You know who’s angrier than you might ever expect?
They’re an angry bunch, and no wonder. They’re gifted with a newly robust sexuality but never allowed to act on it. They’re already being faced with marginalization from the patriarchy but no one’s taking them seriously enough to care. They’ve yet to reach the quarter mark of their lives but society’s already letting them down. Their most obvious role models are the moms that drive them crazy or the celebrities that are first hyper-sexualized by society then criticized for one of two things: getting old or using Botox. They’ve been given incontrovertible evidence that, no matter what their kindergarten teacher told them, they cannot be elected president. Teen girls are dealt all the same shit as adult women, but without the credibility that comes with age. It sucks.
Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen gets it: teenage girls are pissed off.
So why is that important?
Because it’s a truth universally ignored, and any time a story – film, book, play, essay, comic, video game – hits upon a truth universally ignored, it resonates in a way that all of those universally acknowledged truths cannot. The Edge of Seventeen feels at once astonishingly timely and terribly belated. Teen girls are misfits, and they always have been. They’re angry and misunderstood and, because of that, they’re sometimes quite cruel.
Craig working alongside producer James L. Brooks feels like a marvel: the man responsible for Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News brings a gravitas often lacking from teen fare (at least, lacking since the days of John Hughes), and Craig brings a fresh and singular perspective. A fresh and singular female perspective – The Edge of Seventeen’s most recent analogue is the terrific Easy A, another tale of an offbeat and angry teen girl, but one that’s written and directed by two men.
Though I love Easy A, it’s lacking the authenticity that’s clamoring through every scene, line and item of clothing we see in The Edge of Seventeen. It’s the authenticity born of having once been a teenage girl. The Edge of Seventeen’s Nadine is one of the truest characters in recent memory. Her attitude, jokes, resentments, mannerisms and clothes cry out to be recognized as what they are: real. Nadine feels like a memory of someone we once knew or once were. For many of us, she is us. An "especially badly dressed," extremely pissed off weirdo.
Though much credit is due to Craig’s writing and direction – funny, frank, bracing – it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s performance that makes Nadine an all-timer character. It helps that the actress is 19 – how many mid-twenties women have been asked to portray that unusual, unfakeable thing, the teenage girl?
Steinfeld isn’t faking a thing. She is Nadine, bristly and clever, beautifully awkward, awkwardly beautiful. Though she’s surrounded by so many wonderful costars – especially Woody Harrelson and Kyra Sedgwick as the beleaguered adults in Nadine’s life, but also Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner and Hayden Szeto as the teen stars rotating around her sun-bright performance – Steinfeld is giving the sort of performance that defines a generation. It’s a thankless role, standing for a demographic, but Steinfeld does so with pluck and persnicketiness. She carries the weight so effortlessly that it’s easy to forget what a weighty thing this is: representing that universally ignored truth, reminding audiences of its existence, of its realness.
The Edge of Seventeen is in theaters now, and if you and the fam are having a post-turkey yen for popcorn, please don’t miss it. It’s the rarest of things: an important movie that’s also fun, a fun movie that matters. It celebrates a voice long silenced that deserves to be spoken, and we should all be thankful for that.