I often get infuriated by people that say writing a good female character is easy, because all you have to do is write a good male character and then change the name.
I think most people that say this are people who aren’t actually writers. In reality there are differences between writing the genders and difficulties do occasionally arise when trying to write a gender that you don’t belong to. Because of this I often see unrealistic portrayals of women that feel like it was written by a man that thought this was how women behaved (Looking at you, Tarantino!)
In the case of The Edge of Seventeen however, Writer/Director Kelly Fremon Craig has done an amazing job in bringing to life the trials and tribulations that an average American teenager might have to suffer through.
17-year old Nadine Franklin (Hailee Steinfeld) dramatically enters the classroom of her history teacher (Woody Harrelson) and announces that she’s going to kill herself.
Flashing back to Nadine at age 3, we learn about the struggles she’s undertaken in the pursuit of making friends. Tragedy, jealously, hate and love all circle around her over the next 14 years, until we arrive at the neurotic, depressed and slightly horny girl that is 17 year old Nadine.
One of the most fascinating things I took away from this movie was that, unlike many others films of the genre/subject, Craig has managed to craft a story without many of the cliches you would expect. There are no bullies, no unnecessarily cruel teachers or cliques, and the film doesn’t finish with a big end of year prom. Because of this, it becomes much easier to invest in Nadine’s unusual journey through the complex affair that is teenage-hood.
But investing is not the same as emphasising as Craig makes the interesting choice of writing Nadine as a rather unlikable person. It takes a certain amount of courage to portray your lead character as a borderline villain, but fortunately Steinfeld is able to rise to the challenge magnificently. Her ability to shift from fragile scared girl to revenge driven fury is what makes her stand above compatriots her age and continues to show exactly why she was nominated for an Oscar at age 14.
While her performance can easily stand alongside other great teen portrayals such as Veronica from Heathers or Cady from Mean Girls; it’s not given in a vacuum as the interactions she has with the supporting cast are what help elevate this film into one of the best comedies of 2016.
While said performances from Haley Lu Richardson, Hayden Szeto and Blake Jenner are wonderful, it’s Steinfeld’s scenes with Woody Harrelson that steal the show. The biting wit and snappy rapport bring to mind a Joss Whedon level of dialogue and help cement The Edge of Seventeen as one of the best debut films of the 21st century.