Strange creatures haunt the wide streets and narrow minds of a perfect community, their shadows as thick as smoke with flammable intentions that sting like fire. Jonathan Kaplan pushes adolescent ennui and the emotional violence of puberty like a drug that fuels an epic meltdown between those who protect…and those who are served.
OVER THE EDGE is a powerful film because it’s a powerful story that doesn’t rely on trite characterizations and maudlin generalizations. Kaplan focuses his camera upon these young boys and girls and is compassionate to their cause, allowing natural dialogue and body language to communicate their problems and desires. He composes mostly in medium shot with long takes, allowing tracking shots as these teenagers move and speak in a relaxed and realistic manner. When projected onto a large screen, the cinematic elements coalesce into a feature narrative as opposed to feeling like it was made-for-TV which often plagues wordy “message” movies. The child actors are especially wonderful though it’s the adults who veer towards stereotype.
The film begins with Cheap Trick’s low-slung guitar riffs pulsing through the suburban imagery as we’re introduced to the prefabricated community of New Grenada. This dichotomy sets the tone for the entire film as one of placid waters concealing a violent riptide beneath. The credits end with a teenager shooting a BB gun at a police car and again Rick Nielsen’s blistering guitar accentuates Robin Zander’s growling scream of introduction: “…are you ready or not!?” For teenagers we fist pump with the adrenaline rush of complicity but as adults we feel the sudden stabbing pain of anxiety and fear. No wonder this was a film that scared the studio into a limited release which quickly buried the film from national attention. It would find life a few years later on pay channels and become recognized as a classic worthy of rediscovery.
The narrative is mostly filtered through the life of our young protagonist Carl and his friend Richie (a young Matt Dillon). Carl comes from a middle class home with successful parents and Richie lives in suburban housing with a single mother who hides her stash in her Ford Bronco. It’s clear that Kaplan is blurring the lines between the two social hierarchies and depicting the kids as one general group: classless but bonded by their communal dissatisfaction with adults and authority. The kids hang together in the local Rec Center where they can shoot pool, smoke, drink and socialize without their parents around. This is their hideaway. Julia is the Director of the Rec Center and the only adult who is shown respect by the kids because she respects them! The story stumbles through Carl’s school daze and adventures outside of school like getting high, going to parties, looking for the cute redhead he has a crush on, all with Richie by his side. We see the clash of parents mostly through Carl’s family as his mother pleads for understanding while his father rants about the downturn in his Cadillac business. Carl’s home life is lost in his earphones where Cheap Trick, The Cars and the Ramones make everything bearable. Fuck, who can’t relate to those feelings! There is little driving force throughout the story just infractions that lead to the final confrontation and conflagration.
OVER THE EDGE is both dark and humorous at times, showing these kids interacting in realistic ways. In the film’s most famous lines Richie states “Any kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid”. Carl doesn’t squeal but gets assaulted by the shooter (in the opening credits sequence) anyway. Later in the film Carl gets his revenge and the adolescent scales of justice are balanced once again and the two become accomplices. These kids see the adults who are more concerned with property values and secreting their children away from the wealthy investors as the true enemy. It is a battle of generations that was fought by Dean, Hoffman, and now Dillon: a battle that will always rage between the dying of the light and the rising of the sun. Finally, New Grenada explodes like a grenade, its shrapnel wounding all in this teenage wasteland.
Final Grade: (B+)