“If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life,” a character deadpans in “Dazed and Confused,” “remind me to kill myself.” It’s a sentiment that the heroine of “The Edge of Seventeen,” might share, trapped as she is in an excruciatingly awkward adolescence. We meet Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) in a flashback as a petulant seven-year-old refusing to get out of the car and go into school, and as the years progress, things only get worse, although she does make a best friend (Haley Lu Richardson), with whom she’s inseparable – at least up until the film begins. Then suddenly, things fall apart. Or more accurately, they explode.
So what is the cataclysmic event that rocks Hailee’s world? Well, actually there’s two. First, her father dies in an accident leaving the family: Hailee, her golden boy older brother (Blake Jenner) and her flaky mother (Kyra Sedgwick) coping shakily a couple years later. Second, after Hailee’s mom meets a guy online and departs for an impromptu weekend with him (are there really single parents who do that?), Blake winds up hooking up with Hailee’s best friend. Even worse, it isn’t just a one night stand; they actually start dating. This triggers all sorts of unresolved issues, for which Hailee has just her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) to complain to. Woody, playing a real-life Haymitch who is still convinced the world isn’t that great a place (even without the Hunger Games), is basically an adult version of Hailee’s character, but that also means that he’s able to relate to her (albeit in a caustic way) and help her work through some of her problems. But even those occasionally leave him scratching his head, such as when Hailee posts an unfortunate message on Facebook, and he can only suggest she be careful of run-on sentences in the future. Luckily, as tends to happen in these movies with odd frequency, there is a backup guy (Hayden Szeto) waiting in the wings to console Hailee – after she’s learned some hard life lessons.
While watching “The Edge of Seventeen,” I started thinking about John Hughes’ movies for two reasons. One is that this film does a similarly perceptive job of capturing the pains and triumphs of those years. Two, I wondered why the filmmakers chose to use the title of a Stevie Nicks’ song yet not feature the song in the soundtrack? I’m not sure how they could have made it fit, but it made me remember how well Hughes incorporated the title songs that lent their names to films like “Pretty in Pink,” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” But that’s nitpicking because “The Edge of Seventeen” is excellent with or without a retro tune of the same name. And although “The Edge of Seventeen,” does have a few minor problems (such as the unfortunate chemistry between Hailee and Blake), it is a film which deserves (like many of the Hughes’ teen ones) to be watched over and over. Even people twice the characters’ ages (for example, me) can always use a reminder that 1) it’s not always about you, and 2) everyone has problems. Some are just better at pretending otherwise.