Why do I keep going back?
Nonetheless, living as a second-class citizen in this heterosexist society, and having grown up invisible in an even more homophobic climate, I crave gay movies and I don’t stop trying to find the good ones.
The situation is so dire that oftentimes, all a gay movie has to do to lead the pack is merely not be idiotic. Regardless of the skin quotient, gay movies are frequently like porn in their embarrassing dialogue. But there have been a few over the years that were truly good, and they have affected me deeply and given me hope to straggle on through all the incorrigible performances of incomprehensibly cheesy material.
I remember being 20 years old and seeing the preview for Stonewall.
I didn’t care whether it was an accurate depiction of the birth of the gay rights movement and I didn’t even realize that it was a quasi-musical with drag queens lip-syncing to great songs by 1960s girl groups to comment on the narrative. I just gleaned that it was the story of a young gay guy moving to New York City and finding love and good times. There’s a youthful abandon and joy and romance that I love in movies and I knew, from the preview, I would find it in Stonewall. It’s like how I used to watch Meatballs before I went to summer camp, or Sixteen Candles before school started, the movies would get me revved up for what I was about to experience – I yearned for movies that would get me excited to start my life as a gay man.
For years, a fairly reliable source of decent gay films was the Boys Life series of short film compilations showcasing the work of many writers and directors who went on to bigger things. I remember being especially taken with A Friend of Dorothy, about an NYU freshman finding himself in the “Vocals” section at Tower Records and, of course, I was moved and inspired by the Academy Award-winning Trevor about a suicidal preteen who finds hope and strength in musical comedy. Like I said, reflections of my life (minus the NYU and suicide…).
More recently, in Boys Life 5, there was a short I loved called Dare, about a high school boy getting a little taste of his fantasy coming true with the captain-of-the-football-team type. There was nothing groundbreaking about this movie, but it was well written, directed and acted so as gay movie, it was noteworthy, and I found it touching and sweet. Did I mention the boy’s name was Ben?
Now, a full-length feature version of Dare is opening in theatres and I am thrilled with how this little gay movie has been opened up into something bigger.
We still get the story of Ben and Johnny, his jock, but now Ben’s story is fleshed out beyond the cliché of the sad-sack high schooler. The context of Ben’s life, down to his recoiling at the nurturing of his doting, liberal mother (a warm and winning Ana Gasteyer, hilarious without a shred of satiric “Saturday Night Live” shenanigans) makes the events recreated from the earlier short film significantly more affecting.
Dare applies this sophisticated and sensitive eye to a broader slice of high school life, by exploring the story from the distinct perspective of each of the three main characters, Ben, Johnny, and their mutual friend Alexa, one at a time, played pitch-perfect by Ash Springer, Zach Gilford and Emmy Rossum, respectively.
With its angst-ridden and intense coming-together of adolescents from strikingly different walks of high school life, Dare winds up as something of a present-day Breakfast Club. While the convening may not resemble the High School Musical-esque fresh faced cuties riffin’ and hoofin’ as on “Glee,” like “Glee,” Dare points the way toward a reframing of the high school experience inclusive of gays (and the guys and gals who love them), but not limited to them.
I don’t want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that none of these people are defined by the labels we seek to give them and Dare does a remarkable job of letting us into their minds and hearts as they struggle to connect to themselves and each other. If that’s not enough for you, I hasten to add there’s a brilliant cameo by Sandra Bernhard as a shrink in her best screen performance since The King of Comedy.
Maybe the problem all along has been gay movies that seek to be about nothing more than the mere fact of being gay. Like the characters in Dare, our lives are, of course, about much more than that.