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'Edge' Averts Gay Cliches

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 17, 1999

  Movie Critic

'Edge of Seventeen'
Andersen Gabrych and Chris Stafford confront their true feelings in "Edge of Seventeen." (Strand Releasing)

David Moreton
Chris Stafford;
Tina Holmes;
Andersen Gabrych;
Stephanie McVay;
and Lea DeLaria
Running Time:
1 hour, 40 minutes
Contains graphic sexual scenes and language
Positive films about the gay experience seem to become, almost inevitably, a "celebration" of alternative sexual impulses, a sort of pink agitprop for the already converted.

There are other potential inevitabilities. In many gay movies, the protagonist – usually someone young and new to the lifestyle – meets others like him (or her, of course), who have been there, done that. He might encounter someone who uses him, or nourishes him, but certainly someone who summons his sexuality up from the mental basement.

Perhaps he meets, and falls in love with, someone who's equally new to this, causing both to stumble into an uncertain future, full of doubt, embarrassment and finally pride. In any event, a new universe opens, where once-hidden thoughts, values and even choice of clothing become completely acceptable.

But even if he takes to the new lifestyle with ease, confidence and vigor, he'll still face opposition from the "straight world." There will always be heterosexual relatives, workmates and friends to deal with.

These are the options. Stray from them at your peril, apparently. Yet, "Edge of Seventeen" manages to bypass and embrace these familiarities.

I think it's largely because Chris Stafford's lead performance is so fresh and alive. As Eric Hunter, a 17-year-old boy unable to fight his dawning sexuality, he's an appealing character whose issues could be anyone's, on any side of the sexuality fence.

Another great thing about this movie: It doesn't gild its agenda. Writer Todd Stephens and director David Moreton give us the inside scoop, live and direct, from Eric's heart. A high school senior in Sandusky, Ohio, he gets a summer job at an amusement park's fast food restaurant, where he meets the man that will change everything.

Eric knows his sexual preference, deep down, but he isn't quite there yet. But when fellow worker Rod (Andersen Gabrych), a dreamy number with blond hair, blue eyes and a confident, humorous personality, starts chatting to him, things change.

Here's a man, a hotel management student at Ohio State University, who lives and breathes the life without hesitation or apology. There's an instant attraction and it's just a matter of time – which includes Eric shedding his nervousness – before they are alone together.

While Eric learns the joys of ecstasy, he must also learn the darker ramifications, ranging from sexual health concerns to his heart being broken.

There is also the matter of keeping things secret, as his emerging lifestyle becomes too powerful to keep down. Still intent on hiding his sexuality – and not completely sure he isn't straight – he vainly pursues a physical relationship with best pal Maggie (Tina Holmes), who is hopeful for something more than friendship. Eric is also surrounded by a family that truly treasures him. Mom (Stephanie McVay) even works nights to pay for Eric to go to the college of his choice. His parents will be devastated – Eric assumes – if he tells them the news.

Obviously, this movie isn't for everyone. But if anyone can take a crossover audience through the gay terrain, it's Stafford. As Eric, his utter heart-stopping anticipation when he sits alone in a car with Rod, is palpable. Through his eyes, you can feel so much at stake here, not the least of which is his innocence. And as he begins to accept his sexuality, streaking with increasing flamboyance towards the Boy George end of the spectrum, you almost find yourself chanting "Karma Chameleon."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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