The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Viewed February 3rd

An Oregon high school girl comes of age in this teen dramedy. 

James L. Brooks is credited as both producer and "directing mentor" of this film written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig. And like a James L. Brooks film, The Edge of Seventeen is all about taking a character type or scene scenario and complicating it, ironing out cliches to the point that things feel real to audiences. The danger in this approach is that for all of this seeming respect for the characters, they may end up feeling like vessels for the director to really be the star, to communicate to audiences that he/she is the type of complicated, interesting person who would respect their characters in this way.

The Edge of Seventeen doesn't fully go down that path, but it flirts with it, so that as the film goes on, every scene feels like a game in which the flow of the story becomes a bit lost in making sure everything is sufficiently complex. 

But The Edge of Seventeen is also both better and worse than that. It's a movie that did take me back to high school in a way I appreciated and that, I suspect, will feel fresh to a certain type of actual high school student. Meanwhile, the overall arc of the story is itself never really made complicated by the filmmakers. The individual scenes and character moments get the James L. Brooks treatment, but the plot is so by-the-book that it shifts the film away from "interesting American indie film" to "banal commercial teen movie" in a way that struck me as disappointing.

A final note is that The Edge of Seventeen is avowedly old school in its reluctance to deal with non-stop social media/phone use among Generation Z. The way it gets around this is to have the protagonist complain about how her generation is dominated by addiction to their phones. This works in terms of figuring out how to shoot scenes using traditional cinematic storytelling methods, but one wonders if the whole enterprise would have benefited from jumping more headfirst into the digital landscape. After all, the most successful single moment in the film deals with a Facebook Messenger mishap.