Nutshell: Forget what you’ve heard about this film, and how it’s sooooo close to teen comedies of the 80s and 90s. It’s not. There are laughs, sure. But Seventeen is darker, and way more real. Which is a good thing. Lightning smart, and uncomfortable as hell to watch, for anyone who even vaguely remembers what it’s like to grow up. Grade: A
“I just had the worst thought. I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life by myself.”
Story: Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has one shining star in her universe of suck; her best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). But when Krista hooks up with Nadine’s jerk-jock older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), things go from a light in the darkness, to pitch black.
Genre I’d put it in: Emo John Hughes
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Orignal: Original
Gotta say: I wanted to hate this movie. It’s uncomfortable, disconcerting, and paints a bleak, unsettling picture of teenage life for much of its run time. But that’s just what teenage life really is. Unless you were the Cordelia Chase or Regina George of your high school, life wasn’t a bowl of cherries. It was either a suckfest of the highest order, or a place where you marked time until you could really shine once you hit 18. Or so we all hoped. Seventeen takes all of the uncomfortable discord between cliques, and besties, and really digs in. Not to say that this film is a bummer, it’s just one that doesn’t mind uncovering the truth between all the teen comedy cliches.
Director Kelly Fremon Craig does excellent work in her first turn behind the camera. And as screenwriter, she’s obviously either cribbed from her teen diaries, or has an uncanny knack for getting to the heart of teen angst without sugarcoating it, or making it too emo. Yes, Steinfeld’s Nadine almost seems to luxuriate in her sturm und drang, but there’s real hurt and confusion behind it. Richardson and Jenner are also given layered characters, and do an excellent job of channeling the fear and frustration that can come from being a part of the “It Crowd”. Then there’s Hayden Szeto as RTVF nerd Erwin, who seems like the only person Nadine knows who has at least a tenuous grasp of what he wants out of life.
My only complaint with the story? I wanted more of Woody Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner, the curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold. But maybe that’d be overkill.
As the story plays out, Nadine has to come to terms with the perils of social media – always be aware of the Send button! – and try to figure out how to get over her fear of change. That these teens respond to situations like teenagers rather than therapy-saturated adults is a refreshing change of pace to the usual too-smart-for-reality characterizations so often found in film. Not that these teens don’t make with the quips. Oh, they do. But they also pout like it’s their job, pointlessly lash out, make hideous mistakes any grown-ass adult would see coming, and freak the hell out. So while I was uncomfortable as hell watching much of this film, I can’t deny that I respect the hell out of it. File this one somewhere between Diary of a Teenage Girl, Easy A, and Juno.
#Protip: Maybe see this with your own BFF. You’ll need to hug it out after.