By Jack Dignan
I feel like the teen high school movie is starting to become an underappreciated genre. It’s a long lasting genre with a countless amount of classics, ranging from American Pie to Mean Girls to The Breakfast Club and even to High School Musical. It’s a genre that should easily run out of stories to tell, but it never does, and yet it doesn’t seem to get as much appreciation as other genres. Maybe it’s because there are not enough of them, or perhaps it’s because they usually seem to get a limited release. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s a greatly appreciated genre and I just don’t realise, but from the look of things, it just doesn’t seem to the case. That’s why Edge of Seventeen is going to be a massive hit when it arrives to Australian theatres this January. It’s a teen high school movie to bring teen high school movies back into their 80s/90s glory.
Edge of Seventeen follows the story of Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), an awkward teenager who is going hell while attempting to trudge her way through high school. She’s never been one for fitting in, only really having one real friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) neglects her and her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is one of the self-obsessed popular kids at school. Things aren’t going well, but at least they’re going at a steady rate. Or at least they were until Krista and Darian start dating, throwing Nadine’s life into a whirlwind of awkwardness, teen angst and uncomfortable lunchtimes with one of her teachers, Mr. Brunner (Woody Harrelson).
In attempting to avoid as many clichés as it can, Edge of Seventeen successfully becomes a witty, honest and entertaining teen movie that’s going to be one to remember. First thing’s first, this is a seriously funny movie. It’s not always the most original film at times, certain plot lines dwelling in familiar yet effective territory, but the jokes nearly always work. It’s the sort of humour you don’t expect a movie like this to make, but it does it anyway. The humour is born and bread from places you don’t expect, places that don’t normally bring humour. It’s frequently dark, mixed with a lighthearted nature and always relatable. As made evident in the trailer, teen suicide hasn’t been this funny since Heathers.
Our central protagonist, Nadine, shouldn’t be a central protagonist that works, but she is. She’s problematic, drenched in self-pity, highly unconventional and, from time to time, a source of annoyance to all the other characters in the movie. Yet she’s brilliant. She’s got a bit of every sort of teenager mixed into her, making the film accessible and relatable to everyone who is or ever has been a teenager. Her awkwardness never fails to entertain, floating her way through all sorts of situations teenagers find themselves to be in. It’s real, and not always played for laughs, as some of the more dramatic moments pack a real punch.
That’s one of the things that make this film so great, too. It’s not only funny, but also deadly serious when it needs to be. It’s built on some solid emotion, creating realistic characters that each have a dramatic character arc. Even characters you don’t expect to have an arc are given an arc, making for an even more rewarding experience. It’s not hard to guess the final result of these arcs, the final few minutes feeling more familiar than anything else that came before it, but it’s the journey there that’s so unpredictable. The final outcome can be seen a mile away, but the path is a little bumpier. It’s quirky and different, yet firmly placed in the real world. This film may not receive as high of a rating as you’d expect, as I’m giving it the rating it deserves, but I honestly cannot wait to see it again. It’s great.
Let’s not finish this review up without mentioning the supporting cast. Without them, the film wouldn’t be as good as it is. Woody Harrelson steals the show as a sarcastic asshole teacher who, believe it or not, isn’t actually as big of an asshole as he seems to be. His character is layered and real, working as more than just the voice of reason when it comes to Nadine’s countless problems. Sure, the filmmaking itself is decent at best, and the film decides to use irritating narration for no apparent reason and then stop using it halfway through, but this film brought us Woody Harrelson as a high school teacher all high school teachers wish they were, so I’m glad it exists.
To sum up, Edge of Seventeen is a quirky and relatable teen movie that mixes dark and light humour together for a splendid, but flawed movie going experience. The performances are great, especially Woody Harrelson’s scene stealing teacher, however it’s the genuine heart that puts this film on a whole other level.
3 1/2 Stars
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