“Try Seventeen” (aka “All I Want”) could most definitely have been better, but it’s restrained by a lot of things, one of which is the need to be too mainstream. It’s a crowd pleaser, with an attractive cast and a screenplay that is more witty than bland — all good things for the undemanding moviegoer. And yet, the movie won’t stay with you for long, because it simply doesn’t want to be more than just slightly better than average.
Elijah Woods, taking a brief respite from his duties as Frodo the Hobbit in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, stars as 17-year old Jones Dillon. Having arrived at college with a suitcase full of unsent letters to a father he never knew, Jones somberly plans to begin his 4 years in purgatory (aka college). But before that can happen, Jones gets harassed out of his dorm and ends up renting space at a quaint house. Here, he’s surrounded by colorful neighbors, including the gun-toting gay painter Brad (Aaron Pearl), the slightly “off” photographer Jane (Franka Potente), and the self-absorbed aspiring actress Lisa (Mandy Moore). Using money courtesy of his wealthy but unstable single mother (Elizabeth Perkins), Jones makes due while waiting for the college semester to start.
The guilty pleasure of “Try Seventeen” is watching teen Mandy Moore — who was, I believe, 18 at the film’s shooting — acting older than Elijah Woods, who had at least 3 years on her. Woods’ character is a virgin and inexperienced with women, while singer/actress Moore has carefully crafted her image to be one of virginal girl next door. So it’s pretty entertaining to watch Moore’s Lisa seducing Jones, and at one point coming dangerously close to taking his virginity. Moore (“A Walk To Remember”) does an okay job as the narcissistic and prissy Lisa, even if it’s painfully obvious she’s anything but those things.
The film’s star is Wood, with German import Franka Potente (“The Bourne Identity”) as his much older love interest. And since “Try Seventeen” plays it safe for the most part, I think you can guess how their relationship will get resolved. The words “nice and tidy” are indeed very appropriate. Then again, the ending won’t be a surprise because the screenplay by Charles Kephart is every bit a “Hollywood script”. This means that the movie rarely takes risk, and even when it shows signs of being different, it realizes what it is and manages to pull back in order to tow the line.
“Try Seventeen” will work for a lot of people because the story is very in tune with what happens to teens as they set off into the world on that confusing and not-so-magical road between childhood and adulthood. Of course most of us couldn’t afford to rent an entire house and not go near a job application, such is the case with Wood’s Jones. And not all of us had rich alcoholic moms to pay our way. Still, there was enough about “Try Seventeen” that we could relate to, hence it will play well with recent college survivors — er, graduates. Of course everything is exaggerated, but there’re enough familiarity here that the film is effective most of the time.
If you could get over the slightly odd dynamics of the film, with 17-year old Jones in love with late-20-something Jane while being pursued by 20-something Lisa, then “Try Seventeen” has enough good spots to carry it through to the end. The movie runs only 90 minutes, which means it never stays longer than it should. Director Jeffrey Porter is obviously working with a big budget, which makes sense considering the cast he’s managed to assemble. Fact is, Porter probably had more money than he needed, or knew what to do with.
“Try Seventeen” won’t blow anyone’s socks away. The script is too pat, and there are not enough hard moments to convince us that the movie is anything other than a manufactured product courtesy of Hollywood. Still, there are enough good moments sprinkled throughout to make the whole thing a nice treat, even if it won’t change anyone’s view of the world. Oh sure, the film tries very hard to prove its mettle, but in the end it just couldn’t bring itself to — as the Doors would say — break on through.
Jeffrey Porter (director) / Charles Kephart (screenplay)
CAST: Elijah Wood …. Jones Dillon
Franka Potente …. Jane
Mandy Moore …. Lisa
Aaron Pearl …. Brad
Elizabeth Perkins …. Blanche
Chris Martin …. Steve