High School Misery – The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Still waiting for one of those happy high school stories.  So this is about a junior in high school (Hailee Steinfeld).  She’s already got a hard enough time as it is being a social outsider, but her life is about to get turned upside down when her only friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her older brother (Blake Jenner).  Now I will admit that I would have probably passed over this if it weren’t for its positive reviews.  I’m not opposed to hearing the stories of high school girls, I just don’t actively seek them out.  But hey, I feel like I always have to defend my affection for The DUFF, so I decided why not add another movie that is hard for an adult male to champion under my belt.  While I didn’t connect with this as much as I did with The DUFF, I think this is a film that is well executed enough that most people are at least going to like it.

2I would imagine that you will get even more out of this if you’re a complicated teenage girl.

There are two items that make this movie work as well as it does: the script and the casting.  I know if you were to read some of the reviews of this you would think that this director is the second coming of John Hughes, and I’m not exactly drinking the Kool-Aid that hard.  It’s more along the lines of a less perky Diablo Cody, and this struck me as something that would pair well with Juno.  I thought Woody Harrelson was inspired and show-stealing in this movie, and whenever he pops up, that is when this movie is at its best.  He plays this mentor teacher who should probably have a better filter, but he tells it like it is, and is never one to sugarcoat some advice.  I also really liked Hayden Szeto as the love interest that the girl is supposed to go for, but gets largely overlooked because he is so nice.  I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything before, and I do think his performance in this is going to get him a lot more work.  Then we have the lead herself, Hailee Steinfeld.  I have mixed feelings about her, because I do like what she brought to this role.  She fully encapsulates what being a high schooler is all about, because it is never as simple as adults break it down as being, and she has the chops that give a lot of dimension to this character.  That said, the person she is playing is a bit of a brat, and it did lead to points where I had disconnects.  I do know firsthand that many a teenage girls are similar to the character she portrays, so it makes it difficult to fault, but I can’t go without mentioning the fact that it took me out of the movie.

1I could have gone for an extra 30 minutes of these two playing off each other.

There’s a lot of melancholy to this story, but the fact that this girl can keep a sense of humor about the situation is what keeps you going.  At its core, it is a simple coming of age story, nothing more, nothing less, and the positives do elevate it to being something worthy of your time.  It is mostly light, and the dialogue is well written; they make it feel like how the youth actually talks nowadays instead of using slang that Will Smith would judge as being dated.  The actors they got do feel like they are in high school, despite looking about 3 – 4 years too old for the part.  Sure, I did like this movie and fell short of loving it, but there is a little something for everybody, so it makes it an easy movie to recommend.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016) ***1/2

– Critic for Hire


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