The Edge of Seventeen, a coming-of-age comedy starring Hailee Stenfield, is getting plenty of comparisons to the John Hughes catalog, but its mostly modern soundtrack helps set it apart from those ’80s classics: Santigold’s rollicking “Who I Thought You Were,” a standout off this year’s 99¢, opens the movie, and a pivotal party scene is filled with tracks by festival favorites like Two Door Cinema Club and Anderson .Paak.
“I really was looking for timeless, anthemic, emotional raw tracks — just music that made me feel,” director Kelly Fremon Craig tells EW. “That was the mission in terms of getting the sound right.”
Read on to find out how Fremon Craig crafted some of the film’s best musical moments — including a scene that takes a turn for the worse while Billy Joel plays on in the background and another featuring “The Dickhead Song” — and check out the full soundtrack for the film, now in theaters, here. (Warning: Some plot spoilers for the movie ahead.)
Santigold, “Who I Thought You Were”
The movie opens with Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) walking into school as this spunky jam plays.
“I wanted to open with something that had balls, that had attitude and energy, and that just really pulled you into who this character was, because that’s Nadine. She’s ballsy, she’s out there, she’s mouthy, she’s punk. She’s got guts. So I wanted music that felt like it underscored that.”
Billy Joel, “You May Be Right”
After a bad day, Nadine’s dad takes her to grab some cheeseburgers from a drive-thru. During the ride, he puts on this song — then crashes the car because he has a heart attack that will end up killing him.
“In the script, I had written it as Tom Jones’ ‘It’s Not Unusual,’ but we couldn’t get the rights. And so finding another song that felt like it did what that song did was incredibly tough because I didn’t want the song to feel like too much of a love song, like the dad is singing a love song to his daughter and then dying in the middle of it. It felt too melodramatic. I didn’t want the song to mention death or dying anywhere, which actually is surprisingly hard to find. I wanted it to be upbeat and energetic and life affirming and something he could really belt out, and I wanted it to be something that he as a character would listen to. There were just a million criteria to the point where it became incredibly tough to find the right song and when I did land on the Billy Joel song, it was so perfect that I just thought, if we don’t get this, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Two Door Cinema Club, “Bad Decisions”
Nadine reluctantly goes to a party, where her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) ditches her to play beer pong.
“It was really important to me that it felt like everybody is having a great time while she is in her own personal hell, so I liked the idea of somebody who’s just wandering around awkwardly, not knowing kind of how to socialize or fit in or what to do with themselves, juxtaposed against really up music — music that really makes you feel like, “Man, what a great party!” Everybody’s really having a great time here except her. Something about this song just feels energetic and fun and young and light and I liked that juxtaposed against her misery.”
Miles Betterman, “The Dickhead Song”
Nadine upsets Erwin (Hayden Szeto) by hitting on him… and then revealing it was all a joke. He responds by getting out of the pool and blasting this song.
“Originally, Erwin was supposed to turn on these fountains in his pool that splashed her as payback. But when they actually went to build the fountains, and we turned them on, they were so anticlimactic. It was just the smallest little shower-spray of water. So it was like, “Ah, s—, all right, let me think what to do.” My thought was, he turns on a song. I don’t know what it is yet. I just knew he turns on some piece of music that is somehow payback. I shot that, and then afterwards, while I was in the editing room, I was searching for what that song could be, and found this song. That’s what is terrifying: If that song didn’t exist, I don’t know what I would use. I literally was Googling stuff like, “a–hole song,” “you’re an a–hole song.” Lyrics like “go f— yourself” or whatever. [Laughs] I didn’t know how I was going to possibly find this, and then in frantically Googling, this came up and when it did, it was like, oh my God it’s so funny, it’s so perfect, it’s so Erwin, it’s so right. I was so thankful that they had written it.”
Angus & Julia Stone, “Big Jet Plane”
Nadine’s finally hanging out with her crush (Alexander Calvert), who puts on this song while they’re in the car.
“There were just a couple of songs that were written into the script, and that was one of them. That song has always given me this incredible ache when I listen to it. I feel this incredible longing, which I associate with the teenage years. I remember just carrying around an ache in the center of myself all the time at that age and I felt like that song somehow bottled it and put it into a sound. And I liked that as the sort of soundtrack for that moment where she is really aching for him, for a connection, some sort of like, real emotional connection with another person.”