Especially when all your classmates are ten years older than you.
When it comes to stories about self-loathing teenagers, I don’t think anyone has owned them quite as much as John Hughes did in the 80s. Not that most of his films from that time have aged well, but you can’t deny the impact he left on that generation, and I’d be surprised if recent popular anime about self-loathing teenagers like Yahari or Re:Zero didn’t take inspiration from him. Nevertheless, I still enjoy a good chunk of them and will absolutely hate products that try to copy him and get it wrong. So I was definitely looking forward to watching The Edge of Seventeen when I heard about it, and I’m glad to see that it delivered.
The movie centers on Hailee Steinfeld playing what’s basically a modern version of Daria, except with less complexity (no fictional teenager is going to be more complex than Daria) and more insecurities, named Nadine. Throughout her life, Nadine has only had two friends, one of them being her Dad and the other being a childhood friend named Krista, who end up leaving her behind when the former ends up having a heart attack in the middle of driving and the other ends up dating her much more successful older brother. Feeling betrayed by the world and refusing to indulge in all the social media shit that makes up today’s generation, Nadine tries to find comfort in typical but ultimately self-destructive teenage girl activities, from teasing her Asian classmate who is so obviously in his thirties to the point of jarring creepiness to asking out a boy who basically screams “I am a shallow jerk” without even opening his fucking mouth. It’s only when talking to her teacher, Woody Harrelson, that her behavior is reigned in, but he’s obviously in no position to accompany her 24/7, so about 90% of the plot is just watching Hailee Steinfeld fuck things up for herself and others.
What I like about this movie is how all the problems caused by Nadine are of her own volition, fueled by jealousy and an inability to see that she’s not accomplishing anything by rejecting what’s popular other than dragging other people down with her. Even when there’s a perfectly nice guy around who’s willing to accept her for who she is, she mostly brushes him off for some guy she only has her eyes on because of his looks. And there’s no real reason for her behavior other than that’s just the way she was brought up. Okay, things hit a bit of a snag with her dead dad, but we clearly see that she was pretty anti-social before then, so that was pretty much just adding fuel to the fire.
It’s also a pretty funny film, with some very well-timed black humor like when Nadine is about to lose her virginity in a car, only to push the guy off and create a moment of silence whilst the reclined chair slowly goes back up in the process. Okay, it’s not exactly Dave Chappelle-levels of humor, but it does a good job of lightening the mood without killing the bite. There’s even a moment where the movie Twins is referenced in a way that, without spoiling the context of the joke, brings down her self-esteem even more. Of course, more than 90% of the humor relies on Nadine getting screwed in some form or another, so if you don’t enjoy watching that sort of stuff, you obviously have no soul and deserve to have her experiences happen to you.
But of course, like most of the good teen films, the drama is where it truly shines. That moment that makes Saturday Night Fever’s ending my favorite fictional ending of all-time, when all the built-up frustration just comes crashing down at once to the point that you both feel sorry for the person whilst acknowledging they were asking for it. Unlike Saturday Night Fever though, the film continues to keep going after that moment, taking away some of the story’s bite in the process. Because while I’m all for people getting another chance in life as soon as they realize what they did was wrong, I’m much less for actually seeing that chance play out, and even less when said chance ends up being happy. And while the ending was nowhere near Staying Alive-levels of bad, plus we get a funny cartoon out of it, there comes a point when you just need to stop.
Do I recommend The Edge of Seventeen? To anyone looking for a pretty decent film that lives up to the John Hughes label and more, yes I do. Especially to all you anime fans who seem to obsessed with self-destructive teenagers as of late. Not really sure why that’s gotten so huge in recent years, but I’m even less socially inclined than Nadine, so what do I know?
- So are any of Hailee Steinfeld’s songs actually good?
- You could have at least tried to make the Asian dude look like he was in his twenties.