Edge of Seventeen
1998, NR, 100 min. Directed by David Moreton. Starring Lea Delaria, Stephanie Mcvay, Andersen Gabrych, Tina Holmes, Chris Stafford.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 13, 1999
For sexually confused teenager Eric Hunter, the Edge of Seventeen is the razor's edge: a leap from either side of the precipice may be a plunge. Living in Sandusky, Ohio, doesn't help matters much; it's an uneasy life for a small-town boy who doesn't fit the mold. Set in the summer of 1984, Edge of Seventeen not only captures Eric's painful struggle of sexual identity, but it's also a swell time capsule of musical and fashion rebellion in the Reagan era. (It's something like a John Hughes retrospective.) From the silly rah-rah chants of Toni Basil to the politicized disco of Bronski Beat, the music here is a songbook of Eighties nostalgia that informs Eric's journey to self-acceptance. While Eric's increasingly out-there sartorial changes testify to the decade's lack of taste, however, their thematic import is strained, at best. Does he dress like Boy George because he wants to, or because he thinks he has to? Like Get Real, a recent coming-of-age film covering similar (if not identical) territory, Edge of Seventeen empathizes with its callow protagonist. (Not surprisingly, both films are written by gay men.) But unlike that conventionally constructed British film, there is, aptly enough, an unsettling edge to Edge of Seventeen. It doesn't flinch in its unsexy depiction of Eric's initial encounters with other men, his erratic and self-destructive behavior, or his desperate attempts to play it straight. The scene in which he confesses his double life to longtime girlfriend Maggie is as much about her anguish as his; when he later panics and backtracks, convincing her that he loves her, you just want to shake him. The film's cast, all unknowns with the exception of comic/Broadway performer DeLaria, acquit themselves well, with the skinny, innocent-eyed Stafford a credible Candide navigating a new world of experience. His grounded performance charters Eric's stumbling progress to a sense of self that befits Edge of Seventeen: without apology.