Over The Edge

They're old enough to know better. But too young to care.
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Jonathan Kaplan
Starring: 
Michael Eric Kramer, Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano, Andy Romano, Ellen Geer
The Setup: 
Bunch of teens get ever more restless in planned suburban community, until they push it... Over The Edge.
Discussion: 

My friend who steered me toward Roller Boogie also recommended this. Again, a good recommendation. This movie is very steeped in late 70s youth culture, so if you were a youth in the late 70s, as I was, this will be just like going back in time. Except that you can't actually interact with any of the characters and once it's over the dream is dead and you're smack dab back in shitty, shitty 2005.

An ominous title before the credits tells us that this film is based on the actual experience of a "planned community" that didn't take into account the fact that a quarter of the population was under the age of 15. Oh no! The tone of the film announces this statistic as though it's somehow inherently shocking or we should have some sort of reaction to it. I don't know. Anyway, the movie does a very good job of making it seem like outside the subdivision is in the middle of absolutely nothing-bare, flat land extending for miles in every direction. The problem is that, since it never shows any stores or main street or anything BUT condos, it really seems like there IS nothing in the town but the condos and the school-which would imply that they also didn't take into account the fact that 75% of the population was OVER the age of 15.

So it would seem that literally every kid in town is a massive delinquent. This is SO charming, as they're all in their huge feathered hairdos and insipid 70s clothes, and really are rebellious in such "teen" ways. In an early scene Matt Dillion and the main character [Michael Eric Kramer as Carl] get arrested, and Matt [so, SOOO young Matt] says "A kid who squeals on another kid, is a DEAD kid." And you want the policeman to go; "Bitch please, are you missing the operative word here: 'KID?'" It's just so funny to see these kids-the Dillon character is supposed to be 14-talking tough and boasting like a gangta rapper and saying the police "better not mess with him," when, you know, what he is going to DO?!? Sulk? Rip pages out of library books? Knock over a canister of pens? But the movie treats all this ridiculousness with a hushed sense of mounting danger, as though this is a serious situation coming to a crisis point, and the slightest wrong move could send it. OVER THE EDGE.

Aside from the teens themselves, the movie's direction and tone are the funniest things here. There is a slow-motion sequence showing people putting up or taking down a sign or something, shown while mournful, elegiac music plays, which is really reaching for an effect that just isn't generated by the movie. and would probably be helped in large measure if we could only see what those guys are supposed to be doing. Later I love the cliché of freeze-frame on the kid's face on his bike, while more mournful music plays-he's running from his past! Running from a cruel world that doesn't understand him! Running... From Himself. It's amusing, especially when set against the absolute dearth of resonance the film has built up around its story. The director, Jonathan Kaplan, also directed the blaxploitation flick Truck Turner before this, and went on to direct The Accused, Unlawful Entry, and Brokedown Palace. He also directed the appealingly-titled The Hustler of Muscle Beach. Sounds awesome, no? Unfortunately it's a TV movie starring Richard Hatch.

The town also seems to have two other problems that they're not recognizing. One is a sexism problem. Carl's unexpectedly HOT Dad Fred [check out the chest hair visible above his collar!] excuses himself from work by saying he has to go fix his wife's unpaid parking tickets. "She doesn't understand that putting them in the glove compartment isn't the same as paying them." Oh, I see, so the messages are: 1) dumb wife is an easy scapegoat, 2), idiot can't even park correctly, and 3) she's too dumb to pay her tickets. NICE. Later, when Carl gets in a fight, Fred's friend advises him to "let Sandra take care of it, that's what mother's are for." Yikes.

The town also seems to grapple with a repressed homosexuality problem, as there are numerous taunts about male virility, lots of wrestling, and a great many scenes of cops in tight, thin clothes ordering the kids to get into submissive positions and then "patting them down." If you think this is all in my head, I invite you to take a glance at the frame above. By the way, if your type is skinny delinquent youths. well, then you probably already own this on DVD.

The problem with the movie is that too much time is spent showing us the shocking, SHOCKING acts of the kids [They shoot BB guns! They mouth off! They do drugs! One of them has a tepid hallucination, too], and don't bother showing us what's going on at home. Carl's parents seem like fine people, who are always reaching out to him, which makes Carl seem like he's just being an immature asshole. And-what's the kids' problem anyway? They don't have anywhere to play? There's no arcade? WHAT is the big deal? So the movie keeps trying to woo us with what a tragedy this all is, how unjust it is to the kids, when really, what's the kids' problem? Seems to me what those brats need a little gold ol' mallet therapy. The other problem is that since we never see any downtown or anything, we don't have any evidence as to how barren the town really is. Plus, even if there's just empty fields, the kids could play football, right? None of those other options are even presented. And since there seem to be NO kids who are either older or younger than 12-16, the whole thing just seems rigged.

But it certainly still is fun. Among the 70s artifacts and impressions are those playground things that look like a slice of swiss cheese standing on its end [see above]. What are kids supposed to DO on that? Climb on it. and then climb off it again? Another is that these crazy, riotous, out-of-control teens listen to The Cars! Ric Ocasek: the name spells DANGER! Certain people in the audience will breathe a wistful sigh of longing when one of the characters says that another can buy an OUNCE of grass for a mere $75! And of course, this film is in the long tradition of movies in which a single gunshot in the general direction of a car will make the car explode.

Anyway, it's fairly fun, especially if you grew up in the period. It builds and builds and builds until there's a big climax and not much is really resolved, the end. Nevertheless, I was entranced and totally into it throughout.

Should you watch it: 

If you're old enough to know better. but too young to care.