Tag: tina holmes

Edge of Seventeen


Edge of Seventeen (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Edge of Seventeen” continues where standard coming-out-of-the-closet comedy-dramas usually end which makes this picture, written by Todd Stephens and directed by David Moreton, an instant standout in the sub-genre. Too many LGBTQIA+ movies, especially those designed for mainstream consumption, are forgettable precisely because they end up following the same parabola while reaching alarmingly familiar conclusions. It is rare when a film like “Edge of Seventeen” comes along for it has courage to tell you that coming out to your family and friends does not magically turn your life around. It provides the possibility that things can get messier and more complicated—which is okay because adapting to change takes time. It is more interested in presenting reality than providing a false sense of security.

The story revolves around Eric (Chris Stafford), a soon-to-be senior in high school who gets a summer job at a theme park in food service. There, he meets Rod (Andersen Gabrych), an Ohio State University student who seems genuinely interested in getting to know Eric. Although the screenplay underscores the attraction felt by the two men, this is no ordinary romance. The feelings are real, but the writing proves sharp in that for there to be convincing drama, the two must be separated. Otherwise, the story becomes about the couple rather than Eric who struggles with self-acceptance. The presence of the Rod character is solely meant to jolt Eric’s latent homosexuality. It is beautifully done, quite elegant and unexpected. And it is right.

Another insight the writing provides is that there is a crucial difference between coming out and accepting one’s sexuality. Coming out can be easy, for some. But looking inside—really checking in, asking questions, and being honest—that’s far more challenging. It poses the question: How can one so easily accept being different—being gay—when society trains you to believe that being different, odd, strange—queer—is inferior to being “normal”? How can you fit in when the standard—the expectation—is heterosexuality and heteronormativity? I loved how this film is about ideas first rather than comic strip situations that characters find themselves in then having them react.

Notice how the film takes the time to show conversations—no score or soundtrack playing in the background—that look, sound, and feel real. Standouts are exchanges between Eric and his mother (Stephanie McVay): how he shares with her a song he’s been working on, what she thinks about it, and if she regrets dropping out of college (she studied music) in order to start a family. We also spend ample of time with Eric and his best friend Maggie (Tina Holmes), who is obviously attracted to him. We see them being called names at school, at parties, and other social gatherings. And we also see why. They don’t dress or act or try to force themselves to get along with their peers. We get a sense that they’re outcasts even before they’re called freaks. Naturally, this friendship is tested when Maggie learns about Eric’s secret. I appreciated how it goes in unexpected and occasionally painful directions. I appreciated its honesty in suggesting that sometimes even the strongest friendships are unable to weather certain storms.

“Edge of Seventeen” is not for viewers who are 1) looking to feel good about themselves and 2) unwilling to go delve deeply in what the filmmakers are actually communicating about the realities of being gay and coming out. The story, like life, is left in an open-ended manner. It trusts us to evaluate where Eric’s relationships might end up based on the knowledge we’ve acquired throughout our time with them. Ultimately, I found optimism in Eric’s story even though it is more bitter than sweet. Eric is only seventeen. He has so much more to experience. Why box him into a defined ending just so we can feel good? The astute and penetrating filmmakers really thought about what they wished to accomplish—and it shows.

Shelter


Shelter (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★

I have a weakness for characters who desperately try to keep their families together, especially when they go as far as to sacrifice their own hopes and dreams. Zach, played expertly by Trevor Wright, is that kind of character and I loved him the minute he appeared on screen. Wright plays Zach with such charisma and complexity. I felt like Zach could indeed be a real person: a surfer who genuinely loves his dysfunctional family and wants to pursue his talent for the arts but can’t quite do so because of pecuniary issues… who happens to be gay, instead of the other way around (which what separates this from most LGBT films). There are many memorable scenes but I’m not going to mention them all. But I do want to express how much some scenes affected me. The one scene when Jackson Wurth (who plays Zach’s cute little nephew) revealed that he sees Wright as his father instead of his uncle says a lot about how much Wright acts a parental figure in Wurth’s life. As much as Wright tries to clarify Wurth’s thinking, it’s all for naught because his actions speak louder than his words. Another stand-out scene was when Wright was driving back home in the morning after he and Brad Rowe finally got together. In the car, when Wright finally smiled (he’s so good at playing depressed, I didn’t know he knew how to smile), the camera caught glimpses of light penetrating through the clouds as they hit Wright’s face. That scene, with a little bit of luck, was done so perfectly, it defined the whole film: little pockets of light amidst a Sahara of sorrow.

All of the side characters are very memorable because they contribute to the main character’s already simmering inner conflict. Rowe, who added a much-needed warmth to the story, wants to be with Wright but Wright is not out of the closet. When Rowe tries to kiss him or even merely touch him in a public area, Wright would be so beyond scared/irked. Wright and Rowe’s chemistry is undeniably sexy. On the other hand, I wanted to punch Tina Holmes’ character in the face because she puts herself and other potential husbands in front of her son. But Holmes is a smart actress for putting subtleties in her performance so her character is not viewed as a complete monster. I loved her interactions with Wright because even though their characters are siblings, there’s this awkwardness to the whole thing because all she ever does is ask favors and keep her brother from spreading his wings. Katie Walder as Wright’s girlfriend sometimes breaks my heart because he’s so miserable around her even though all she wants to do is keep him happy. But sometimes it’s just plain hilarious because Wright has this look annoyed/disgusted look on his face whenever Walder tries to kiss him. Ross Thomas as Wright’s best friend is probably the only (deceptively) one-dimensional character because, in pretty much every scene, all he does is either drink beer or surf. I would’ve liked him to have had a bigger role because he is, after all, the best friend.

This is one of the best gay-themed movies I’ve seen in a while because every element worked. If one was to watch this closely, I’d say take notice of the use of color and symbolism to reach a deeper understanding of Wright’s character. It’s so refreshing to see a lead gay character who is not into fashion or going clubbing or money/shopping at all (not to mention no one died of AIDS, no cross-dressing, no suicide attempts). I can relate to Zach because he really is a serious person; I wanted to scream for him because Zach is so trapped due to the expectations of his family and of himself. He endures each hardship with such composure, and when he finally breaks I seriously wanted to cry. If this does become a cult film amongst the LGBT community, I wouldn’t be surprised.