Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Sundance hit The Spectacular Now has us thinking back on other teen romances.
Edge Of Seventeen (1998)
For gays of a certain age, movies about teen romance can be both hugely appealing and oddly alienating. Having come of age in a smallish city in the early ’90s—before Philadelphia and even Will & Grace!—I spent my high school years in the closet. Even if I had come out, it wouldn’t have mattered much: There weren’t any other gay guys around to have relationships with. Accordingly, the romantic movies my friends identified with or aspired to emulate—Say Anything, Pretty In Pink, etc.—were as remote and unrelated to me as if they were set in a different galaxy.
Now, of course, gay characters are everywhere, and gay teen romances are a genre unto themselves. But the vast majority of those films ring false, for the simple reason that most gay teens—even modern, out ones—just don’t have the romantic opportunities of their straight peers. Movies like Beautiful Thing and Get Real—in which awkward gay boys find true love with the hottest guy in school—are so improbable as to be almost insulting. To date, the only gay teen romance I’ve seen that fully convinces is David Moreton’s lovely, little-seen indie Edge Of Seventeen. Set in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1984, it’s about a high school senior named Eric (the handsome, rake-thin Chris Stafford) who falls for the first gay guy he meets, a callow college student named Rod (Andersen Gabrych). But the real romance is with his female best friend, Maggie (Tina Holmes), whom he desperately wishes he could be attracted to. Essentially, Stafford lusts for Gabrych but loves Holmes, and he spends the entire movie trying—and failing—to reconcile those warring feelings.
While Edge Of Seventeen was marketed largely toward gay audiences, it’ll resonate with anyone who remembers the awkwardness and elation of their first sexual experiences, because it captures those experiences better and more honestly than practically any other film. And just as Dazed And Confused perfectly recreated the look and feel of the late ’70s, Edge Of Seventeen perfectly recreates the early ’80s: the Thompson Twins hairstyles, the Boy George hats, the acid-wash pleated jeans. (It’s hard to believe it wasn’t actually made in the ’80s.) Best of all, Moreton and writer Todd Stephens don’t end the movie with false, happily-ever-after romantic bliss. Instead, it ends with Stafford essentially running away (like the hero of Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy,” which plays in the background at one point), to a place where romance isn’t doomed before it begins—where it might, for the first time, bring happiness instead of misery.
Availability: A DVD, available through Netflix’s disc delivery service, and streaming from Amazon Instant Video.