Courtesy Photo
*** stars 100 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, July 2, 1999
Directed by David Moreton

Starring Chris Stafford, Tina Holmes, Andersen Gabrych, Stephanie McVay & Lea Delaria

Above average teen coming-out pic 'Edge of Seventeen' captures era, emotions perfectly

By Rob Blackwelder

It's such a relief to see, every once in a while, a coming-out movie in which nobody gets beaten up by sexually insecure athletes or skinheads.

"Edge of Seventeen" is such a movie. It has its jocks and jerks, of course, but they're extras, regulated to only making snide comments in passing while the film focuses on telling a gratifying gay Everyman story instead of recycling social espousements.

Yes, it's yet another shy gay guy in high school story, a la the recent "Get Real" (those in certain circles know full well how common this genre has become), but this one has more convincing boy-next-door characters than most, and a very smart hook -- it takes place in 1984, at the height of '80s androgyny (fabulously cheesy soundtrack alert!).

The very strong cast of almost complete unknowns is lead by Chris Stafford as Eric, a soft-featured, Peter Brady-type, Sandusky suburbanite who begins to explore both his sexuality and his Brit-pop fashion sense during the summer before his senior year in high school.

A bit of a nondescript, blend-in-with-the-woodwork kind of guy, he begins to show a little flourish when he gets a Chris Isaac hairdo, and soon thereafter gets naked with the appropriately-named Rod (Anderson Gabrych), a bottle blonde, college boy co-worker at his amusement park summer job who brings Eric "out" before taking off back to university and losing his phone number.

Somewhat brokenhearted by the uber-Preppie beau (remember double-Izods?), Eric tries to retreat to heterosexuality with his reliable and devoted best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes), before giving in completely to the Bronski Beat and going full-blown flamboyant -- eyeliner and rouge; two-tone orange-blonde, in-the-eyes bangs; and a Duckie-from-"Pretty in Pink" wardrobe.

Obviously an autobiographical effort for writer Todd Stephens, "Edge of Seventeen" is a refreshing, reassuring gay kid movie. It shows Eric with a loving, if hesitant, family and a good support group of off-kilter friends, including his brassy lesbian boss (stand-up comic Lea Delaria -- think John Belushi with boobs) who introduces him to Sandusky's alternative lifestyles nightlife (it has one?) at a club she operates.

Delaria is not a good actor, but she's so genuine in her sentiment toward Eric's as his mother hen guide through a world of lecherous middle-aged bar queens and gold-digging pretty boys that it hardly matters.

The rest of the players, though, are so natural they feel like friends. Stafford captures, in the most subtle detail, all the incubating teenage insecurities that come with trying to figure out why you're different. His subtlety only becomes apparent in contrast with the sudden confidence and security he feels at the gay bar, where he becomes a quick study in the finer points of flirting.

Holmes is in some ways even better in a tough role as the adorable, endearing and put-upon Maggie, who tries and fails to keep her crush on Eric in check while he waffles on his sexuality.

Director David Moreton has an annoying habit of transition between scenes by having almost every soundtrack tune turn into ambient noise from a radio or record player. This is cute once -- eight or nine times is grating. But save a few other rookie mistakes, he's helmed himself not only an amiable gay teen movie, but the most authentic '80s flashback flick yet.


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