• by Wes Singleton

The Edge of Seventeen, B

Rated R, 100 minutes

Oh, the angst-filled life of a teenage girl. The entertaining, witty new teen dramedy "The Edge of Seventeen" taps into those tensions, and is grounded well by a breakout turn from its lead actress. "Seventeen," directed and written by Kelly Fremon Craig in her feature film debut, it's nothing rapturously new but it does have a nice John Hughes-feel to it.

The life of high school junior Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is already awkward when her all-star older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Nadine now feels more alone than ever, until the unexpected friendship with an awkward thoughtful boy named Irwin (Hayden Szeto) along with unconventional advice from one of her teachers (Woody Harrelson) gives her a glimmer of hope that things might not be so terrible after all.

The well-acted, offbeat and mostly touching "The Edge of Seventeen" is one of the most original teen films of late, peppered with sweet, funny and tense moments, which could aptly describe the normal day of a teenager. It helps that comes with a smart performance from its charming lead actress, Steinfeld, one of the most underrated young ingenue's of late, and who hasn't been used to good effect since her Oscar-nominated turn in 2010's "True Grit."

Nadine experiences death, loss, breakups, love and crushes that can crush you at the wrong time and in all the wrong places, especially when her best friend (Richardson) falls for her all-too perfect brother (Jenner), who is the very antithesis of Nadine in every moment, and not helped in the least by her unsteady mother (Kyra Sedgewick). These are things that all teens experience, but director and writer Craig, in an auspicious debut, breathes some fresh life and appeal into it, even if it's essentially a modern day John Hughes retread.

Harrelson's teacher steals many scenes and has some of the film's wittier, more memorable lines: "have you thought that maybe no one likes you?" (and more often than not, he's usually right). "Seventeen" works best when it focuses on her school life, and her sweet romance with a nerdy but thoughtful boy in her class (well-played with awkward appeal by newcomer Szeto) is among the film's highlights, more effective than some of the lackluster home scenes and a rather shrill Sedgewick as her mother.

Given that its R rating (due to some salty language), "The Edge of Seventeen" may also struggle in finding some of its target audience, but I have no doubt they'll find a way in, sneaking in or begging their parents to take them, and they should, as it's a smart, spry and worthy teen film.

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