Saturday, July 01, 2006

Over the Edge (1979)

One thing about getting movies from Netflix is that they will make recommendations for you based on your movie selections. Some of these are dumb, like “Oh, you liked ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ so you might enjoy ‘101 Dalmations’.” Others make more sense. Based on the fact that we LOVED “Repo Man,” Netflix suggested this movie about youth-gone-wild called “Over the Edge.” It’s Matt Dillon’s first movie, so we figured “What the hell.” I can’t say that I see any connection to “Repo Man,” but it turned out to be pretty good, in a twisted way.
“Over the Edge” follows the exploits of several early-teenage kids in a suburban planned community, which I think is somewhere in Colorado. Some of the kids live in the upscale part, while others live in tenement-like apartments, but one thing they all have in common is that there is nothing for them to do out in the middle of nowhere but get in trouble. And get in trouble they do. They get stoned, screw, and vandalize everything in sight, and their parents only seem to get involved with them when the police call. Finally, the parents have a meeting to discuss the “youth problem”, and their kids bring reality home to them in a truly violent climax.
This is one of those rare movies in which teenagers are played by actual teenagers, instead of 20-year-old models. Using real 13-year-olds really benefits the film, lending stark reality to the disturbing nature of these kids’ lives. The story goes that the filmmakers first held regular auditions for the movie, but they didn’t think the clean-cut, drama club kids they were getting had the right look. They then just went to some New York junior high schools and looked around, which is where they found young Matt Dillon, getting suspended in the principal’s office. The rest, as they say, is history.
These “troubled youth” type movies tend to either border on exploitation or look like after-school specials, but “Over the Edge” manages to walk the fine line between the two. The film has something of a “Reefer Madness”-esque, public service announcement feel, but I have to say I was totally entertained. “Over the Edge” has aged very well, and the story could just as easily be set in 2006 as in 1979. The film’s overt message is that suburban communities often lack amenities for kids, and bored kids are trouble. As one character puts it, “Seems to me like you all were in such a hopped-up hurry to get out of the city that you turned your kids into exactly what you were trying to get away from.”
“Over the Edge” got me thinking about how movies have expressed our cultural anxieties about the “younger generation.” I think that adults have always had a tendency to think that their children are out of control, but it seems that the sixties and seventies were a more openly rebellious time for young people. Some writers have suggested that movies from that period like “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “The Exorcist” (1973), and “The Omen” (1976) reflect the fears of adults at that time that their children were literally monsters who had turned against them. If so, then maybe more overt films that came out later, like “Over the Edge” and “The Outsiders” (1983) represent some progress in terms of adults trying to understand what their kids are dealing with. Of course, “Rebel Without a Cause” came out in 1955, so maybe I’m just making all this up. Either way, even after 25 years, “Over the Edge” retains the ability to shock, and is worth watching.

3 stars out of 5

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