“I’m going to kill myself,” proudly proclaims the protagonist of “The Edge of Seventeen,” Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine Franklin … as her first line. At such an early stage in the story, it’s hard to tell whether we should take her literally or seriously. By the end of the film, however, we get our answer: neither.
Pardon the brief soapbox moment, but teenage depression and even suicide are not matters purely relegated to the realm of fiction. I’ve known people who struggled after a tragic loss like Nadine’s (her beloved father at age 13), taken pain medications and seen therapists. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen a fair share who took their own life.
These are real issues that rarely get honest depictions on-screen, and writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig might have been wise to lean into them. Instead, Nadine is a character who gets all the narrative benefits of an outwardly depressed character while “The Edge of Seventeen” on the whole skirts responsibility for dealing with the seriousness of the problem. Craig bends over backwards to make sure we know that she’s not like regular teenagers, she’s a justifiably angsty teenager! Yet once it becomes clear that she really needs professional help, the film makes it all too easy for one kind act to lead to a personal revelation that turns back time.
It’s really too bad that “The Edge of Seventeen” lacks the teeth in its bite because Craig is unapologetic in making Nadine one of the meanest main characters in recent memory. She is incapable of leaving a conversation that she has not “won,” and if she cannot achieve victory on the strength of her own arguments, Nadine will kamikaze by lobbing a vicious insult. Around the point when she defeatedly declares, “I have to spend the rest of my life with myself,” I realized that she is essentially Anna Kendrick’s Twitter feed personified – just with double the self-loathing and half the self-aware charm.
Steinfeld swings at virtually every pitch in the screenplay, never missing the chance to make her character visibly afflicted by the internal tempest of being a lonely high schooler. This often has the effect of reducing Nadine to a bag of nervous tics, though she is not without her breakthrough moments of calling for understanding – which she gets from us, the audience. From the movie, not as much.
Those calling Steinfeld and “The Edge of Seventeen” some kind of a revelation for the high school movie ought to spend some time revisiting 2010’s “Easy A” and Emma Stone’s delicate performance in it. Writer/director Will Gluck understood what it meant to feel alone in a hallway full of peers and social media sites that keep you endlessly connected to them. But he also made sure that Stone’s Olive Penderghast had to go searching for peace of mind – in others, in popular culture and, most importantly, in yourself. B- /