I wonder how many mistakes the average teenager makes in an average day. How many fights do they pick with their parents? How many well-meaning teachers do they defy? How many poorly thought out text messages do they send? How many kisses are planted with eyes closed too tight?
Are the mistakes so numerous that we might lose count, or do the lessons they offer mean that they are not mistakes at all?
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN is the story of 17-year-old Nadine (Hailey Steinfeld). As a child, she is the apple of her father’s eye, and has little in common with her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgewick). She has no friends, until one day a little girl comes to her with a caterpillar she rescued. The caterpillar isn’t long for this world, but the girl – Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) – becomes Nadine’s first, best, and only friend.
Growing-up, the two stay joined at the hip, which benefits Nadine greatly when her father suddenly dies, and benefits her just as much when dealing with her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) who is awesome in every way Nadine is awkward.
Much as it might seem to Nadine that her social circle contains these three people, the truth is that there’s more to it.
For instance, there’s her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), whom we learn early on truly cares about what life is handing his bright, and hard-working student. There’s also Tom (Eric Keenleyside), the beautiful brooding senior she crushes on from a distance. And finally, there’s Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto), the awkward-but-amusing classmate who sits next to her all year and finally musters up the courage to talk to her.
All of these people will play a part as Nadine’s life reaches a crisis point, and two of the circles overlap in an unexpected way. The overlap will send her mind spinning to thoughts of sadness, stress, and self-consciousness. It’s also what allows panic to set in. And when teenagers panic, that’s when the mistakes really start piling-up.
The fact of the matter is that being a teenager can really suck…especially being a teenage girl (so I’m told). Everything seems to be dialled up to eleven – both for better and for worse. We adore with our whole hearts, and get hurt deeply with ease. People who will later be insignificant can turn whole years into misery, and the deepest relationships can be both a saving grace and prove surprisingly fragile. It leads to worried parents, shattered friendships, impulsive decisions, and feelings that the whole wide world will end at any second.
It’s easy to dismiss these feelings, or to chalk them up to a flare for drama. However, to do so is to forget youth itself, and the tests that meet teenagers everyday. Such tests have made their way on-screen before, but seldom in ways that combine the warmth and the honesty of THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN.
Day after day, girls like Nadine and Krista who mean the world to each-other will have their falling outs. Day after day, impulsive texts will be sent to boys unworthy of receiving them. Day after day, mothers and daughters will go ten rounds about how the other doesn’t understand. Sure, they don’t always look as handsome as the cast of this film, but their songs strike similar notes.
This is a story clearly told by someone who has been there…who has felt it. Credit first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig for that. Someone who was once in Nadine’s predicament and who maybe now looks on with concern as Mr. Bruner does. The ultimate message isn’t something as simple (yet powerful) as “It gets better”, so much as “It’s real. It sucks. It can suck even more if you let it. But look around and odds are you will find someone to help you make sense of it all”.
This is the beauty of a film like THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. That a girl out there who feels as lonely, angry, or as mixed-up as Nadine might see something of themselves in this story and gain a different perspective. Perhaps boys like Tom will drop in their esteem, or perhaps patience with their families might climb. It’s also quite likely that nothing will change for a teenage girl who sees this movie…but just like most lessons offered to teenagers, it matters more that it was said at all, then whether or not it was heard.
Being a teenager is about not really knowing what you want. It’s about thinking you want a situation to be different, but growing to accept the mixed blessing that it is. It’s about thinking you completely infatuated with a boy or a girl, only to realize at the last second that your infatuation is misplaced.
Not knowing what you want leads to mistakes…or at least what will be perceived as mistakes at the time. In truth, they are mistakes worth making, especially in light of the clarity they can bring.