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A Quirky and Angsty Edge of Seventeen Review

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzSince people said they’d be interested, I said I’d try to do more movie reviews of stuff that wasn’t necessarily geek movies. So I’m going to ease into it with a movie that has a mild comic book connection. Here goes.

Last night I went to see Edge of Seventeen, a film I’d been looking forward to for a while. It was cute. In fact it was beyond cute. It was HOVAdamn adorable. I had been wanting to see it since I saw the first trailer, mostly just because I found the characters amusing. Everyone in the trailer is mean spirited and bitter, but in a refreshingly real way. The premise set up by the trailer is kind of contrived, but in a simple enough way that you sort of say “yeah, that could happen.” So going into the movie, here’s what I knew:

Quirky and angsty teenaged girl suddenly discovers that her best friend is fucking her older brother. Quirky Girl freaks out, as you do, and starts hating (also quirky but slightly less so because she’s a supporting character and not the lead) best friend and super-popular (because movies like this always have one sibling that’s a geek but the other sibling is stereotypically awesome — even though deep down you just know that he’s got secret quirks and angsts that will be revealed later) older brother as well as her absolutely neurotic (because all parents are crazy, probably because their own personal teenaged quirks and angsts were never addressed and so developed into deep rooted psychological problems) single mother, because she’s an angsty teenager and that sort of thing that happens. Meanwhile there’s a hot boy that she has a crush on and because the rest of her world is falling apart (you know, because your brother fucking your friend is like the worst thing that could happen ever), she types a ridiculously desperate Facebook message to crush boy saying that even though they don’t know each other she thinks he’s hot and she’s totally DTF. But Quirky Girls are smart, so she totally realizes that actually sending the message would be a really bad idea, so she goes to cancel it, but hits the wrong button and sends it instead. She then freaks out and goes to tell her wise old sage of a teacher that she wants to kill herself because this is the worst thing that could ever happen. Only it turns out that he’s also quirky and angsty because everyone is in this movie is but also because if you’d spent twenty something years teaching high school students, you probably would be a quirky and angsty bitter shell of a man too.

So I generally like to avoid spoilers in movie reviews. The thing is, none of that is a spoiler. It’s literally all in the trailer. Seriously, watch the trailer:

If I have a problem with this movie it’s that — what I gave you there in my synopsis, as well as what you see in the trailer. That’s it. That’s the whole movie. There are literally no surprises. You can pretty much guess everything that is going to happen from that. There are a couple other characters (one in particular) that are in the film. You’ll see them and you’ll go “ok, I know what that guy is about” and you will be right (more on this later). You’ll see things unfolding and you’ll say “I know how this is going to end” and you’re going to right then too. Plotwise, this is a completely paint by numbers narrative. There is not a single surprise in it. You know this story.

And it’s great! Go see it. Seriously.

This isn’t a movie about the plot. It’s completely about character. It’s about the way in which the completely mundane life of a teenager feels monumental. The specifics of the plot (such that it is) are a little contrived but honestly, not so much. And once you accept that in Nadine’s (Quirky Girl’s) mind and limited world view they really do represent a complete and total break of her reality, they start to take on an added weight. In theory, this is being marketed as kind of a coming of age story. And I guess in a way, it kind of is. But I’d say it’s not. While most coming of age comedy films are all about growing up, losing your virginity, learning to take life seriously and becoming an adult. Even though they’re called teen comedies, they’re really not about teens. They’re about young adults. They’re written and directed by grownups reminiscing about the awkward transitions from being a teenager into accepting the adult world. This isn’t that.

Instead, Kelly Fremon Craig has written and directed a movie that is really is about exactly what the title says. It’s about being seventeen. This isn’t American Pie. It isn’t Fast Times at Ridgemont High. it isn’t even Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Nadine isn’t trying to grow up. The loss of virginity subplot is almost incidental. It’s more like The Breakfast Club, Risky Business or Juno. She’s simply trying to cope with the unique space in life that is being a teenager. She’s not trying to to move beyond it. She’s not ready. It’s an honest look at what it is to be in that moment — to exist at that stage in life and try to figure it out for what that stage is rather than progressing through it as a transitionary phase.

Being that I am a bitter old man, and a teacher tasked with enriching young minds (yeah, I know, I still have trouble believing that myself), I kind of knew that I would like Woody Harrelson‘s Mr. Bruner character. And I did. He was great. He was fairly generic as his part is basically “magical wise old dude that exists for teen lead to come and use as a sounding board” which happens in all of these movies, but the quirky angst that allows him to make snide comments that not only do teachers secretly wish they could say to their students but probably every person who has held any job ever wants to say to every coworker or client that walks into their office with a problem but holds their tongue because in real life voicing your quirky angst is likely to get you fired. He owns it.

But what really makes the film work is Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Not only is Steinfeld really good in the role, but I kind of like what Nadine represents. She is a look into the neurosis of the manic pixie dream girl. Not only does the film subvert the more typical tropes of the coming of age story, but it also subverts the romantic comedy. It’s not even really obvious that it is a romantic comedy. There’s a clear alternate story that is progressing during Edge of Seventeen. It is the story of Erwin, played by Hayden Szeto, Nadine’s would-be love interest. And that’s the only real spoiler in this whole review (and it’s not much of one… because as I said before, you’d realize he was the love interest about two seconds after he pops up on screen). And no, I’m not talking about the crush boy who gets the DTF text. Erwin is different. And normally this would totally be his movie. Normally, a film like this would be about the awkward nerd boy and his eternal chase of the quirky angsty girl who sadly only has eyes for the dreamy dumb dude. But this isn’t Erwin’s movie… and so he doesn’t even make it into the trailer. Instead, what we see is an honest look into Nadine’s head. Is she a manic pixie dream girl? Yes… sort of… but instead of just relying on her as a stock character for the romance to happen around, this is an attempt to examine the quirks that make her that way in the first place.

And when that curtain is pulled back? Well, she’s kind of a bitch. Actually she’s totally a bitch. Honestly, there were a couple of moments int he film where I sort of realized “Wow, she is just not likable at all” and that made me love her as a character. Many of the “charming quirks” that would be celebrated if she were the romantic interest instead of the lead just come across as downright mean spirited and rude when we focus on her. And that works for me. It made her strong and complex and very interesting. It made me want to see where her story was going, even though I knew exactly where it was going the whole time. It wasn’t about the destination. It was about the trip. And the trip was good. 

★★★★¼(4.25 out of 5 stars)

Oh yeah… and I said mild comic book connection. Well, super-popular (because movies like this always have one sibling that’s a geek but the other sibling is stereotypically awesome — even thought deep down you just know that he’s got secret quirks and angsts that will be revealed later) older brother is played by Blake Jenner. He’s good in it. He doesn’t have a ton to do, kind of by design since he’s very much a supporting role. But he was believable with what he did and worked well as a foil for the main character. But, I feel it’s worth mentioning that Blake Jenner is married to Melissa Benoit, TV’s Supergirl. So mild comic book connection. Is geekiness sexually communicable?

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