Steinfeld's wonderfully nuanced, authentic portrayal of the delightfully opinionated, angst-ridden, and awkward Nadine turns this sometimes-edgy high school comedy into a touching gem. Steinfeld, who's 19 in real life, is likely to stop playing high schoolers soon, so there's something magically poignant about her expressive performance as a deep-thinking, grieving 17-year-old who only has one real friend. All of the performances are outstanding, actually, starting with Steinfeld and continuing through Nadine's core group of supporting characters, including Harrelson as her long-suffering teacher who secretly thinks she's great, Kyra Sedgwick as her clueless mom who openly favors her brother, Richardson and Jenner as her suddenly-in-love brother and bestie, and Szeto as her adorable suitor. There isn't a weak link in the entire ensemble.
Through Nadine, writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig captures the pathos of being a lonely hearted teen who's unsure of her value, her place in the world, and her own beauty. When Nadine ignores Erwin's interest because she's pining for bad-boy pet store clerk Nick, older audiences will want to yell "Noooo, look at the wonderful guy right next to you!" But in the midst of her adolescent angst, Nadine can't quite see that yet. Several scenes are cringe-worthy and uncomfortable, but who among us didn't feel that as a teen? There's a quiet power to Nadine's emotional fragility and what she learns about herself and the people who love and support her. Parents not easily embarrassed by seeing mature content alongside their teens should watch and discuss the issues explored in this heartfelt adolescent movie.