We’ve probably all had a high school teacher like Woody Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner in “The Edge of Seventeen,” a new coming-of-age movie that opens Friday.
The history teacher is world-weary, smart-alecky, and a bit mysterious. He’s the sounding board and confidante for the main character of this smart movie, Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine. She’s a junior who wears funky (in an outdated way) clothes but seems outside the circle of the cool girls at her suburban high school.
Nadine lost her doting father when she was young, and now she is traversing her high school years with a misunderstanding and overly strict mother (Kyra Sedgwick) and a stud of a handsome brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), who starts dating Nadine’s best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson), which seriously damages the girls’ friendship. Nadine is also jealous that everything seems to go perfectly for her brother.
Meanwhile, Nadine has the hots for a bad-boy type, Nick (Alexander Calvert), who works at Petland and shows some interest after Nadine accidentally sends a much-too-explicit text expressing her desires. And Nadine is pursued by a shy, nerdy-type named Erwin (Hayden Szeto), who sits next to her in Mr. Bruner’s class.
Nadine frequently interrupts Mr. Bruner’s lunch period, which he spends his “32-fleeting minutes of happiness” eating in his classroom while reading a book, to discuss her personal, family, and romantic problems. Mr. Bruner listens, but then might tell her, as he does when Nadine shows him her explicit text to Nick, that she has a problem with run-on sentences.
“The Edge of Seventeen” might strike viewers of a certain age as an updated “Sixteen Candles” or “Pretty in Pink,” but we’ve come a long way from those 1980s John Hughes movies with Molly Ringwald as the angst-ridden high school girl. (“Edge” is rated R for language and sexual situations. The following trailer includes some mildly inappropriate language, but is far cleaner than some other versions.)
The director is Kelly Fremon Craig, who shows these teens as social media-savvy without going too crazy with text or tweet bubbles popping up all over.
It perhaps goes without saying that the film does not make much of a statement about the modern U.S. high school—it is simply reflecting the times, just as John Hughes’s high school movies evoked their era.
Back to Mr. Bruner. The teacher is a friend to Nadine—nothing inappropriate, mind you—and really comes through when she needs him most. We don’t see much of him teaching his classes in the traditional sense, but we can tell that, at least on one level, he’s deserving of a Teacher of the Year award.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.