‘The Edge of Seventeen’ brings back the R-rated high school movie

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The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

Hailee Steinfeld nails self-hate in the new R-rated high school comedy that proves the spirit of John Hughes lives on…and got a smidgen more vulgar. In “The Edge of Seventeen,” Steinfeld plays Nadine, whose life hits rock bottom when she realizes her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) is a backstabber, her older brother (Blake Jenner) is the favorite, her mom (Kyra Sedwick) doesn’t understand, and her teacher (Woody Harrelson) seemingly couldn’t care less about any of it. And then there’s the guy she likes and the guy who likes her, who unfortunately aren’t the same guy.

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A teen comedy without an R-rating is like a western without horses, a crime thriller without guns, or a Jason Bourne movie without a chase scene. Freedom of expression is the most high school thing there is, and “The Edge of Seventeen” appreciates that without exploiting it. Curse words are used efficiently, without violating your ears. But it lets high schoolers act like high schoolers. The script, from director Kelly Fremon Craig (“Post-Grad”) is handled wonderfully by the cast. Oscar-nominee at age 14, Hailee Steinfeld is more than capable of handling comedy and drama—“The Edge of Seventeen” has plenty of both. Nadine is not as memorable as, say, Juno or Ferris Bueller, but Steinfeld never lets go of her character. She’s in it all the way. Blake Jenner got his big screen breakthrough in director Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” earlier this year. He played a college freshman there, but here he carries over that experience, working with the director of one of the great high school cult classics (“Dazed and Confused,” alright alright alright), to make his role in “The Edge of Seventeen” so multi-dimensional and interesting, even if the story itself is pretty standard.

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And it is. Standard, I mean. Angst-filled girl, successful older sibling, best friend falling-out, unrequited love, schoolwork problems. “The Edge of Seventeen” worked despite its refusal to buck certain trends. But that only makes it that much more remarkable, that it did all of this while operating in ways we’ve seen before. If you’re looking for 100 minutes of pick-me-up, this isn’t for you. It gets real, and fast. But in the end, it wraps up—maybe too quickly, too conveniently. Nevertheless, “The Edge of Seventeen” is a fun and clever use of your time. If you remember your high school years, and they were anything like the hell Nadine experiences, you’ll find it a cathartic experience. If not, maybe you’ll be glad you had it so well.

7.5/10

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