Hailee Steinfeld became a child star to watch in “True Grit,” and delivers on that promise in “The Edge of Seventeen,” a coming-of-age movie that owes a debt to John Hughes films but establishes its own voice for the selfie-and-sexting generation.
There’s nothing particularly distinctive or new about writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s take (working with veteran producer James L. Brooks) on one very surly, confused young girl. Steinfeld’s Nadine lost her father at a young age and has mostly been making life hell ever since for her frazzled mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and older brother (Blake Jenner), who is perfect and popular in a way Nadine finds utterly revolting.
Nadine has survived her teens thanks largely to her closeness with one friend (Haley Lu Richardson), whose crush on her brother suddenly complicates their relationship. Much of Nadine’s angst, meanwhile, is unloaded in protracted, breathless bursts on a teacher (a very funny Woody Harrelson) who does all he can to create the appearance of being completely unconcerned, but who obviously cares more than he lets on.
Craig hasn’t exactly sought to reinvent the wheel. Indeed, the basic description and tone in some respects echoes the 1990s TV drama “My So-Called Life,” as Nadine lashes out in predictable ways. Those include pining for a mysterious, slightly dangerous classmate and befriending a nerdy one (Hayden Szeto), while, in her self-absorption, ignoring his obvious if awkwardly expressed feelings for her.
Still, it’s all played sensitively enough, as Steinfeld — a 19-year-old actress clearly on the edge of stardom — conveys her character’s emotional tumult and self-pity without becoming as annoying as teenage protagonists often are, or as Harrelson’s teacher likes to pretend that she is.
“Maybe nobody likes you,” he deadpans when Nadine barges into his classroom and starts complaining.
“Edge of Seventeen” might wind up as a mere footnote to Steinfeld’s career, but it represents a significant transition from her debut to its next phase. Beyond proving that she was no one-trick pony, if this sort of work continues, one suspects a lot of people are going to like her.
“The Edge of Seventeen” premieres November 18. It’s rated R.