My generation of smartphone-wielding, social-media-obsessed teenagers finally has our own teen movie — and fortunately, it is a good one. Authentic and hilarious, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN manages to deliver a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to the outdated stereotypes and tropes of the genre.

The film spotlights Nadine, a high school junior who lives with her frazzled mother and older brother Darian. She’s rebellious, foul-mouthed, and sardonic, and, like most teens, she struggles to find her place in the world. After losing her kind and understanding father several years earlier, she is devoid of any ambition and plods through adolescence with only her friend Krista by her side. To Nadine’s horror, Krista starts dating Darian, ending their friendship and setting off the course of events that leave our protagonist a little bit wiser and more understanding.

Hailee Steinfeld’s stellar performance as the troubled, complex Nadine and the funny, natural-sounding dialogue (a far cry from 2007’s over-written JUNO) are reason enough to enjoy the film. What sets THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN apart and further elevates its authenticity, though, is its complete subversion of stereotypes. Director and screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig wastes no screen time on tyrannical cheerleaders, dumb jocks, geeky losers, or straight-faced goths. Instead, she introduces us to a handful of characters and slowly reveals that they are nothing like their first impressions.

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In the beginning of the movie, Nadine, like many people, feels like she already knows everything about the world. After she fights with Krista over her romantic involvement with Darian, she doesn’t have anyone to sit with during lunch, so she heads to her teacher’s room. To explain to Mr. Bruner why she is there, she complains about her generation: “They literally have a seizure if you take their phone away for a second. They can’t communicate without emojis…I am an old soul. I like old music and old movies and even old people…I have nothing in common with the people out there.”

Her feeling of superiority clouds her judgment, encouraging her to believe she is always right and that it is everyone around her who is ruining her life. This causes her to be furious at her oldest and only friend Krista, to misunderstand her seemingly perfect and cocky brother, and to think that everyone is against her. Mr. Bruner gently begins the process of correcting her worldview by responding, “Maybe…nobody likes you.”

Nadine proceeds to yell at him, calling him a “dick” and a “shitty teacher” who is “always in a shitty mood” and “puts zero effort into everything [he does]” and “[doesn’t] have any hair.” Then she taunts him about his baldness and small salary. Extrapolating from these harsh observations, she tells him that he must not have a wife. Nadine is adamant about sticking with her first impressions and not getting to know people on a deeper level, which would prove her assumptions wrong. Mr. Bruner doesn’t bother to correct Nadine during their half-hostile, half-humorous conversation, encouraging the audience to abide by her shallow assumptions. When she later discovers that he is happily married, with a cute baby to boot, we are also taken by surprise. By placing the audience in the dark with Nadine, screenwriter Kelly Fremon Craig forces us to experience the harm and futility of stereotypes first-hand.

Similarly, we meet Erwin Kim, a Korean-American who defies our and Nadine’s expectations. As Nadine’s relationship with Krista peters out in the first half of the film, Nadine starts talking to Erwin, who has an obvious crush on her. Erwin is Asian, but he’s not a suit-wearing math genius, a glasses-wearing model minority student, or a violin prodigy controlled by strict parents. He is tall, speaks perfect English, wears normal clothes, and boasts a pretty ripped body. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it is.

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Hollywood has a history of portraying Asians as passive and quiet, relegating them to one-dimensional background roles. Erwin may be awkward and soft-spoken, but this makes him a likable and endearing scene-stealer — certainly not passive and quiet. In fact, he is the one who initiates the first conversation with Nadine and, in a realistically awkward scene, asks her out to Tim’s Fun Park. Nadine quickly suggests going with a group, and Erwin reluctantly agrees.

They end up going as a pair, and while they ride the Ferris wheel, Nadine attempts to describe Erwin’s parents for fun: “Let’s see if I can guess…Your mom gets on you about your grades and practicing your instrument. She makes a great egg sandwich after years of owning a small restaurant downtown. Your dad — quiet, gruff, never really says ‘I love you,’ but with his stoic presence, you know he cares.”

Like Mr. Bruner, Erwin doesn’t correct Nadine. She quickly adds, “I’m really hoping none of that was racist, but now I’m thinking all of it was.” This scene is quick, but it’s an important one. Being the main character, Nadine, to some extent, represents the viewer. We are all prone to snap judgments, first impressions, and stereotypes that get repeated over and over, whether they are accurate or not. Her blurting out this conjecture shows how common and easy it is to generalize entire populations with relative confidence. Her implied question over whether or not her statement would classify as racist (to which Erwin, for reasons I’m not yet sure of, replies, “No, you’re good”) also reflects our harmless, non-offending intentions, which can actually be a barrier to truly getting to know others. In addition, Nadine’s verbalization of Asian stereotypes reminds us of how prevalent, unrepresentative, and outdated they continue to be.

We later find out that, actually, his parents are rich, and they’re staying in Korea for three months. Erwin has their luxurious home all to himself. (“Jeez, Erwin, I would’ve been nicer to you,” says Nadine when she visits his house for the first time.) And Erwin doesn’t play an instrument or mention his grades — he is an artist, and at the end of the movie Nadine attends a showing of his animated film.

I cannot recall a single other film that I’ve seen where an Asian-American supporting character is given a background as complex and non-stereotypical as Erwin’s. As Nadine begins to see how wonderful he is and starts to like him back, the audience also sees that they cannot predict Erwin’s personality and hobbies based on his race. A large part of Nadine’s coming-of-age is realizing she is not as good at reading people as she thought she was. Her change in view is relayed to the audience, hopefully encouraging them to rethink their perception of others as well.

Nadine also transforms her view of her older brother during the course of the film. Darian is chiseled, handsome, and popular, so Nadine and the audience are led to assume that he’s just another arrogant jock. She says, “There are two types of people in the world: the people who radiate confidence and naturally excel at life” — the camera cuts to Darian, surrounded by his friends — “and the people who hope all those people die in a big explosion.”

Nadine resents him for having it all. Still self-absorbed and knowing her brother could get any other girl he wanted, Nadine thinks he started dating Krista just to spite her. During her fight with Krista, Nadine blurts out that she is sure Darian will dump her for someone hotter. She also confronts Darian at home, accusing him of not loving his own sister and punctuating it by calling him an “asshole.” Not once does she try to see things from his perspective.

The film sides with Darian: besides fancying Krista, he doesn’t do anything questionable or morally wrong. At the start, the audience is inclined to think he is the bad guy based on the snide comments Nadine makes about him. But it becomes clear that he works hard to keep the family running in the absence of his father and is not trying to hurt his little sister. Nadine has wrongly assumed his intentions.

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A subplot in the movie revolves around her crush on Nick, a mysterious and brooding bad boy, to whom she accidentally sends an extremely specific and explicit text message. Like she did with Mr. Bruner and Erwin, Nadine confidently judges Nick on the basis of his appearance. She types, “I feel like I already know you, and I just want to be with you” (which is by far the tamest part of the text). But when they finally go on a date, Nadine realizes their plans for the night are drastically different — she wants to slowly get to know him better, while he wants to have sex. In contrast to her relationship with Mr. Bruner, Nadine realizes the danger in overestimating people she barely knows. Nadine was able to laugh off her judgment of Erwin and get away with cussing out Mr. Bruner and her brother, but here she finally faces a major consequence of her fatal flaw: she almost lost her virginity when she was not ready. As she runs away crying, we see her inability and unwillingness to see past people’s facades begin to crack.

During the climax of the movie, Nadine has ended her failed date with Nick and is waiting in Mr. Bruner’s house to be picked up. Instead of her mom, Darian and Krista pull up in his car, and Nadine, still raging about their relationship, angrily refuses to go home with them and runs back into the house. Darian follows, and finally breaks it to her: “You’re right…My life is fucking incredible. I love spending another night talking Mom off the ledge. I love only applying to schools nearby because who knows what’ll happen in that house if I’m not around to fix it. And I love that the one person who makes me feel like I can take a fucking breath, I can’t have without completely destroying you.”

That’s the final awakening for Nadine. Mr. Bruner drives her home, and she apologizes to Darian. After she realizes all of her assumptions were wrong and steps off her pedestal, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN hints that she will start to listen and empathize with others. She will repair her relationships with Krista and Darian, strengthen the one with Mr. Bruner, completely cut off the one with Nick, and pursue a new one with Erwin.

Teen comedies are especially prone to stereotyping and generalizing. By skirting these, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN gives us unique, interesting, and realistic characters. It proves that no matter how hard we look at someone, we can’t predict what’s underneath — and that there need to more movies like this.

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