If you’ve forgotten the agony and sheer hormone-soaked awfulness of being 16 years old, watch this teen comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld (the newbie Barden Bella in ‘Pitch Perfect 2’). Steinfeld is awkward Nadine, whose sarky put-downs and sharp edges mask a broken heart. Her dad died a few years ago and her only friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), has just starting dating Nadine’s popular older brother (Blake Jenner). Her response is mean-girl fury: ‘What if I gave your dad a hand job?’ Like most teenagers, Nadine is her own worst enemy. She gives Krista an ultimatum: him or me.
You can see ghosts of teen movies past in ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ (specifically movies by Cameron Crowe and John Hughes). First-time director Kelly Fremon Craig, working from her own smart script (with a handful of try-hard wrong notes), reminds us how superior and cruel teenagers can be. Nadine thinks she understands the pathetic grown-ups around her, ridiculing her history teacher (Woody Harrelson, at his most Woody Harrelson-ish) for being a low-paid state employee. And this is a guy trying to help her.
Steinfeld, though, has the knack of being able to play Nadine at peak asshole with huge sympathy, as she slowly learns that nobody’s got the secret to being happy – everyone feels alone and empty. As a memorable teen character, she’s almost up there with Cher from ‘Clueless’ or Ellen Page’s Juno. Watch and wince.