Nov 9, 2014

[Movies] Edge of Seventeen (1998)

It's easy to dismiss LGBT coming of age movies as a trope of the pink film industry that has probably worn out its welcome. But for as long as there are still young gay men and women who still need to come out and stand up for who they are, these stories will always deserve to be told. For many of us, it's these movies and TV shows and other pieces of media that act as inspiration. For many these are road maps in terms of how to figure out who we are and come to terms with being different.

Edge of Seventeen has been lingering in our movie collection for some time now - something I had acquired because it appears on a number of popular LGBT movie lists. And I wasn't expecting too much when I finally loaded it - I figured it would be a decent enough movie to watch just for the purpose of writing a review.

But then, well, it's hard to explain. The movie didn't just play - it happened. And my own blogging efforts got a little delayed as the movie played on and the story keep me glancing up from my computer. It's not necessarily a perfect movie, but it's one that feels wonderfully familiar.

There's something to be said about watching a coming of age movie once you're finally out of the closet. It gives you a little perspective.

Synopsis: Edge of Seventeen is a 1998 LGBT coming of agent movie directed and co-written by David Moreton together with co-screenwriter Todd Stephens. It won a few awards including the 1998 Outfest Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award.

It's 1984 and Eric Hunter (Chris Stafford) together with his best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes) have just accepted summer jobs at the food service stall at an amusement part for the summer. There they meet the quirky lesbian manager Angie (Lea DeLaria) and an openly gay college student Rod (Andersen Gabrych). Maggie is your classic best friends who has feelings for Eric, but hasn't said anything. And right before her she starts to see the sparks fly between Eric and Rod. Meeting Rod inspires new feelings in Eric as he begins to become open to the possibility that he's not exactly straight.

But the summer comes to an end and Rod goes back to college while Rod begins to further explore his sexuality. He starts to dress differently and Maggie even helps him dye the top half of his hair a rather shocking blond. His parents sort of look on and worry about the changes they're seeing but they don't say anything. Meanwhile Eric starts visiting a local gay disco known as "The Universal" and Eric is surprised to bump into his former boss, Angie. And thus she introduces him to her gay friends and they all help in showing Eric more of the world he's just beginning to step into.

It's funny how one of the blurbs about the movie calls it "a quintessential 80's film" despite the fact it was released in 1998. But the movie really does capture the era quite well, as especially helped along by the key role that the music played in things. Making Eric very into the music of the time nicely rounded out things and gave the movie a distinct character without resorting to caricature of the period.

One could argue that the movie tends to follow the formula of various coming of age movies of this nature. We have the initial discovery of the protagonist's sexuality followed by the budding exploration of the gay world. And you have the complex first love (unrequited of course) and the mother getting a clue and all that jazz.

And despite this seeming to be a relatively classic story, it was told in a manner that kept things distinct, but also very raw and real. And while my own experiences in the closet weren't necessarily similar to what Eric went through, I could totally imagine being in Eric's shoes. I could feel his struggle and his constant internal conflict as he tried to figure out precisely what he was. He was obviously finding guys attractive and yet he also had strong feelings for his best friend Maggie and just trying to puzzle through all that can be quite a lot to handle.

I appreciated the modest mentor role that Angie represented in this movie. Sure, she was a side character and it's easy to limit her to a part of the background or something, but in many ways it was thanks to her that Eric found the strength to keep on with his initial explorations of the queer scene. And during that period when any young gay man tries to take those first few steps out into the world, sometimes that one helping hand is all that's needed.

So maybe my enjoyment of this movie had a lot more to do with an odd sense of nostalgia or something like that, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The movie had a story to tell, one that that is familiar to a lot of us. And the story was told in a manner that helped keep the story pretty vibrant and real and it certainly triggered an emotional response in me. And I think it's fair to think that this a reaction that more than a few of you might feel as well.

Edge of Seventeen is a poignant little piece that isn't all roses but it's certainly not overly dark either. At the end of the day it's the story of a boy becoming a man and perhaps a whole lot more - and it's a story worth telling. Thus the movie gets a good 4.5 80's songs taking us through Eric's life out of a possible 5.


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