Monday, September 21, 2009

The Wonderful, Horrible Decade Known as the 80's: Rants on The Informers and Edge of Seventeen

In case you haven't quite caught on, I'm a huge fan of the 80's. Love everything about them: the big hair, the bad clothes and the amazing synth pop. I was only around for the last two years of the decade, but I totally miss everything about it. I know it sounds odd to have nostalgia for something you were never really part of, but that's how it goes sometimes. Last weekend I had a wonderfully unplanned double feature of recent films looking back at the decade, whether in nostalgia or mournful remembrance: Gregor Jordan's multi-character drama The Informers and David Moreton's gay coming-of-age film Edge of Seventeen.

Bret Easton Ellis, an 80's icon famous for his novels about the disaffected children of southern Californian yuppies, wrote the collection of stories The Informers is based on and also worked on the screenplay for the film (the first time he's done that with any of his novels, which include Less Than Zero, American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction). Right from the get go, the script feels exactly like what you would expect an Ellis work to feel like with its collection of young, blonde, rich 20-somethings spending their time alternating between lying around the pool and engaging in meaningless sex. There are a couple of other subplots involving distant, cold parents going through an odd separation and reconciliation and a Mickey Rourke-led kidnapping that somehow involves a violent group of pedophile gangsters. But, aside from the screenplay, all touches of Ellis seem to have vanished from the finished product. Director Jordan seems clueless about how to bring what makes Ellis's writing so unique to life onscreen. To be fair, it takes a special director to make his spaced-out and drama-light plots and characters work in the film medium, but Jordan just isn't up to task. The cast feels completely random (Billy Bob Thorton married to Kim Basinger and banging Winona Ryder? What?) and no one seems to get into the Ellis-ian spirit. Jon Foster is pretty and certainly looks the part of the main douchebag, but I just couldn't muster any feeling for him--sympathy, hatred or otherwise. And the less said about my Jakey's BFF Austin Nichols and his abysmal performance, the better. Apparently, 40-something minutes had to be cut before its theatrical release and you can definitely feel it in the film's infinite boredom. Maybe a director's cut will reveal something not readily apparent, but for now we're stuck with this lackluster version. D+

The poster for David Moreton's Edge of Seventeen couldn't be more misleading if it tried. I was expecting a nice, charming 80's-set romantic comedy about two young men falling in love and what I got was something totally different. I'm not saying it was bad, just not what I was expecting. The film follows a young, inexperienced and doubting gay named Eric (the fantastic Chris Stafford) coming to terms with his sexuality in a small Midwest town in the 80's. He meets Rod, a gay man he works with who arouses something in him that he's never felt before. They eventually hook up in a hotel room, giving Eric his first male-on-male sexual experience. If this sounds like old hat, it probably is. But Moreton and the cast make it go down easy, even managing to make the clichés seem fresh. After this hookup, the film takes a drastic turn. Instead of focusing on a burgeoning relationship between the two, like the poster suggests, Edge of Seventeen turns slightly darker with Eric discovering the gay scene while trying to figure out his relationship with his best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes). It was at this stage where the film got extremely personal and I spent the whole time fretting about the bad decisions Eric was making regarding his choice in men. I don't want to say I've been there, because I haven't, but I almost empathized with the character and felt for him like he was a close friend. And that's where I feel Edge of Seventeen succeeds best. It may not be totally original or especially groundbreaking, but it really makes you feel for the characters. How many GLBT films--especially ones stuck in the "gay ghetto" of filmdom--can truly say that? B


seanisbored said...

I agree with everything you had to say about Edge of Seventeen. Great gay movie that takes a cliched story (gay crush - gay sex - gay angst) and makes it thoroughly watchable. Plus, the clothes!!

Anonymous said...

The 80s where bad?

Have you lived in the 2000s yet?

Much more horrible....

Dame James said...

Well, I think the 80's looked like an awesome time period, I just never actually lived in them. I remember reading a review for Adventureland (which I liked very much), and the reviewer said something to the affect that he was sick of 80's nostalgia movies that make the decade look so awesome when it really wasn't that great. And the way Bret Easton Ellis writes about them, they sound less than fun (although I would still love to live in that world).