Just as horror and action movies live or die by their villains, good teen comedies depend on how well developed their adult characters are, how well they counter all those shook-up hormones. Kelly Fremon Craig's debut feature The Edge of Seventeen cuts sharply when its two fully drawn adults talk a turbulent teen girl off the ledge. It's everything else that's… less than.
Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld) talks to herself. A lot. She's a self-absorbed, self-professed awkward outcast dressed in a combo of vintage finds and Forever 21 ensembles. Her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is a self-assured rainbow of optimism who keeps Nadine afloat, indulging Nadine's irrational hatred of sporty, popular brother Darian (Blake Jenner).
Little Nadine doesn't want to get out of the car at school, and her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), tries to force her out before dad (Eric Keenleyside) cools them all down. But the funny moments come from the supporting characters of the cool teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), Mona, and a stuttering, incredibly endearing admirer of Nadine's, Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto).
These three are standouts. Harrelson and Sedgwick, the kind of performers who up the game of anyone lucky enough to be in their vicinity, and Steinfeld benefits the most from their actor generosity, shining in their presence. Throughout, I kept wondering what Nadine's passions were, because she seemed to have none outside of crushing hard on one handsome, moody senior student. She's not good at anything, and doesn't seem to try. There's so much talking, but not a lot of doing, which is why those scenes with the adults spark such life -- they do things.