I am a firm believer that movies (especially American movies) portraying teenagers and high schools and these sorts of things are usually terribly wrong on so many levels: first of all, most of the actors are not even teenagers (Rachel McAdams was 26 when she played Regina George in Mean Girls), every high school looks the same and relies on the same stereotypes (maybe it’s my European point of view, who knows. Please, don’t take me wrong, I still love Mean Girls (the screenplay is simply brilliant) and I grew up obsessed with High School Musical, but the way these types of films depict high school is simply stereotypical and in a way it makes me feel that whomever wrote or directed them is out of touch with the youth and with the real topic of social anxiety among teenagers. Even movies such as The Duff, which criticizes the way teens who do not fit the mold are simply cast aside by popular teens, ends up being a stereotype blown out of proportions. The idea may be realistic but the “mise en scène” is plain wrong. Which is why The Edge of Seventeen is such an important movie and has simply moved me: it is the most relatable movie that I have ever seen, probably in my whole life.
The Edge of Seventeen tells the story of Nadine, an awkward teenager who ends her friendship with her best friend when she discovers she is secretly dating her popular brother. The film received critical acclaim and Hailee Steinfeld was unanimously praised (earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical).
There are so many reasons why this film is different from other coming-of-age dramedies (let it be high-budget movies, period dramas or TV movies) but, in my opinion, the movie’s greatness relies on the creation of tridimensional characters and a realistic plot that goes beyond the ugly duckling stereotype.
Like many of you I believe (or would like to believe), at 17 I was an awkward teenager who didn’t have many friends (in fact, my 21-year-old self is not too different): I too resented going to parties with many people (especially if I wasn’t personally invited), didn’t know how to make small talk and most importantly didn’t really know how to meet new people and make new friends (like “are you being nice because you’re nice or because you like me?” – a story by me). This is a plot that has been repeated many times over the years in teenage movies but it has always been portrayed in a very shallow way: the character is awkward because he or she (mostly she) has always been like that, for no apparent reason, and then over the course of the movie she evolves, becomes popular and then realizes that she was already great before and ends up halfway between her past self and her new improved version. This doesn’t happen in The Edge of Seventeen because it barely ever happens in real life, but what is also notable is that the movie gives an insight on the social anxiety Nadine suffers and makes the audience understand why the characters behaves like that. Nadine has always lived under the shadow of a more handsome and popular brother and, not that you care, but I’ve grown up under the shadow of a more popular “sister” who also happened to be the same age as me. Which is exactly why I understand Nadine and suffer for her. When I was 14 my best friend decided to ditch me for my sister and the feeling was exactly the same but, in fact, anyone who’s ever lost a friend to someone they hated or who has refused to share one of the few friends they have can understand what Nadine goes through (when your friend becomes super close with someone else and progressively stops talking to you, if you know what I mean).
In fact, the movie doesn’t revolve around a big plot or some major drama, it is a simple story about a girl dealing with depression who sees how she has to share her best friend with a person she totally despises (and sees how her friend changes when she’s around other people). Definitely more relatable than four girls who write a book with mean stuff about everyone at their school and spend almost the entire movie gossiping and being fake. Even the romantic subplot of the movie concerning Nadine is realistic: how many of us have had crushes on guys who were completely different from us and just plain wrong? Nadine does not go to the extent of dressing up super sexy, going on a full makeover and just impressing the boy (I’m looking at you Sandy from Grease): she’s looking for serious relationship while he is just looking for a one-night stand and the movie doesn’t try to sell you anything else. That’s it, misunderstanding and heartbreak, which is really what mostly happens in real life. The Edge of Seventeen is not about the nerdy Gabriella Montez winning Troy Bolton’s heart because, how many times has this happened (like people that you personally know).
Which brings me to talk about the characters: yes, Nadine is weird, but she could be someone at your school, down your street or someone from your family. And the same could be said about any of the other characters. Screenwriters and directors are obsessed with portraying teenagers in a hyperbolized way: no, popular kids do not always wear the latest runway fashion, heels, wear tons of make up or drive super expensive cars (Bring It On, Clueless…). They don’t host incredible wild parties nor spend their time trying to ruin other people’s lives (Mean Girls, The Duff…).
Oh, but let’s not forget my personal criticism to those people saying Nadine is just plain selfish and should be happy that her brother and best friend are together: maybe if he hadn’t been a complete asshole and had been nicer to his sister who suffers from anxiety and depression, MAYBE she would have been happier. I mean, I’m just saying.
So, in conclusion, The Edge of Seventeen is the movie I had been waiting for for years: Nadine is finally the awkward heroine we had been waiting for, the realistic character that embodies the complexity of millions of lonely teenagers in a much better way than Cady Heron, Gabriella Montez or all these other awkward heroines ever did.