“Over the Edge” (1979)
Studio: Orion Pictures Corporation
Starring: Michael Eric Kramer, Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano, Harry Northup, Andy Romano
Directed by: Jonathan Kaplan
Running Time: 95 min.
Synopsis: Teenagers in a small town get frustrated with their parents and the police and start taking matters into their own hands.
This is arguably one of the best “youth gone wild/teen rebellion” films of all time. Over the Edge is a great film that has young teens rising up against their parents and authority. Jonathan Kaplan does an excellent job as director and has a great cast both kid and adult in the movie. The film also captures a time growing up in the late 70’s in a small suburban town. Plus it features some great 70’s rock all through the movie. Kaplan crafts a great piece on teen angst in America.
The film is about a group of junior high school students that just want to have fun, get drunk and high, and hopefully get laid. The adults of the town are more worried about building their small town of New Granada with more businesses and houses than paying attention to their kids. When the promise of building a bowling alley and a movie theater is broken, the kids have nothing to do, but hang out at a small rec center and get into trouble. The adults in town just want their children to follow their orders while they only care about themselves instead of thinking about their kids’ needs.
The story follows two best friends, Carl (Michael Kramer) and Richie (Matt Dillon, in his first role) as they try to stay sane from their boring town and stay clear of trouble, but trouble always finds them. The two get hauled in by Sgt. Doberman (Harry Northup), who is always looking to bust kids for anything, thinking they are associated with two other teens (one played by Vincent Spano) who were shooting a B-B gun at ongoing traffic. Richie is the wilder of the two and has been in trouble a number of times. Carl is more quiet, but Richie is rubbing off on him a bit. Doberman ends up not having anything on the two and he lets them go, but he keeps an eye on them.
The rest of the film has the parents trying to keep their kids in line while investors are visiting their town to possibly build some businesses. The kids get wind of this and try to frighten them away by placing firecrackers inside the engine of their car. After that, the investors leave and the adults try to figure out what can be done with their children. Meanwhile, Doberman busts one of the teens for having drugs on him and the others suspect another teen that sold him the drugs ratted on him when they got busted. Richie, Carl, and a few others decided to pay this kid a visit and according to Richie’s motto, “A kid who rats on another kid is a dead kid.” They break into the kid’s house, confront him, and throw him in a pond by his house. His mother witnesses this and calls the cops and now Doberman has a reason to put Carl and Richie away.
The characters in the film are fourteen years old and fourteen-year-old actors play them. Most of the time teen characters are played by actors in their twenties and many times you don’t buy them as the characters they play. With having teen actors you buy it and it gives it more realism. Plus, the young actors in the cast do an excellent job, with Dillon being the biggest standout by playing Richie. Kramer and Spano are two other standouts as well as adult actors Northup and Carl’s father Fred (Andy Romano). The film is very character-driven and the outstanding cast pulls off their roles and makes the film a good watch.
Of course, these teens are not innocent and they take no shit from anyone. Richie is not afraid of the cops and often gets in the face of Doberman. Drugs are the main thing that keeps the teens entertained. Even during the day at school. There is one scene where one of the teens walks into class and tells Carl that he just took some speed. It turns out that it was acid and for the rest of the day the kid trips out, especially during an art class where they look at some slides of some abstract art and the kid almost goes crazy from looking at it.
Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter write a very good story that was actually based on an article from the early 70’s that was about teens out of control in California. There is great build up when the kids just start off playing pranks and trying to get high to them defying their parents and the police and trying to take control of the town and push out all the adults. The film shows how the parents just care about themselves and do not listen to their kids. The teens try to get their parents to listen and understand at first, but they end up taking matters into their own hands.
There is also a great soundtrack to the film, which features songs from Cheap Trick, The Cars, Van Halen, and Jimi Hendrix. The film had a limited release due to the fact of the growing number of youth crimes. I guess they thought the film might escalate the crime rate. Instead the film got a cult following over the years and even inspired Nirvana’s 1991 music video, Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Over the Edge is a great film from the 70’s and a great film of teen rebellion. If you have not seen the film before, check it out. It is definitely worth watching. It is a cool cult film with an outstanding talented cast, a very good story, a rocking soundtrack, and a great look at the 70’s youth gone wild.