For whatever perverse motives, Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman and Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich last night praised The Edge of Seventeen (STX, 11.13). But they’re almost certainly being generous and obliging, in part (I suspect) because they don’t want to be seen as older cranky male critics shitting on a teen-angst dramedy, especially one from a female director-writer.
In the words of John F. Kennedy, I do not shrink from the occasional responsibility of shitting on a teen-angst dramedy — I welcome it. I was frowning and throwing my hands in the air and exhaling and checking my watch less than five minutes in. Okay, Edge became somewhat more tolerable during the last third, which is when neurotic characters in movies of this sort begin to fold and weep as they lay their emotional cards on the table. But God, that first hour. And the cliches! It poked and prodded and put me through long stretches of hell.
As noted, Edge isn’t all torture and yes, director-writer Kelly Fremon Craig is a cut above in some respects, but with James L. Brooks producing, I wanted a kind of angsty-teen-girl Bottle Rocket. Instead I got a misery flick. Mine, I mean, more than Hailee Stenfeld‘s because of prolonged exposure to the enraged, obnoxious, take-no-prisoners personality of her character, Nadine, whom Craig probably based upon aspects of herself.
The neurotic, obstinate and nearly friendless Nadine is suffering because (a) she’s an old soul and a secret genius (as was I during my high school years) and her classmates are too shallow to get her. Her father died some years back from a heart attack, and her frizzy-haired mom (Kyra Sedgwick) is ineffectual. On top of which Nadine’s resentment of older smooth-cat brother Darian (Everybody Wants Some‘s Blake Jenner) turns to seething hate when he falls in love with her lifelong best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) and vice versa.
You know from the get-go that Nadine will wind up with a sweet and sensitive Korean animator guy (Hayden Szeto) who all but swoons in her presence, but the rules of these films state that Nadine first has to endure two and half acts of self-torment. At least there’s a laid-back, mellow-vibe-dispensing teacher character (played in a typical stoner-lazybones way by Woody Harrelson) serving as Nadine’s mentor and sounding board.
Is Edge as puerile and aggressively shallow as many other teen-growing-pains films? No. But it’s predictably behaved and plotted, and grating as fuck.
I disliked the precocious but relentlessly thorny Nadine quite a lot. The misery and the exhaustion of her company! Sexually taunting the sweet Korean guy in a second-act scene, stupidly offering a blowjob to a cute James Dean-ish student she’s obsessed with, angrily rejecting Richardson because she’s fallen for her brother — she’s a real horror. She could grow up to be Bette Davis in Jezebel. Have a nice miserable life for the next dozen or so years, Nadine. Catch ya when you’re 30. Actually, make that 40.
But then I dislike American teen films quite a lot. I was miserable when I was 17, but who wasn’t? And it should be acknowledged that it’s actually possible to be 17 and have a semblance of coolness and insight into things. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it. Immaturity is natural and inevitable, but most teens do what they can to hide this, not proclaim or advertise it in a series of goading, stream-of-consciousness rants.
Not to overly generalize, but the Europeans sometimes do teen angst and loneliness in ways that feel more genuine and certainly less predictable.