The Edge of Seventeen changes drastically from its initial script entitled “Besties.” In the screenplay, an overly self-conscious girl’s best and only friend hooks up with her brother, testing their friendship like never before. And while both the film and screenplay have the same conceit, the film varies wildly in its approach. Here we’re looking at the optioned screenplay instead of the shooting script, so we’ll be focusing primarily on the differences between this draft and the finished film as well as how the issues in the screenplay are eventually ironed out. The Edge of Seventeen was made for a budget of $9 million and served as writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut. The film premiered at TIFF in 2016 and was theatrically released that November by STXfilms. Upon its release, the film was praised by both audiences and critics alike. With a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics particularly lauded Steinfeld’s performance in the film. Sadly, the film only managed to do a little more than double its production budget with a worldwide haul of $18.8 million. Initially expected to open much higher, the film debuted against the likes of both Fantastic Beasts and Moonlight.
On a data analytics level, The Edge of Seventeen follows typical conventions for low-budget drama/comedies. Its breakdown of 60.8% internal versus 39.2% external scenes being common for a low budget film, as a greater use of indoor locations tends to keep the budget down. On top of that, the 63.9% to 36.1% split in favor of dialogue versus action falls in line with the norm for the comedy genre. Comedies tend to be dialogue heavy in order to set-up and payoff jokes, as well as featuring a protagonist which carries much of the dialogue. There are 28 characters in the film, yet only about four of any real importance in this screenplay. While Nadine’s mom certainly becomes more important in the finished film, her role in this script is fairly insignificant to the plot. As a result, the characters I consider important are the main character Nadine, her best friend Krista, her brother Darian, and her boyfriend Erwin. Nadine’s brother Darian is the source of much of the film’s conflict once he and Krista enter a romantic relationship. The remaining characters are primarily other students at school, which may prod at certain characters emotions, but never end up influencing the greater emotional conflict or plot. Jerry, Nadine’s mom’s boyfriend, also serves a fairly unimportant role in the script. It’s no surprise then that he was largely cut from the finished film.
Scenes 69-84 come up as most significant, and it is in this range where Nadine and Krista first attempt to reconcile their friendship before Nadine learns that Krista is still very much Darian’s girlfriend. The return of a fun experience together shows Krista that the friendship is ultimately more important than her relationship, even if breaking up with Darian will still hurt her. These realizations bring us to the film’s resolution, as Nadine learns to stop being selfish and make peace with both her brother and best friend. Scenes 52-59 come in second and showcases Nadine and Erwin’s relationship becoming closer, despite Nadine being unaware this is happening. Third are scenes 1-6, which set up the key players of the story and heavily foreshadow towards the eventual demise of Nadine and Krista’s friendship. And then the fourth most important grouping of scenes are 39-43, which showcase the beginning of Krista and Darian’s relationship as well as Nadine’s unwillingness to let go of her best friend. While I do feel that these four scenes are certainly important and would order them this way myself, I find it odd that the final scenes showcasing the resolution of the characters are not included. Perhaps since the resolution was already eluded to so heavily in scenes 69-84, the program felt it unnecessary to include.
In looking at the action and dialogue by scene, you’ll notice something odd. The film seems to have almost no first act, or at least an incredibly short one. The film’s second act appears to start as early as scene 9, with the highs and lows of this act carrying the weight of the film. The third act is also fairly difficult to parse out from the data, either starting at scene 79 or 96. In reading the script, you can clearly tell the third act begins at scene 96, further showcasing that the majority of this film’s energy is spent on its second act. As we saw from the action versus dialogue breakdown, in the film dialogue almost always takes the front seat. The only lengthy scenes which feature more action are 11 and 101. Scene eleven serves as a largely observational introduction to the school, while scene 101 concludes much of the film with its lively prom and after-prom montage. It’s interesting to note both the narrative and numerical parallels of these two scenes.
What’s most unique about this film is highlighted when looking at the number of appearances by top characters chart alongside the dialogue breakdown by character chart. It is between these two charts that we find something almost unprecedented, characters with a nearly equal alignment of appearances to dialogue. While the percentages of dialogue to appearances vary, the positions characters hold on both charts remain largely constant. The main disturbance being that other characters appear 7.95% of the time yet only account for 3.1% of the dialogue, thus shifting them down two spots. This shift then moves the two characters with slightly fewer appearances up in the dialogue chart. Otherwise, characters retain their positions. Nadine comes in at number one on both charts with 33.7% appearances and a whopping 49.5% of all dialogue. The fact that Nadine carries much of the film’s dialogue is something I cited as typical of comedies earlier on and reaffirms her position as both the protagonist and a driving character in the film. Krista appears 22% of the time and speaks only 17% of the time, cementing her spot as a supporting character. Darian appears 17.8% of the time yet speaks 10.5% of the time, also showcasing him as a supporting character. Erwin on the other hand serves a driving role, as he appears only 6.06% of the time but speaks 9.37% of the time. Something to note with these plots are the fact that no male characters overtake the spotlight from their female counterparts, a trend all too common in many Hollywood screenplays. This can likely be chalked up to the fact that the writer and director is female and brings a voice to the film which is far too unheard in many Hollywood features.
Yet the fact that Nadine encompasses nearly 50% of all dialogue can also be cause for concern and points to another issue, voice over. Many screenwriters will often tell young writers to shy away from voice over, and while it certainly can be done right, this script uses the technique poorly. Nadine’s voice over in the film only serves to decrease the tension and foreshadow events to the point of them becoming unsurprising. Furthermore, while comedies could use the technique to great effect, the voice over in the film doesn’t even serve a comedic purpose. In the film, this voice-over is largely removed and instead replaced with the introduction of another character, a teacher confidant. This character and his relationship to Nadine is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the film and adds numerous comedic beats. Not only does the character manage to rid the film of its unnecessary voice-over, but he in turn adds several layers of depth. By showing the audience that Nadine’s only other friend is a teacher, we further learn of her removal from the normal high school crowd. On top of this, her relationship with her best friend is allowed to degrade in real-time instead of us being told of the ending before it occurs. Yet by giving us a confidant, the film also removes the mother as a source of help for the main character. Instead, Mona largely sides with Darian on all issues, furthering the family conflict. These changes all allow the finished film to work towards its strengths while eliminating many of its weaknesses.
Despite the rave reviews from both critics and audiences which actually saw the film, The Edge of Seventeen’s profitability may have been doomed from the start. With a cast far exceeding their importance to the story, and numerous locations only appearing once, the budget had to inflate to keep up. While the film at the very least broke even, should some of these extraneous characters or scenes have been cut, the film would have likely been able to quadruple its investment. Although the finished product is spectacular, the raw data provides many warning signs toward the slight box office disappointment that it faced.