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last update 3.Apr.07
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Coffee Date   3.5/5
coffee date With a gentle, unpretentious approach and a sly sense of wit, this romantic comedy is rather slow and convoluted, but also shows skill at breaking stereotypes. And it's thoroughly charming.

Todd (Bray) is a 35-year-old IT worker about to finally meet Kelly, a woman he's been chatting to online. But he neglected to verify one thing: the gender. It turns out that Kelly is a gay man (Cruz). But they hit it off as friends, with a common passion for old movies. Which of course convinces Todd's mother and brother (Kirkland and Silverman) that he's really gay. Suddenly, he's been outed at work and abused on the street by homophobes. And just as he starts to question himself, Kelly's sardonic flatmate Bonnie (Hendrix) makes her move.

Writer-director Wade struggles to generate much energy, but the relaxed pacing and genuine warmth are infectious. The script is sharp and telling as it examines serious issues without turning preachy. In many ways it's more like a play than a film, with limited settings and a dialog-driven story. But this helps make the characters into real people who don't always do the movie-standard thing. Even when it goes a bit mushy and corny at the end, it's still involving and sweet.

Bray and Cruz have a terrific chemistry together, nicely conveying the spark of new friendship while maintaining that will-they-won't-they edge. As their camaraderie naturally turns into affection and maybe even attraction, they keep their characters thoroughly grounded. This leaves Kirkland and especially Silverman to drift way over the top in goofy side roles ("But I'm not gay, Mom!" "Yes you are, and it's OK"). Meanwhile, Todd's workplace is a nutty variation on The Office.

But what makes the film really work is the way it quietly deepens the themes, playfully looking at the shadowy issues of attraction and sexuality. For most of the side characters, Todd is far more interesting as a metrosexual than as a nice straight boy. And as he starts seeing the world from a female perspective be even begins to doubt himself. But his voyage of self-discovery is never simplified, even if the route he takes perhaps a little too twisted.

dir-scr Stewart Wade
with Jonathan Bray, Wilson Cruz, Jonathan Silverman, Sally Kirkland, Elaine Hendrix, Deborah Gibson, Jason Stuart, Leigh Taylor-Young, Joanne Baron, Clytie Lane, Kristin Andersen, Peter Bedard
cruz and bray release US 10.Nov.06,
UK 23.Mar.07 llgff
06/US 1h34

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, language
5.Mar.07 llgff
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Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds   4/5
eating out 2: sloppy seconds The best surprise about this sequel to the 2004 gender-confusion romcom is that it's actually a better film--sharper, stronger and funnier. The filmmakers are having so much fun blurring the lines of sexuality that it's infectious.

Kyle (Verraros) and his boyfriend Marc (Chukerman) have just broken up after the latest clash between Kyle's insecurity and Marc's flirtatiousness. Kyle takes refuge with his outrageous friends Tiffani (Kochan) and Gwen (Hands), who are having relationship issues of their own. Enter a new student, Troy (Dapper), who's modelling nude in art class and doesn't seem sure whether he's straight or gay. Now all four of them are launching elaborate plans to lure Troy into bed. Kyle's involves pretending to be a reformed homosexual and inviting Troy to go to an ex-gay group meeting with him.

There's nothing remotely serious about his film, although there is an important message about self-acceptance buried underneath the rowdy shenanigans. The dialog is loaded with biting wit, with so many one-liners that it will be ripe for rewatching again and again. Especially all of Kochan's scenes; she has the timing and style of a young Jennifer Coolidge and is absolutely hilarious. Meanwhile, both Verraros and Chukerman show a surprising amount of pathos and vulnerability underneath their nerdy neediness and muscly aggression, respectively.

While we're laughing at the rapid-fire dialog and the goofy pastiche, the filmmakers are also subtly undermining the stereotypes they're playing with. Even the fundamentalist anti-gay group, after enduring some extremely ham-fisted pigeonholing, gets some slightly more pointed and thoughtful treatment as the farcical story winds to a close. And it's hard to think of any aspect of sexuality that isn't touched on, down to some fairly squirm-inducing details (although they keep it fetish-free and fairly middle class).

But don't look that closely. Audiences with an open mind will laugh all the way through this film, and even find several scenes rather outrageously sexy. Indeed, there's a little something for everyone here, and as gay-themed American Pie-style movies go, this is one of the best we've seen.

see also:

dir Phillip J Bartell
scr Phillip J Bartell, Q Allan Brocka
with Jim Verraros, Brett Chukerman, Rebekah Kochan, Marco Dapper, Emily Brooke Hands, Mink Stole, Scott Vickaryous, Adrian Quinonez, Jessie Gold, Sarah Lilly, Andrew Ley, John Dewis
verraros, dapper and kochan release US 24.Nov.06,
UK 24.Mar.07 llgff
06/US 1h25

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
3.Mar.07 llgff
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Fat Girls   3.5/5
fat girls This lively coming-of-age tale from Texas plays with the conventions of the teen genre while making the most of its low-budget indie roots.

Rodney (Christian) is a gay high school senior trying to come to terms with his inner fat girl--sidelined and misunderstood by everyone around him. His best friend Sabrina (Fink) is a fat girl inside and out. And both have found boys to take to the prom: Rodney has the cute English guy (Flaten), who's ready to make a statement, while Sabrina makes a connection with Cuban refugee Rudy (de Jesus). When Rodney catches his favourite teacher (Caouette) performing in drag in a gay bar, he begins to realise there may be hope after all.

As a writer-director, Christian packs this film with hilarious little touches that keep us giggling. Each scene is loaded with throwaway gags and quirky bits of outrageous comedy, while the characters are far more realistic than most teen movies: surly, spotty, pudgy and bereft of fashion sense. The collision between the central characters and the high-achieving student leaders is genuinely telling, as are Rodney's clashes with his overpoweringly Christian mother. In this sense, Rodney's catchphrase "Holy crap!" seems exactly right.

As an actor, Christian is a terrific focal figure; with his grumpy face and inner hopefulness, we can't help but like him. The film is a catalog of Rodney's first experiences, and Christian plays each scene knowingly, from the rude to the sweet to a surprisingly honest expression of sexuality ("People don't understand; they think it's my choice"). And while the zany characters around him sometimes feel like John Waters lite, they manage to emerge as real people we can identify with.

Not everything works. Some of the gags fall flat, while the film as a whole feels somewhat indulgent, with Christian's constant voiceover whining about things we've all been through--and seen before in teen movies. But it's cheeky and clever, charming and ultimately infused with a very strong, important message about self-acceptance.

dir-scr Ash Christian
with Ash Christian, Jonathan Caouette, Ashley Fink, Joe Flaten, Robin de Jesus, Deborah Theaker, Justin Bruening, Evan Miller, Ellen Albertini Dow, Linda J Park, Alexa Havins, Michelle Renee
christian, flaten and fink release UK Apr.07 llgff,
US 27.Jul.07
06/US 1h22

London L&G Film Fest
18 themes, language, vulgarity, sexuality
2.Apr.07 llgff
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Someone Else   4/5
someone else With its insightful look at relationships, this small British comedy actually bears comparison with Woody Allen's masterpiece Manhattan. The layered performances work perfectly with the bristling, honest script.

David (Mangan) is commitment-phobic, visibly panicking at the M word. So he splits up with long-term girlfriend Lisa (Lynch) because "she doesn't get me", and pursues the colourful Nina (Belmont). But now Nina has someone else, and David turns to his friends for support, although both of them are having issues as well: Matt (Coghill) is trying to overcome his shyness by joining a dating agency, and Michael (Dingwall) is struggling with his wife (Fry) and kids. So it might not be a good idea for David to take Michael's sister-in-law (Piechowiak) home with him.

Every scene in this film is funny, awkward and fairly painful as we recognise each situation as something excruciatingly real. But instead of going for Office-like postmodern satire, Spector plays this out with a bracing rawness. The comedy is so earthy that it's completely integrated into each line of dialog. We smile throughout the film, even though the story itself is fairly sobering--people straining to find happiness amid all their own terrible decisions.

Mangan is terrific in the central role, offering with his expressive eyes a completely different (truer?) character than his words would suggest. We can see him squirming through every scene, trying to maintain his bravado and hide his desperation under a layer of bone-dry wit. The tension with the people around him is hilariously understated, but almost overpowering at the same time. And this balance makes David both pathetic and thoroughly engaging.

Spector holds the film together with a sure hand, focussing on the interaction between the characters with telling directorial touches. This is an astute, low-key examination of the nature of relationships--are they defined by feeling right, by the small moments, by whether we settle for second best, by the work we put into them? As David and his friends go back and forth, Spector astutely and subtly reveals what they're really after--something they're perhaps not ready to admit to themselves. A beautiful, moving, thoroughly entertaining little gem.

dir Col Spector
scr Col Spector, Radha Chakraborty
with Stephen Mangan, Susan Lynch, Lara Belmont, Chris Coghill, Shaun Dingwall, Bridget Fry, Lydia Piechowiak, Isobel Pravda, Lydia Fox, John Henshaw, Frank Perozo
mangan and coghill release UK 7.Sep.07
06/UK 1h18

15 themes, language, sexuality
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall