szeto gives the film’s funniest performance as Nadine’s handsome, hilariously inarticulate classmate Erwin. Nadine is aware that Erwin has a crush on her but too caught up in her own misery and anger to acknowledge his feelings or examine her own. Like a lot of teenage girls Nadine is simultaneously acutely sensitive and incredibly callous at times and part of what makes The Edge of Seventeen so special is that Fremon Craig refuses to sand off Nadine’s rough edges to make her more likeable to the viewer. Instead she and Steinfeld demonstrate why the character deserves your empathy despite her flaws.
The Edge of Seventeen is a funny, deeply humane debut from a promising new directorial talent that will resonate with anyone who has ever hovered awkwardly at the edge of a group conversation at a party or had their emotional distress dismissed as hormones or a cry for attention.