When Kelly Fremon Craig first brought her coming-of-age comedy The Edge of Seventeen to legendary producer James L. Brooks, he told her it needed work, but also that it was something special.
Returning six months later, she was armed with a new screenplay — born of listening to dozens of teens with a careful ear to the way they spoke.
“Kelly exploded as a writer in the second draft,” said Brooks, producer of TV’s The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi and The Tracey Ullman Show as well as movies like Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Broadcast News.
“I think that was the fun part of it for me. I mean just the research — and the way it went through her and her sense of mission and reaching her sense of mission — was really breath-taking,” he told CBC News in September, when The Edge of Seventeen closed the Toronto International Film Festival.
Fremon Craig’s tenacity is evident in her new teen comedy, which highlights the awkwardness and turmoil of teen life with dialogue that rings true.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld and hitting theatres Friday, The Edge of Seventeen manages to be funny — with characters who actually sound like real teenagers — without becoming too witty for its own good.
Movies like The Breakfast Club and Say Anything were formative for debut filmmaker Fremon Craig, who says “it was a relief to see myself reflected in them.”
“To try to give that to this generation,” she said.
“That was always the mission statement at the centre of it. Are we being real? Are we being as honest as we can? In every detail?”
From stumbling exchanges to sexting
Edge of Seventeen does seem real and relatable — from central character Nadine’s awkward jokes that aren’t actually funny, her fraught social encounters and stumbling verbal exchanges and just the fun and intensity of adolescence. The movie explores the real kinds of situations today’s teens find themselves caught up in: refusing to speak to your best friend because of whom she’s dating, for instance, or sexting a boy — and regretting it.
“You know it’s a good script when you feel like you’re reading someone’s diary,” said Blake Jenner, one of the film’s young stars.
Steinfeld portrays Nadine, a massively charming, but sullen, socially awkward and often quite nasty teenager. Her journey involves learning to deal with some very real pain in her life, how to value other people, to be a good person and, sometimes, to just get over herself.
Steinfeld, who first shot to fame with her Oscar-nominated role in True Grit, is surrounded by a strong cast that includes Woody Harrelson as Nadine’s sarcastic but supportive teacher, Glee‘s Jenner as her brother, Kyra Sedgwick as her mom and Haley Lu Richardson as her best (and only) friend.
‘So many layers’
”This character is so real and there’s so much that she’s gone through that I have too,” said Steinfeld, now also known for her turn in Pitch Perfect 2 and her pop single, Love Myself.
“People don’t necessarily think I did, because I didn’t go to a traditional high school. But I very much experienced what she has and to be able to express that through her was pretty liberating,” said the 19-year-old performer.
“There’s something about the fact that she knows who she is, as well as still figuring out who she is,” Steinfeld said.
“She’s multi-faceted and that’s what I love about her. There’s so many layers.”