The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

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Coming-of-age films appeal to most audiences but some never realise that it’s a genre full of gender stereotypes. Male coming-of-age films are about high-risk adventure, physical challenge, and enduring friendships, while the female versions are about popularity, mean girlfriends and emotional insecurity. Manhood is usually portrayed as dramatic achievement while womanhood is a melodrama of anxiety and victimhood: are these the only options? Such clichés are alive and well in The Edge of Seventeen (2016).

The plotline follows the narrative shape of most coming-of-age films. At 17, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a gawky, angst-filled over-thinker who hits the edge of teenage sanity when she finds herself in an emotional vortex. Her father died a while ago; her mother is a bit loony; she worries about her looks; and the mean girls are giving her hell. Life sucks, and then the cruncher: her lifelong best (and only) friend Krista starts dating her infuriatingly perfect older brother. Betrayed beyond belief, Nadine busts up with Krista and ends up chronically lonely. When her secret crush turns sour, she gravitates to a sweet nerdy guy who has been watching her from afar. Throughout all of this is her sardonic teacher, Mr Bruner, who tells her that she’ll have to join the queue if she wants to talk about suicide during his lunch hour.

While the story is one big cliché, the casting and acting are simply outstanding. The spotlight is totally on Nadine and she shines in every scene. She is the quintessential uncool teenage girl: gorgeous without knowing it; street smart about everything and nothing; juggling a dozen emotional balls at once; but still a sweet kid who needs a hand to survive the usual mistakes that must be made on the way to growing up. She is needy, defiant, and funny all at once, while Krista and Mr Bruner bring out the best and worst in her.

Does this film raise the standard of stereotypes in the female coming-of-age story? No, not at all, and melodrama seems to be an inescapable part of the deal. But it tells the story in a refreshing way with an intelligent script delivered mostly through Nadine’s quirky personality, aided by a top support cast. With a natural filming style and a great soundtrack, this story is told with realism, charm and hope.

3 half stars

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig,

Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner