Project Shanks Monday Night Movie: Edge of Seventeen (1998)

By John Baggett
PSDC Pop Culture Guru

Project Shanks Monday Night Movie Pride Month Edition: Edge of Seventeen

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Growing up is hard, which is why the coming of age film is so important to cinema. Films like The Breakfast Club, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (I know it’s a book), and the upcoming Dope help teenage audiences find characters to identify with and older audiences a fond look back on what it was like to grow up. So in this edition of my Pride Month articles I’m taking on a film that deals with the pains of growing up and realizing you’re gay, the 1998 comedy Edge of Seventeen.

Set in 1984 small town Ohio, the film follows Eric (Chris Stafford). We meet him and his best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes) as their junior year of high school comes to a close and summer is finally here. The two get jobs working at the restaurant at a local amusement park where they work under loveable lesbian Angie (Lea DeLaria – Orange is the New Black), who goes quickly from their boss to their friend. While slaving away serving overpriced BBQ to ungrateful customers Eric begins a friendship with fellow waiter Rod (Andersen Gabrych).

Eric and Rod try to bond over music, but when Rod mentions that he is gay Eric kind of freaks out. Mostly because Eric, who most assume has feelings for Maggie, begins to realize that he’s into men. In the course of this discovery he falls hard for Rod and before the park closes down at the end of summer the two fool around, but don’t have sex.

As his senior year begins, Eric starts transforming his look and keeps focused on his post-school plans, to study music and move to New York to make it as an artist. But the change in identity just begins to reflect how Eric feels inside, causing classmates to ask if he’s gay. Eric calls Rod and is distraught when he finds out that Rod got back with his boyfriend.

After being taunted at a party, Eric ends up at a gay club called “The Universe” where Angie hangs out and introduces him to the regulars. He meets a guy and gets a rim job from him in the car. At home, his mom begins working a new job and his dad tells him that she’s doing this so they can send him to New York. But his mom begins suspecting something is up with her son. Eric tells Maggie that he thinks he likes guys and Maggie says that it won’t affect their friendship.

One night Eric meets a college DJ at the Universe and wants to hook up, but when Maggie sees them dancing and runs off he chases after her. She tells him to fuck off and Eric goes back to the club in time for last call. He decides to go track down the DJ but when he can’t remember his name he asks for Rod’s room instead. The two hook up and Rod takes Eric’s virginity, which kinda freaks him out a bit and he runs off after the sex. Wrestling with his feelings Eric has to decide who he is and who he wants to be with.

edge-of-seventeen

Edge of Seventeen is one of those films that I feel should be required viewing for gay youth. Not only does it remind you how bad life sucks as a teenager but also shows what it’s like to wrestle with sexual identity. It doesn’t quite deal with the family issues the way that so many actual LGBT youth deal with, but it does deal with how coming out can affect friendships. It takes a pretty unglamorous look at sex, even showing Eric’s discomfort losing his virginity.

Missing in the film is being thrown out of one’s home for being gay, the religious debate, AIDS (although Eric is hellbent on playing it safe), suicide, and all of the real life horrors. But what makes this film important is showing that it is important to be who you are and the fact that there are countless people out there willing to show love and support, you just have to find them.

The film is directed by David Moreton, who has only directed two other films – 2003’s Testosterone and 2009’s A Good Funeral. The screenplay was penned by Todd Stephens, who wrote and directed the films Gypsy 83 and Another Gay Movie. What these men gave us is a well made, upbeat, funny, sometimes sad film about growing up and coming out. I think this film is great. It’s well written and has a killer 80s soundtrack.

Will this do much for straight audiences? Well, if you’re an LGBT ally like me maybe so. I know the queer film movement is for everyone, but this is a good entry in it. If you’re excited about any of the current potential candidates for the Republican nominee for president I might give this a pass. But, if you’re young and gay (or not as young and gay) I definitely think this film is worth your time.

Follow John on Twitter: @TrapperJohn1210

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