Wednesday, June 15, 2016

David Moreton | Edge of Seventeen

searching for love in all the wrong places
by Douglas Messerli

David Moreton and Todd Stephens (writers), David Moreton (director) Edge of Seventeen / 1998

17 year old Eric Hunter (Chris Stafford) and his friend Maggie (Tina Holmes) have just finished their junior year of high school, and are looking forward to working for the summer at the local amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. The year is 1984, and their brown-checkered costumes are hideous. Their jobs, working in the park’s restaurant is just as unpleasant. The only joy, for the seemingly clueless Eric, is a fellow workmate, Rod (Andersen Gabrych), who, one year older, is attending Ohio State University nearby. 
      Although it becomes apparent to all quite quickly that their manager, Angie (Lea DeLaria) is lesbian and that Rod is gay, Eric seems unfazed about his own attraction to Rod, and Rod has soon cornered him the kitchen for a kiss, and, a few days later, beds him.

      As any young man or woman discovering love for the first time, Eric develops an immediate crush on Rod, and is a bit confused when Rod suddenly moves back to Ohio State, and, living in the gay dorm hall, tells Eric not to call him again. Eric confides to Maggie that he is gay, and she, at first hurt since he had previously expressed some attentions to her, soon accepts the situation, giving Eric a new haircut, and, later, taking it a step further by dying the top of his hair blond. For a school dance, Eric even puts on a bit of her eyeliner, making him even more attractive to all the women. But watching the dancers, it is clear that he feels completely isolated and confused by his personal feelings.
      To seek out others who might feel like him, he visits a local gay bar, The Universal, owned by his amusement park manager, Angie, who welcomes him openly and introduces him to some of the bar’s patrons for protection. At the bar he meets up with another handsome Ohio State student, Jonathan (Jeff Fryer) with whom he quickly finds himself  having backseat car sex, experiencing his first rim-job. But when they are finished,  and he attempts to share addresses, it is clear that Jonathan has little interest, making it another one-time fling, the fact of which troubles the boy.
       Taking Maggie to the bar doesn’t help, as she’s openly described as his “fag-hag,” and angrily storms out, deeply hurt by the implications. And things at home become even more problematic when his loving mother, who has become increasingly disturbed by his changing appearance, queries him about his behavior: “People are getting the wrong idea about you.”
       In loneliness and some desperation he drives to Ohio State hoping to meet up again with Jonathan, instead running into Rod, who this time—with Rod’s current boyfriend sleeping in the next bed—gives the boy his first anal experience. Realizing that there no real love there, Eric returns home, only to find that his mother has found a pair of matches from the gay club in his coat pocket. Eric denies he’s ever been there and runs off. When he returns home to find his mother playing the piano—who had given up her musical career for marriage and children (and music also plays a large part in her son’s life)—and admits to her that he is gay. We returns to the bar where Angie is singing, welcomed back into its small gay community. The next year, it is implied, take him to New York where will he will surely be able to live a more fulfilling gay life.

      Director David Moreton’s tender film of teen gay love and angst is open and forthright about gay sex, even while it often uses some of the stereotypes of less intelligent movies portraying gays. Yet writer and director poignantly capture the difficulties of a young teen of that period living in a smaller community, where choices for relationships are limited and restrictions are many. The fortunate thing about Moreton’s movie is that even as types, his characters are basically loving and well-meaning, even if sometimes callous—particularly the young boys whom Eric meets—and lacking the proper empathy that Eric needs. Only Angie offers him the open friendship that allows for him to eventually come to terms with his life, insisting that he simply needed to give himself some time. Unsaid in this film, however, is that the young Eric was coming out at the very moment when AIDS was for first beginning to be recognized as a crisis.
     For all that, the film’s beautiful young hero seems, as in Patrick Wilde’s Get Real, made the very same year, quite well-adjusted, despite his personal fears. Indeed, all the teens in the films about young gay love that I have reviewed here, are far more excepting of their sexuality than I was at that age. But the early 1960s were simply less forgiving, with opportunities to meet others—even had I been able to except my own sexuality—almost nonexistent. As I’ve written elsewhere, I never knew whether Cedar Rapids even had a gay bar until decades later. Perhaps there wasn’t even one in my days.
      Sad to say, this film no longer seems to be available on DVD; I was forced to buy a used copy. A fascinating coincidence is that Stafford, just like Ben Silverstone, the teen lead of Get Real, after a short acting career, became a lawyer.

Los Angeles, June 15, 2016

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