The Edge of Seventeen is a film about a conflicted, broken young soon-to-be woman, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Her character, Nadine Franklin, suffers from depression and anxiety which has never been treated, nor is taken seriously by her family. She deals with the struggle of being a teenage girl, the social expectations placed upon her shoulders, her brother’s popularity, and seemingly perfectness, her best friend, Krista, who falls in love with Nadine’s brother and top of all of that, she’s dealing with the death of her father and her mother’s distance.
Her father is the only one who understood her. Her mother, Mona, believes that she is being difficult, but does not take the time to understand her daughter. She does not notice her daughter’s spiral into depression, she merely puts it down to hormonal teenage behaviour. Too broken by her own grief, she does not account for her own actions, the way she depends on her son, Darian, to fix everything and her cold nature towards Nadine. Understandably, Mona is distraught by her husband’s death, but in doing so, she expects too much of her son and places all the responsibility on him, despite the fact that he’s still in school and ignores the signs of her daughter’s suicidal tendencies.
Nadine feels isolated at school, people used to pick on her as a child and when her only friend leaves her, she is lost. She has no one to turn to – her mother never lets her speak, only concerned with her own worries and feelings, her brother seems to be unreachable, her best friend is gone and the only one that she can confide in, is her sarcastic but somewhat understanding teacher, Mr. Bruner. Hailee captures the essence of teen hood; the awkwardness that comes with growing up, dealing with the stress of studies and exams, the crushes on people that appear mysterious and lofty, the loss of friends and family, the dependency on reassurance and the ever-sinking feeling that one day the world will just forget about you.
However, I noticed a nice, refreshing take on this. She doesn’t try to change who she is. She doesn’t change her weird style to fit in with the popular people. She doesn’t try to get validation from the popular groups, not the girls or the guys. She isn’t humiliated by her peers. In fact, the only way she acts, is by her own accord. Her questionable actions, like stealing her mother’s car or sending an explicit text (by accident!) to the person she has a crush on, are her own, misguided, faults. Her accidents, are her accidents – ones, she might have not meant to do, but they are her own. She saves herself, not someone else coming to save her. She acts as a teenager would – making questionable choices was all my teenage years were made of! In that way, it was very authentic.
In her struggles to find herself, she makes a new friend, Erwin Kim, who believes that just because she is nice to him, means that he can kiss her. A typical teenage boy, who believes that he is entitled to her attention and love. She only wants to be his friend and therefore, he believes that he has been ‘friend zoned’, a term which I hate. When she goes to his house, he hopes to get into her pants and gets angry when she says no, only to act like a jerk for a second and then cover it up, by laughing. Clearly, the film is trying to show the problematic nature of this mindset.
It is this concept of the friend zone. A clearly sexist and disgusting belief, because it imposes the expectation that women should have sex with men, whom they have no interest in, simply because the men were nice to them. That is what Erwin Kim is – the one with the ‘nice guy syndrome’, aka, the man who often complain that they’re left in the friend zone, while the girl they like is with someone else – someone she actually likes.
First of all, this is different from two consenting friends who have BOTH fallen in love, because they both want it and no one is pressured, no one is found guilt-tripping the other into entering a romantic or sexual relationship. Best friends to lovers, is not a case of ‘oh, look at me, I’m the nice guy, who has been waiting forever blah blah’, because the friendship was not formed on the hopes of one day falling in love, or having sex.
The difference is, this ‘nice guy’ concept and friend zone crap, comes from a person using friendship and kindness, as a way of gaining a romantic or sexual relationship. The ‘nice guy’ uses niceness in a self-motivated way, not to actually be genuine, kind and caring, but thinking, ‘if I do this or that, she’ll trust me and fall for me’. Basically, it is used to court women. The ‘nice guy’ hopes to form a romantic relationship, or an increase in sexual activity. However, when the woman, who was nice to him as a FRIEND, which he interpreted as, ‘oh, she likes me, I’m in!’, rejects him and says, ‘you’re my friend’ or something to that effect, he is then resentful and cold, resorting to swearing or bullying her, thus forming a hatred towards women. Which is what Erwin thought was happening.
If he were genuinely nice, he would’ve just been that. He wouldn’t have expected anything else from it. But he saw it as a way to get in her good books – play the ‘nice guy’ card and get her trust, then hopefully sleep with her. As if he was entitled to that, as if he expects that of their friendship, as if he thought if he was nice to her and that she was nice back, that means she’d want him too.
As a feminist and a woman, I have seen this happen. I have seen men grow resentful towards me or other women, because we do not feel the same. They believed that they were entitled to sex and are shocked when they find that it is not the case, despite their supposed ‘niceness’.
The film clearly shows what is problematic with this mindset, because it means:
That women and men cannot be friends because men expect the friendship to lead to sex.
That if a woman says no, it makes her a bitch.
That men have the right to be angry, just because she has ownership of her body and mind, not them.
That demanding sex from a woman is a man’s right, because they feel entitled to that woman’s attention.
That being friend zoned is somehow a concept, because they tried to play the ‘nice guy’, but really were just trying to get her attention to sleep with her.
Clearly, this whole ‘nice guy’ attitude is not real. If a person is nice, they don’t need to say they’re nice, they don’t need to act like they are, or believe that they should be rewarded for their niceness. There is no motive behind their niceness. They just are nice, genuine people.
Like Darian, Nadine’s brother. Who is just that. Not perfect; complex, harsh but kind, understanding but impulsive, loving but angry, pressured and upset, broken and lost, suffering but living. He doesn’t play nice to get Krista to like him. He doesn’t expect anything of her. That’s just who he is – a genuine person. He doesn’t begin a friendship in the hopes of sex and then complain to his male friends about how he’s been friend zoned.
What happens, is what usually happens in love – they both, emphasis on the BOTH, fall for each other. They are somewhat friends because Krista is best friends with Nadine. There is no luring or extra motive. None of that. He is kind, because that’s who he is. He doesn’t think ‘oh look, she’s smiling and starting to like me, because I’m nice’. No, he is just going about his business, cleaning up after his messy friends and she strikes up a conversation.
Because SHE WANTS TO. She could’ve turned away and gone back up to Nadine. But she doesn’t. She chooses to talk to him, and he does, because that’s what humans do, they talk. It wasn’t a game, it wasn’t him playing up to it. He does not demand anything from her. He even says this to her, saying he likes her. But if she doesn’t, they can just forget anything happened.
Their relationship is not one sided.
They fall in love. He’s not doing it to get something out of it. He’s not doing it to boast about it and show of. He’s just letting himself fall and she happens to fall with him. If she hadn’t, and she’d turned him down, he wouldn’t have been angry or resentful. Maybe, hurt and embarrassed, but he wouldn’t demand her attention and feel as though he had a right to her body. He would have backed off. And continued to have been her friend, or just the brother of her best friend. Erwin continues with his mindset, however, and even makes a film out of it. I didn’t like that Nadine accepted his problematic behaviour.
It is a thought provoking film, one that had me crying and laughing, one that I related to all too well, one that had me fearing for Nadine’s safety, especially when she was out with Nick, the person she has a crush on. When she sends him an explicit text by accident (which she probably should have explained), he agrees to meet up with her, he believes for sex.
What she believed, was a date, perhaps thinking he thought, as he said, she was ‘sweet’, and that he actually noticed her for her, not for who she was or how she looked, he thought was just a hook up. Hooking up is fine, as long as, it is safe, sane, legal and the people involved are consenting.
And when she said she wanted to get to know him, he was angry at her for not wanting to have sex. Say, she had wanted to have sex and that was all this was, but changed her mind, doesn’t she have a right to do that? She wanted friendship, intimacy, potential love, not just a hook up.
It’s her body. Not his.
Clearly, this scene is meant to showcase the wrongness, worrying and frightening outcome that could potentially happen. Luckily, Nadine pushes him off and runs away to safety. Away from him.
If someone sent me an explicit text message, someone I didn’t know, I’d ignore it. If someone I somewhat knew sent me that message, I would ask if they were okay, if they meant to send that, if they were drunk. He doesn’t.
He accepts this text from her, from a stranger, which baffled me.
Would you seriously accept a text message like that, from someone you’ve spoken to once? Wouldn’t receiving a text message like that from someone you don’t know, freak you out?
In the end, you are left with the hope, that aside from all the problematic things that have happened and will continue to happen it seems, that Nadine will one day be happy.