Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine Byrd (Hailee Steinfeld), who is already at peak awkwardness when her all-star older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until an unexpected friendship with a thoughtful teen named Erwin (Hayden Szeto) gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.
Through the years, there have been countless coming of age films. Their themes have stood the test of time as they keep being relatable to viewers. These films live or die on the relatability of their characters because it is easy not not care about these films when we don’t see ourselves in the characters. This one in particular was interesting as any film led by an outspoken, young woman gives off Juno-ish vibes and the Hailee Steinfeld/Woody Harrelson combination from the trailers was great.
The film may appear to be a comedy on the surface, it still is, but also has dramatic elements as well. One must have to suspend belief that Hailee Steinfeld would ever have a hard life but that’s not too hard to do. Nadine (Steinfeld) has not had an easy life ever since losing her father Tom (Eric Keenleyside), who she was close to, at a young age. This left her alone with her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), who she did not get along with, and her brother Darian (Jenner), who her mom was always closer to than her. After losing the only person who was on her side, she becomes best friends with a girl named Krista (Richardson).
Now an awkward teen, she has to deal with the stresses of high school along with her superstar brother. Things start to go downhill for her once her only best friend Krista starts to date Darian. She decided to give Krista an ultimatum, forcing her to choose between her and him. When she decides not to choose, Nadine ends their friendship. Feeling crushed and alone, she becomes lost until she befriends another awkward teen named Erwin (Szeto) who showed her that it wasn’t so bad. It took a while to get there though as Nadine’s erratic behavior causes alienates her from her hard-working mother and Erwin, who obviously had a crush on her but couldn’t tell her due to his social awkwardness.
Several years later, the Byrd family still hasn’t gotten over Tom’s death. Mona tries to hold everything the family together but struggles as she has to deal with Nadine’s rebellious nature. She often had to turn to Darian to help her but this caused a considerable strain on him as he felt responsible for her and he felt that it was holding him back in life. Because of the effect on his relationship with Krista on Nadine, Darian felt conflicted as he had to choose between his sister and the only person who made him happy and understood him. With the anniversary of Tom’s death approaching, the mood becomes more tense.
Looking for assistance, she turns a history teacher named Mr. Bruner (Harrelson). Bruner is laid back and approaches Nadine in a different way by pushing back against her through a combination of insults and tough love. He appears combative towards her, but he’s just trying to break through her hardened exterior shell. Over time, he becomes endeared with her as they begin to grow closer. Their exchanges are the best part of the film. Nadine bombards him with her problems which leads them to argue but they eventually come together as their chemistry elevated these scenes which consistently got laughs.
Nadine is an entertaining character to watch as her real and grounded nature made her very relatable as did her problems. Some may find her unlikable because of her behavior as she comes off as self-centered and overly dramatic. She was the cause of most of her own problems as she tried hard to fit in but did not have the ability to do so. Of course she would get better over time and that journey was compelling to watch. In terms of teen coming of age films, this one wasn’t overly original but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution. What sets it apart is its writing and its performances.
The characters were all real with depth and all had their own problems. Since the focus was on Nadine, the film did not really explore these characters, leaving some unanswered questions. Situations weren’t contrived and felt very authentic (as it would remind me of my past). The dialogue was smart and reflected the film’s authenticity, making character interactions fun to watch with the Nadine and Bruner interactions being the best example of this. But the dialogue is just as good as the actors delivering it and they do not disappoint here.
Steinfeld is excellent as Nadine as she singlehandedly carries the film from start to finish. Her charisma and likability make her exciting to watch. Her performances showed a lot of range, showing her funny side with her comedic timing in expertly delivering her witty dialogue and showing her vulnerability during the film’s more dramatic moments. Harrelson was just as excellent as Mr. Bruner, acting as the perfect almost sarcastic adult figure who was often on Steinfeld’s level and stole scenes with his screen presence. His chemistry with Steinfeld made the film. It could have been just the two of them and it would still work.
Sedgwick was believable as a mother trying to hold it all together. Her struggle was real and her character development, albeit predictable, was still good to watch. Szeto was a surprise as Erwin. He was very relatable while tremendous at portraying his awkwardness. His chemistry with Steinfeld came close to Harrelson and made them fun to watch together.
Overall, this was a great, relatable coming of age comedy, oozing in smarts and authenticity and led by the performances of Steinfeld and Harrelson.