Despite teenagers being one of the target movie audience demographics, there's not actually that many films about them and even fewer good ones.
Those that do stand out — Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything…, the films of John Hughes — often become generational classics.
It's too early to tell if writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig's debut The Edge of Seventeen will join those ranks. But it's an above-average entry in the coming-of-age genre, thanks to some strong performances and Craig's screenplay.
The film follows Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), a high schooler living in the shadow of her popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and more likely to eat lunch in the classroom of her teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) than with other kids her age. Her one age-appropriate close confidant is Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), who has been her best friend for years.
That relationship is thrown into disarray when Nadine catches Krista fooling around with Darian one day. Even worse, it turns out not to just be a fleeting physical attraction and the two have a genuine connection.
As Krista and Darian try to navigate the awkward position they've been put in, Nadine lashes out at what she considers an unfair situation. She does the same elsewhere, including a relationship with her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) that's already shaky after her father's untimely death.
Like Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!, which also stars Jenner, The Edge of Seventeen wisely ignores the stereotypes of school cliques and good kids and bad kids. Nadine isn't popular, but she's also not a pariah. She even finds her way into a party, and it's her own social anxiety that sabotages the situation.
One of the movie's smartest aspects is its nonjudgmental depiction of teenagers, to whom adolescence's tumultuousness can feel uniquely cruel. They can also get tunnel vision about others. Nadine has her preconceptions about almost every other character challenged by the end of the film.
It's easy to see what attracted producer James L. Brooks to the material. Craig, whose only other credit is writing the 2009 Alexis Bledel vehicle Post Grad, brings both a caustic wittiness and beating heart that recalls Broadcast News or As Good as It Gets.
In her most prominent part since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2010's True Grit, Steinfeld instills the character with a prickly energy. It's a role that frequently flirts with unlikability, but she always locates the messy humanity underneath.
Harrelson is another standout, very sardonically funny in what feels like a trial run for his upcoming leading role in the Daniel Clowes adaptation Wilson. All the actors are good, fleshing out what could've been one-dimensional characters, with a big hand from the screenplay.
The Edge of Seventeen is still a conventional coming-of-age film that can only be so transcendent in its traditional trappings. Yet it continually finds some added depth and shading to its familiar setup and it's hard to not appreciate a movie that's content to be a solid, unpretentious genre entry, especially for a first outing.