'The Edge of Seventeen': The best teen comedy in years

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'The Edge of Seventeen': Hailee Steinfeld is Nadine.

"I had the worst thought: I have to spend the rest of my life with myself," says Nadine, the protagonist in The Edge of Seventeen.

It's a line that shouldn't have any charm, but it does. No one experiences self-loathing as intensely as a teenager, and I've never seen it so well-reflected in a movie before.

The Edge of Seventeen is funny and tragic, but most of all it feels real in the same way John Hughes movies felt real. It's not a candy-coated version of teenagedom. It's harsh, and awkward, and funny, just like being a teenager.

Take the first scene, which sets the tone for the rest of the movie: Nadine, played perfectly by Hailee Steinfeld, stomps into the classroom of her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), and declares her intention to kill herself. He responds not by offering her help, but by telling her that he, too, has lost the will to live because of a certain student's annoying habit of breaking in on his blissful, child-free lunch time.

This scene, as we find out, is precipitated by one of many crises going on in Nadine's life. Not only is Nadine not cool, but her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), has fallen in love with Nadine's brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), who happens to be very cool. That sets Nadine off. She's lonely and angry, blaming her brother for taking away the one good thing in her life.

The bones of The Edge of Seventeen are a basic coming-of-age movie. We've seen the outcast heroine before; the edgy, knowing teacher; the narcissistic parent (Nadine's mom, played by Kyra Sedgwick). There's even a pat ending, in which romance seems to make bigger problems go away.

But what's so special here is not the story that writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig tells, but how she tells it and the voices she uses to do it.

Nadine is a tough character. She pushes away the people she needs most, and thinks only of herself. But she's also sharp and sharp-edged, biting and funny. You would hate this girl if you didn't feel so deeply for her, due equally to Craig's words and Steinfeld's performance.

"I think some deranged part of me likes to think I'm the only one with problems," Nadine says during a particularly emotional moment. "Like it makes me special."

Nadine goes on a monologue about how she's terrified that she will always hate herself, that this feeling will never go away.

There are a few instances in The Edge of Seventeen where adults tell her that the darkness will pass and that she will, eventually, not be the insane ball of hormones that she is now. I so desperately wanted to hop into the screen and shake her and tell her it'll all be OK, she'll make it through.

But reassurances wouldn't work for Nadine, just like they didn't work for me, and possibly you, and the countless other misfits and weirdos who hated being teenagers. She just needs to grow up. It's the only cure.


The Edge of Seventeen

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. With Katie Stuart, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson, Haley Lu Richardson, Hailee Steinfeld, Kyra Sedgwick. Distributed by STX Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 39 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for sexual content, language and some drinking - all involving teens).