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Greatest Teen Movie Ever? Over the Edge

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"A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid."

The Cheap Trick songs get me every time. And Matt Dillon. And Vincent Spano. And that sterile town. And walking home at dark, drinking, at too-young-of-an age (13, in my case, staying out all night). And experimenting -- too much. And teachers either trying too hard or giving up. And all those frustrated ex hippie, now working stiff parents.

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That's Over the Edge, a movie Richard Linklater once told me in an interview was most influential on him -- both of the "Edge" films, he claimed  -- River's Edge and Over the Edge (not surprising since Tim Hunter co-wrote Over the Edge and directed River's Edge). It's influential for a lot of viewers, filmmakers or not, and a movie that sticks with a person once they've experienced (and personally remember) its party-in-the-basement wistfulness. Is it the greatest teen movie? I'm not sure, though it would make the top ten, easily. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, this teen classic has slowly been getting its due (Criterion? This would be a worthwhile release).

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I first saw it on TV as a young one and it never left me, for Over the Edge is not only one of the most realistic movies about teenage rebellion, but also one of the most artful (the music, from Cheap Trick to Van Halen to The Ramones is the perfect rejoice/rebel soundtrack, like the horomones surging through our teen bodies; and the score, by Kaplan's father, Sol Kaplan, is powerfully haunting). It's also a scathing indictment against some of the more ill advised methods of urban planning -- which someone needed to address -- especially in regard to the teens both stumbling around and defiantly strutting through those barren landscapes.

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If you ever felt the trauma of moving or witnessed the growth of strip malls (I think most Americans know and at this point, sadly, accept this Shivers-esque horror, even without re-locating), you'll understand the angst of these kids. Rebellion via drinking, drugs, not minding the folks, goofing off at school, fighting and make-out sessions isn't anything new, but in Over the Edge, it digs into the realistic fun of it (because that stuff is fun when you're a teen).

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When Carl (Michael Eric Kramer) falls in love with Cory (Pamela Ludwig), it's touching, even gentle. And the excitement he feels watching her wave a gun around to Cheap Trick would impress most young boys -- even if the gun goes off. It's not all sweet, of course, there's the dangers -- due mostly to overzealous cops. And then the kids start destroying things.

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The story has young Carl (Kramer) moving to an ugly subdivision called New Granada (somewhere in the Southwestern United States) where kids are doing what they do best when bored, alienated and disgusted: rebelling. Smoking dope, carrying switchblades, fighting, dropping LSD in class (one of the film's funnier moments), these kids aren't acting out simply because they're thoughtless, they are in fact, deeply unhappy with how antiseptic life is turning out. New Granada is a shit-hole, a place where even the nice houses look like you could put your fist through a wall, and their varied families (Carl's appears liberal, which underscores the frustration going on with his sell-out, though sympathetic parents) seem to be kidding themselves. It's a depressing place, a depressing new world and the teens are the only ones who can truly verbalize (or act upon) this ... depression.

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Kaplan completely gets why kids need to find an alternate world within their loathsome planned community, even if it's a destructive one. And I don't want to give anything away -- but -- it does get destructive. The parents will find themselves trapped, even as some find themselves defending their kids (after all these are kids -- Carl's only 14). And even if the kids trash the entire school -- which is a spectacular moment and one I doubt could be attempted today -- you do feel for them. 

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This was before internet, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter and yes indeed, kids still could connect, could find a lot of things to do -- a lot. And if you remember both junior high and high school without all of that communication, you may (like me) remember meetings in the woods or sneaking out the window or actually getting notes from a crush -- not a text. And to simplify, if you hated junior high, hated high school, swilled Boone's wine and bummed around abandoned houses while rocking out to Cheap Trick, you will relate. This may sound very, very wrong, but I hope these kinds of rebellion remain timeless. Over the Edge not only does, but is prescient for the future to come. But from Dillon to Spano to Cheap Trick (the thrill of hearing the opening of "Hello There" after Spano takes that shot -- it's just so exciting) well, man, rebelling ain't what it used to be. Actually, it's probably much of the same -- the sountrack just isn't as good.

Comments

Bill

It's strange how pop culture has failed to pick up on what a cultural touchstone this film is for an entire generation of eighties kids. I was obsessed with this movie when it was run non-stop on cable. It thrilled me as a kid, and haunts me as an adult.

Nick Perkins

Good piece of writing on this amazing and unique film, Kim. Like others who have posted here, and like yourself, I was 12 when I first saw the movie, on HBO, in my small Oklahoma town; and although I was already very much into Cheap Trick -- partuclarly the Budokan record -- the soundtrack tunes merged so perfectly with the performances, and the personalities to which I felt very much drawn, in a way unlike any other movie of our generation. THANKS FOR WRITING so well about this.

James M. Tate

it IS the greatest teen movie ever. thank you for this. i run Sgt. Doberman's (Harry Northup's) facebook page and am looking forward to doing a Vincent Spano interview to discuss this masterpiece.

D

As many have already pointed out, this movie has a massive effect on me. I was almost the exact same age as the characters in the movie when I first saw it (and then watched repeatedly), living in a similar version of suburban hell replete with nice new homes and streets and not a darn thing for a young teenager to do but steal booze from the 'rents, try to hook up with similarly bored girls, and commit petty vandalism to a soundtrack of Cheap Trick, Van Halen and The Ramones. This movie, then and now, felt like a documentary to me and my friends rather than fiction, and, to this day, it is the only art of my era (along with the aforementioned music) that actually nailed the alienation we all felt.

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