Roughly three-quarters through The Edge of Seventeen, I had a vivid flashback. I was standing in my basement, reliving the horrible moment I decided to tell my ninth-grade crush I liked him. He didn’t reciprocate, and I spent much of the Halloween party I had organized huddled in the half-renovated bathroom crying. Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine Byrd has a similar moment in the coming-of-age dramedy directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, albeit updated for the social media age. In the middle of a major teenage meltdown, Nadine decides to pour her heart out to her bad-boy crush, Nick, whom she’s been mildly stalking on Facebook. She composes a pretty graphic message about all the things she’d like to do to him, all of which she means to delete — until she accidentally sends it instead. Miraculously, Nick responds with those four little words every teenage girl wants to hear: “You are so cute.” He then asks Nadine if she wants to hang out that night. Nadine is thrilled, and so was I. For a second, I was back in high school, wishing, hoping, that it would all be okay. Maybe he’ll actually like her, I thought. Maybe this stoner bad boy will actually turn out to be a Kafka-quoting genius with a heart of gold who will explain to this very sad teenage girl that it’s dangerous to go around sending explicit sexual messages to strange men on Facebook, before taking her out to a movie and holding her hand. Obviously, this isn’t what happens. In the real world, assholes who skip class to smoke up with their friends are just that — assholes. When Nick realizes he isn’t about to get the blow job he was promised, he makes it very clear to Nadine that he wants nothing to do with her. She’s crushed — and so was I. Not so much for her, but for me — for my teenage self. It’s easy to dismiss this rejection as a small setback, the kind everyone experiences in high school. But that’s not fair.
Being a teenager is to live out every up and down as if your entire life depends on it.
Being a teenager sucks. We must be programmed to forget how badly, because it hit me in full force as I watched Nadine obsess over every single dramatic detail of her high school life. Some things, like her father’s death — which she witnesses — and her mother’s mental-health issues, are true problems. Others, like the demise of her first crush or the realization that her best friend now seems more interested in dating her older brother, seem trivial — until you remember that, when you're a teenage girl, your best friend is everything. A lot has been written about female friendships, but nothing drives the point home like seeing Nadine’s face when she realizes that the girl she’s poured her soul out to since the first day of grade school has slept with her quarterback older brother (a very broad-shouldered Blake Jenner). Krista (Haley Luu Richardson), of course, doesn’t quite understand why Nadine is making such a big deal about things. She’s not abandoning her — she’s just dating. And as a viewer who is no longer 17, I would tend to agree. Chill out, Nadine, this is not the end of the world. Except to her, it is. Being a teenager is to live out every up and down as if your entire life depends on it. It’s devastating. That’s what’s great about this movie. It truly makes you remember what it’s like to be 17 again — not just the fun, first-kiss parts or the harsh “burn books,” but the ooey-gooey feely parts, too. Being a teenager is hard, sad work. (Not so relatable, but no less touching, is Nadine's relationship with her ornery teacher and mentor, played by Woody Harrelson.) Every decade has its cult teen movie. Thirty-two years ago, it was Sixteen Candles. For the ’90s, it was Clueless. The early aughts had Mean Girls. Now we have The Edge of Seventeen. Chin up, girls. It only gets better from here.