In a way, Neal Jimenez' debut screenplay was a kind of anti-teen movie. A brilliant and deftly wrought explication of the kind of amorality and listlessness that movies like Reality Bites only hinted at, River’s Edge stands out as a weirdly timeless movie about the loss of innocence and the total lack of fucks given by those losing it. HOWEVER! It’s still rife with some exquisitely dated material, totally gonzo performances by both Dennis Hopper AND Crispin Glover, and some really choice cuts from the finest radio metal 1984 had to offer. How are you supposed to parse the social significance of this movie in the midst of all this culture dross? That’s what the Scorecard’s for, dummy. Seriously, is this your first time here??
- Choosing to open your film with a shot of Keanu's Reeves' punk prepubescent little brother throwing his even younger sister's baby doll into a flooded river. = +30pts for giving a big middle-finger to society's firmly entrenched gender roles. -20pts for glorifying a dick who’s destroying a small child's most prized possession. (= +10pts all day.)
- Oh, and also casting the dude who would go on to be the wisecracking, William S. Borroughs-T-shirt-wearing cranky vampire from Kathryn Bigelow’s sublime After Dark to play said little brother. = +13pts
- A grey, completely washed-out scene of John (real name Samson, but his friends call him John because his last name is Tollet… You know, Tollet, toilet, John??) rocking back and forth on the bank of the river next to the body of his dead girlfriend who's totes naked. = -15pts (Since you could’ve blurred that shit out if you wanted to)
- Obviously this underaged homeboy with the dead gf is going to get hassled at the convenience store while trying to buy a single can of Budweiser, we get that. When he points at the clerk and shouts, "I don't give a fuck about you, and I don't give a fuck about your laws"? Well, we were blown away. For showing a troubled youth from a broken home fighting the power the only way he knows how. = +7pts
- Little dude (his name’s Tim, by the way) who hates his sister's doll snatching 2 tall-boys of terrible beer and greeting John with a query as to whether he's got any weed. Kids say the darndest things. = -20pts
- Setting the mood with a choice cut from Hallows Eve's seminal album Death & Insanity ("Lethal Tendencies," if you were wondering). = +8pts
- There is nothing quite like seeing Crispin Glover roll up in a ridiculously modified VW Beetle shouting "HURRY YOUR ASS!" at a be-jean-jacketed Keanu Reeves. Singular filmmaking right here, folks = +30pts
- Rolling up on Dennis Hopper's house and he's barely playing a saxophone, sitting right next to a consummately creepy blow-up doll that he refers to as his "friend." = -3pts
- Casting Dennis Hopper as a gonzo drug dealer who—for whatever reason—doesn't charge for the drugs he provides to area teens. Man, the ‘80s were a wild time, are we right?! = -5pts
- Uh oh… Crispin Glover is going out with Ione Skye, and that over-sized cable-knit sweater is doing her all sorts of favors in this high school courtyard… If we were Keanu Reeves right now (and we can't stress enough how thankful we are that we aren't) we'd probably want to put the moves on her, as well. = -4pts
- Aggro murder-bro shows up to school, promptly announces he's murdered his girlfriend, and everyone makes like they don't give a fuck. Man, these high school kids are some pretty cool customers. = +7pts
- A totally impotent high school teacher telling all his students about how "fundamental changes" were accomplished by the hippie generation. "We stopped a war, man!" And all the kids are about ready to give him a wedgie. = +500pts
- The teacher's reminiscences about Vietnam War protests and cracking police officers' skulls provides the impetus for a rousing classroom debate. "But don't you think violence is wrong?" "Oh, fuck off, Kevin. Wasting pigs is radical." = +200pts
- The teen girls in this group of wasteoids reacting with a lot my sympathy upon seeing their dead friend by the River's Edge. Nice way to reassert a "nurturing" trait in women, shitlords. = -800pts
- Crispin Glover trying to rally this raggle-taggle band of miscreants like he knows what he's talking about. = +3pts
- Keanu's little bro and his dirtbag friend shooting crayfish in a bucket with pellet rifles. Not mellow. = -45pts
- Keanu's response: "Why are you two such delinquents?" = +4pts
- Little Bro's rejoinder? "Because of our fucked-up childhoods." Game set and match. = +30pts
- Crispin Glover's expected compensation for burying someone's dead girlfriend is totally a sixer. "You think I'd at least rate a Michelob." = -20pts (Michelob has never been good. Crispin Glover obviously has terrible taste in beer/friends).
- We're getting the distinct impression that Crispin Glover is the only one who cares about what's going on around him, and the only reason he does is because he's otherwise bored. These kids are terminally chill. We love it. = +25pts
- This cop leaning on Keanu Reeves is getting super judgey. Wouldn't hurt if he toned down the rhetoric a little bit. Consider this buzz irrevocably harshed. = -60pts
- If we were trying to hide our completely apathetic murderous buddy, we couldn't think of a better place to do so than Dennis Hopper's grody ranch house, either. Strong work, Crispin Glover! = +20pts
- Keanu Reeves, mustering the fullness of his vocabulary of insults to hit up his exemplary lame stepdad with, "Motherfucker! Food eater!" = +3pts
- The narrative is further complicated by the fact that Keanu Reeves' 12-year-old brother now considers him a traitor for talking to the cops about the murder, and is almost definitely trying to kill him now. "Go get your nunchucks and your dad's car. I know where we can get a gun." = +40pts
- Ione Skye's headboard incorporates an over-sized, vaguely traditional Japanese hand fan. CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. = -350pts
- Little brother's reaction to riding around in a stolen car is about as perfect as possible: "Bitchin'!" = +70pts
- On recounting his days as a biker, Dennis Hopper remarks that he "ate so much pussy in those days" that his "beard looked like a glazed donut. = +60pts for m-to-f oral sex advocacy. -30pts for an analogy that will haunt us for the rest of our lives. +30pts all day.
- Aggro dude sums up the philosophy of the movie thus: "You do shit, and then it's done, and then you die..." = -3pts (Heavy)
- When Ione Skye starts doubting whether or not she should keep her friend's death a secret, Crispin Glover quickly explains to her how little he needs her and then kicks her out of his car in the middle of town. Firing on all cylinders. = +7pts
- When little brother and his lackey break into Dennis Hopper's house things get just about as weird as we'd expected them to. Yep. Time for some black garbage bags filled with the fakest looking weed ever committed to film. = -9pts
- Those dulcet synth lines do an incredible job setting the tone for Ione and Keanu's romantic sleeping bag meanderings in the middle of some weird field. The ‘80s were pretty desolate, we guess. = +4pts
- Keanu's trying to come off as serious as he can about the death of their mutual friend, but his face looks about as dumb as you're imagining it does right now. = +11pts
- When John and Feck make their way to the river it's all fun and humping real-dolls until someone starts shouting at them from across the river and shots are fired. = +2pts
- "I wasn't even mad, really… She didn't look too surprised… I had total control over her…" of course this is juxtaposed with a super awkward sex scene between Keanu and Ione. "She was dead there right in front of me, and I felt. SO. FUCKING. ALIVE!" -1pt
- Those fuckin' kids! They just took Feck out with their nunchucks, showing absolutely no remorse whatsoever. Part of us wants to get behind that kind of radical freedom, but another, much larger part of us just wants to call them out on being little shitheels. = -40pts.
- Reeves' bedroom is everything we hoped it would be. An unpainted wall, a respectable smattering of heavy metal posters, a sign reading "safety glasses required beyond this point" leading to the hallway. We really, really wish more of the movie could've been shot in here. = +2pts
- When your mom's in the middle of a nervous breakdown, it's imperative to explain to her that the joint you're about to leave the house with is from your stash, and not hers. Little things, really. = +20pts.
- This squirrely fading hippie teacher is giving his class all sorts of hell about how they aren't authentic or whatever because they aren't outraged over their friend's death. Can this guy just move to Vermont already, make some ice cream and call it day? Ugh. Ground Control to Major Downer. = -30pts
- Crispin Glover's fantastic riverside meltdown upon finding John's dead body is about as Crispin Glover as it gets. Whereas (FUN FACT!) Keanu Reeves trying to calm him down is the inspiration for the classic Buzzfeed listicle “17 Keanu Reeveses Who Forgot How To Human.” = +23pts
- Crispin Glover inadvertently inventing planking, like, 15 years before its time. = +60pts
Total Score = -276pts
Available on: DVD, Karagarga if your rad cousin can hook you up with a login
River’s Edge caused a bit of commotion (critically, if not commercially) when it came out, mainly because it laid bare the alternating pattern of apathy and outrage that lies at the core of any group behavior. Oddly enough this doesn’t play well to most major market audiences. We’ve got a young Keanu Reeves playing a role almost perfectly suited to him, since, after all, “affectless, barely lifeless” fits his M.O. to a tee. Dennis Hopper seems thrown in almost as a nod to the revolutionary films he helped create that obviously shaped Jimenez’s writing and Tim Hunter’s direction. The real standout of the film is Crispin Glover, whose insane portrayal of Layne is one of the most singular ever filmed. What does it all mean? We guess that’s a trick question, since the whole movie is kind of about a lack of meaning. However, with this scorecard, you’ll definitely have a better time watching the decline of Western Civilization as people in Reagan’s 1st term know it.
Score Technician: Paul Bower