Edge of Seventeen Review

Edge of Seventeen, made back in 1998, adds another coming out drama to the already heaving shelves. Set in Ohio, it takes us through the summer of 1984 as Eric (Chris Stafford) takes a job at the local theme park’s restaurant. There he meets Rob (Andersen Gabrych) and discovers his sexuality thereby setting in motion a love triangle in which best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes) occupies the third corner.

A low budget, unassuming little film, this is really all there is to Edge of Seventeen. Set in a middle class middle America, its characters have nothing else to burden themselves with and as such neither does the plot. Rather the filmmakers are able to focus on the more immediate concerns: observation and those who appear onscreen. And this is partially why the film works so well. The coming out drama is now as familiar a romantic conceit as any to be found in “straight” cinema and as such it continually needs to be kept fresh. In the case of Edge of Seventeen that means a gentle, upbeat approach – one that makes the effort to have the audience enjoy themselves – and some standout performances which highlight both the characters’ ordinariness and their awkwardness.

Indeed, this is a remarkably easy film to like without you ever once getting the impression that those behind the camera are forcing the issue. At first it appears as though the eighties setting is one such attempt at gaining audience acceptance – a cynical attempt at blinding us with nostalgia so that we’ll ignore any potential flaws perhaps – yet it soon becomes apparent that this is an integral part of the storytelling. It adds another dimension and allows the filmmakers to blur a few lines; by playing up on the androgyny and inherent otherness of the soundtrack’s various pop concoctions, it already sets Eric up as what the mainstream perceive as a “freak show”. (Particularly forceful is the scene in which he gets castigated for dancing like Morrissey.) Furthermore, the makers aren’t exploiting this aspect as a simple means to a bestselling soundtrack. Once the execrable likes of Toni Basil and Eurhythmics are out of the way, we move into obscurer – and therefore fresher – choices from the likes of Haircut 100, Flock of Seagulls and Thompson Twins.

In fact the tines often serve to hold the film together when the filmmakers cannot. On occasion we see evidence of budgetary problems and general inexperience coming through: some scenes simply don’t come off, others feeling awkwardly handled (the parental dimension is never really covered beyond the level of a petty annoyance, though it could be argued that there’s a certain truth in that) and the ending’s a little too pat given the scenes which precede. Yet balance these against the film’s strengths and they come across as decidedly negligible. Though flawed, Edge of Seventeen has enough charm and good humour, not to mention attractive performance, to be considered something of a minor gem.

The Disc

Edge of Seventeen is one of the first of a trio of films to introduce TLA Releasing to the UK market. Intending to distribute “exceptional gay-themed films from around the world”, they come with an admirable remit, all of which makes this release such a disappointment. Extras amount solely to a gallery of production stills and a handful of trailers, but more important is the poor presentation. The print is in poor condition, being pockmarked with scratches and minute instances of damage, plus we get an NTC to PAL transfer which renders the image soft and strewn with artefacting. Moreover, the film was shot on 16mm film stock which should produce an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but here it’s been masked to a ratio of (anamorphically enhanced) 1.85:1 which makes the framing more often than not seem awkward and generally cuts off the top of heads. Admittedly, this last aspect may not be the result of the disc’s manufacturers, but rather those who handled its theatrical run in the US, yet it nonetheless adds to a catalogue of flaws. Rounding off the disappointment is the soundtrack which, though generally fine, downgrades the original Dolby Surround to a less involving DD2.0 mix. (Note also that the optional hard of hearing subtitles are of the yellow variety and not white.)

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