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Review: "Edge of Seventeen"

Cross a John Hughes movie with a Disney Channel show, add a few f-bombs and you’ll get Edge of Seventeen, the directorial debut of Kelly Fremon Craig, who does a fantastic job despite this being her first credited directorial work. The film tells a familiar story of a troubled teenager who deals with tried and true issues of friendship, love and fitting in. While the plot is so familiar that it’s forgettable, for the most part the main cast delivers witty, charismatic performances across the board.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a high school junior whose inability to relate to those around her is worsened by her father’s sudden death, and the eventual betrayal of her best friend and brother. She finds a friend in a snarky, unimpressive history teacher (Woody Harrelson) who develops a soft spot for her and helps her out. Harrelson is charmingly annoying and annoyingly charming throughout, delivering a hilarious, facetious sense of humor without hardly ever leaving his desk. The two actors have good chemistry and it shows during the more emotional moments of the film.

As for Nadine’s friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and her mom (Kyra Sedgwick), they give passable but largely forgettable performances, predominantly because the characters never seem to shake the mold of their angsty-teen movie roles. They play their part, but the movie tells Nadine’s story and doesn’t try to add anything more than predictable character moments to the others. That would be fine, but the moments where people other than Harrelson and Steinfeld aren’t on screen feel largely hollow.

The world the movie centers around struggles to feel like much more than a set that doubles as a Disney lot the rest of the year. Posters in Nadine’s room that say “rock star” and extras that are seen repeatedly in a large high school don’t make the movie feel very lived in. For a story that tries so hard to have human moments, much of it/’setting feels wooden. Coming-of-age movies have historically had memorable soundtracks, but aside from one or two “hip songs,” the music could be taken straight out of a Target ad for a spring sale.

Many of the moments with Nadine are genuinely funny, cringe worthy or emotional. However, the reliance on her talking to herself to demonstrate how she’s feeling pulls the viewer out of the experience. People don’t vocalize every feeling they have, and the movie would have been better served if the moment on screen and the acting simply spoke for itself.

Edge of Seventeen tries hard to be an edgy teen movie for 2016, and for the most part, it succeeds. Sure, some of the profanity feels forced, but Harrelson and Steinfeld deliver dozens of snarky comic moments that make you empathize with them both. The plot doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but the movie’s spin on coming of age has charm and style. At its worst, the film stands as a cry for families to seek group therapy and communicate honestly. At its best, the movie is a fun trip down memory lane to the age of 17 when your crushes were unattainable, dates were awkward and family life was chaotic.

Grade: B+

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