Edge of Seventeen
This is the best coming of age, coming out film Iíve seen so far. For once, itís all itís talked up to be.
Set in the early 80s, the authenticity of the era absolutely first class, the film tells the story of Eric, a sixteen year old, going on seventeen who is taking the first tentative steps towards discovering his sexuality.
What I especially liked about this film are the very honest, good people that fill it. Ericís family are strong, loving and just normal, and I felt the motherís reaction to her sonís strange behaviour very natural indeed.
Eric begins to suspect that heís not quite ďnormalĒ when his love for his girlfriend Maggie (another wonderfully sympathetic portrayal) stays resolutely platonic. Sheís very young, of course. †You can see her confusion, but sheís not mature enough to realise or face what this odd diffidence might mean. That fateful summer, Eric meets Rod, a college student who is openly gay.
The emergence of Eric from a slightly geeky teenager to a stylish, fabulous proto-diva is really well done. The relief when he finds a gay club, where he can be free to be fabulous is amazing.
There are some really good scenes between the boys, tender and erotic at the same time. The sound track is superb (if youíre a fan of the 80s).
A coming out story made in 1998 but set back in 1984, a real stroke of genius because its authentic period feel and fabulous soundtrack add a lot to the filmís appeal.† I really liked this one.
Itís all pretty familiar if youíve watched much gay cinema or read the novels, but itís done so well that doesnít matter.† The 80s backdrop adds a kind of nostalgia mixed with innocence looking back to a time pre-AIDS when gay sex didnít mean death & disease- though hindsight means weíre only too aware what was about to happen (and the central character pointedly insists his partner puts on a condom before penetration, even though itís his first time).
Eric is working in a restaurant at a family theme park during the summer vacation before his final high school year.† His only friend seems to be Maggie, who is obviously in love with the oblivious Eric, too wrapped up in his own worries about why he feels different.† Maggie doesnít understand why Eric isnít interested in her THAT way though in every other aspect theyíre perfectly matched.† I suspect deepdown she knows but canít admit it.
Ericís smalltown life in Ohio with a warm, loving and supportive family is very realistic.† The catalyst for change is blond Rod, the guy working alongside Eric at the restaurant.† Heís openly gay and has just come out of a relationship so he set his sights on sweet cute Eric who quickly picks up on the attraction between them as the answer to his confusion and lack of enthusiasm with Maggie as anything but best buddiesÖhe likes guys.
Eric is changed by Rod, emerging as from a cocoon into a bright new Boy George world with Bronski Beat and the Eurythmics as soundtrack.† Heís so painfully authentic you feel his story has to be autobiographical as he grows from boy to man and struggles with his identity and need for love.
Like real life itís messy without any easy answers, so not everything is resolved by the end of the film.† Ericís emotional confusion and awkwardness make it easy to identify with him.† The pressure to conform to other peopleís (often well meaning) expectations is well drawn out, as Eric comes out of the closet.† He of course thinks thatís the challenge, that once he changes from ugly duckling to bright plumaged swan all will be well and love will follow, preferably with Rod.† He doesnít see how hurt Maggie is by all this, nor does he appreciate the concern his mother has for his wellbeing because heís having a good time with his new gay life. †But heís so lovable you forgive him!
Sadly Eric discovers that while maybe he wants love & romance, the other guys only want one thing and once they have it theyíre off without a backward glance, the difference between love and lust.† First love is often painful and rarely lasts.† Hard lessons to learn while youíre still struggling with coming out.† There are many effective moments, like Eric realising when he kisses Maggie it does nothing for him, compared with his first gay encounter.† This is both moving and erotic, which makes his subsequent disillusionment harder to watch.
The introduction of third gay character, Jonathan, as potential romantic interest remains unresolved because Eric isnít really ready yet, though the signs are good.
Ericís boss at the restaurant is a lesbian mother hen who also hosts in the local gay club (small towns have such a thing?) where she introduces him to her circle of colourful and flamboyant friends (the film shows a diversity of gay life just like QAF) who seem only too eager to greet fresh meat.
The best thing about the film is the way Eric blossoms from boring conformity to eyeliner and Bowie hair, dancing and flirting at that gay club, unguarded like he canít be at hetero parties in a world of people like him, a community or new family that accepts him just as he is.
At the end of the day itís not about what other people think, so long as youíre happy and accept who you are.† Ericís mother means a lot to him and he wants her to accept him.† Sheís a sympathetic character, reluctant to give up the son she thought she had for this new more flamboyant version; but she loves Eric and wonít Iím sure want to lose him.† She knows what Eric wants to tell her before he says anything.† However the way itís left up in the air is realistic.
The ending is actually very positive.† Eric has the support of his new friends and he knows sex without love isnít what he needs.
A beautiful film with excellent performances and well developed characters that lingers long after the final credits.† I donít think Iíve seen a finer evocation of the early 80s.† Donít miss this one.