Nadine, the central character in The Edge Of Seventeen, is the kind of character that could only appear in an American coming-of-age teen tragicomedy — nerdy, awkward, angsty, uncomfortable. The film is the story of Nadine’s unbearable — her comfortable, middle-class, unbearable — life falling apart as her only friend, Krista, decides that dating Nadine’s brother Darian would be a good way to shore up their friendship. The plot develops in reasonably predictable directions from here, with Nadine turning to her high-school history teacher, Mr. Bruner, for the support her single-parent mother is unable to offer, and finding friendship in the unexpected direction of Erwin, a boy who is — nearly, only nearly — as awkward as Nadine.
So the film, then, isn’t about a destination as it is about a journey — you’ve seen this film a dozen times before, and the only way it can be made interesting is by developing interesting characters along the way. The bulk of the responsibility for carrying a film like this, of course, sits on the shoulders of its lead, and Hailee Steinfeld simply isn’t quite up to the task. She’s good, to be sure, but she manages, a little too much of the time, to be too intense, too awkward — frankly, too annoying. If she were my only friend, I’d be looking for someone else to be spending my teenage years with. Haley Lu Richardson as best friend Krista does a little better, and the scenes that the two girls produce together make for some of the stronger parts of the film, but in the end it’s hard to engage with a character as self-absorbed as Nadine, who manages to be little more than an assemblage of stock angsty-teen characters that we’ve seen done to better effect on the telly in shows like Suburgatory or Awkward.
The major redeeming feature of The Edge Of Seventeen is Woody Harrelson as Mr. Bruner. Watch the trailer — the rather misleading trailer — and you’ll be left believing that the film is much more of a conventional comedy than it is, and that Harrelson is a much more significant character than he actually is. Mr. Bruner is the kind of seasoning character that should leave the viewer wanting more — it would have been very easy to write his character much more deeply into the body of the film, but just as a little salt makes a dish delicious, a huge handful can leave it inedible. But Harrelson, playing, let’s face it, Woody Harrelson, does a wonderful job of grounding the film in dry humour, letting Nadine talk herself out and then deflating her teenage pomposity with pith and grace. It’s his film, in the end, one that he steals effortlessly from the rest of the cast — not, it must be said, the most challenging of tasks for an actor of his abilities.
In the end, then, The Edge Of Seventeen is not a dreadful film, but then, nor is it dreadfully wonderful. It’s a pleasant, if somewhat tiresome at times, way of passing an hour and a half, but one you’ll likely forget about by the time you’ve left the cinema. And Stevie Nicks appears nowhere in the soundtrack.