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last update 28.Dec.09
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Make the Yuletide Gay
dir-scr Rob Williams
prd Rodney Johnson, Matthew Montgomery, Rob Williams
with Keith Jordan, Adamo Ruggiero, Hallee Hirsh, Kelly Keaton, Derek Long, Alison Arngrim, Gates McFadden, Ian Buchanan, Steve Callahan, Wyatt Fenner, Massimo Quagliano, Jim Wharton
jordan and ruggiero
release US/UK 9.Nov.09 dvd
09/US 1h29
scoop Cheesy and very cleaply made, it takes a while for this comedy to get going. But the script is clever enough to win us over, especially as it goes beyond the goofiness to touch on some truly resonant themes.

Gunn (Jordan) is a university student who says goodbye to his boyfriend Nathan (Ruggiero) and heads home for Christmas holiday. His cherry, homespun parents (Keaton and Long) somehow have no idea that he's gay, and continue trying to fix him up with neighbour Abby (Hirsh). Then when Nathan's wealthy parents (McFadden and Buchanan) abandon him, he decides to surprise Gunn. This sparks a spiralling farce since Gunn wants to stay in the closet, which causes problems with Nathan. But Abby thinks it's hilarious.

All of this is filmed in a rather clunky way that tries too hard to be goofy and colourful. The dialog is packed with double entendres, so the law of averages says some of them are bound to be funny. And sure enough, as the film progresses, it gets both more engaging and more amusing. And while the puns and innuendo are corny, they're also quite clever, and delivered with charm by the lively cast.

Even more importantly, the film develops some subtext as it goes along, underscoring the simplistic rom-com plot with some real issues, while several conversations go far beneath the surface. At the centre is the fact that most people don't really tell their parents much about their lives, because it shatters the balance created by the illusion that we haven't changed since we were kids. And there's also an extremely realistic examination of clashing perspectives on coming out.

In the end, these elements overcome the film's low-budget approach and awkward direction. Williams' script may be witty and astute, but the film lacks pace or momentum, and it screams out for a more raucous approach to such a fiery topic. Meanwhile, the cast give slightly theatrical, broad performances in what are essentially thinly drawn characters. But the dialog is strong enough to make them believable. And in the end, you start to wish a more adventurous, seasoned director had gotten his or her hands on this same script.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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Out at the Wedding
dir Lee Friedlander
scr Paula Goldberg
prd Gina G Goff, Laura A Kellam
with Andrea Marcellus, Desi Lydic, Charlie Schlatter, Cathy DeBuono, Mike Farrell, Mink Stole, Reginald VelJohnson, Mystro Clark, Kevin Fabian, Reed Frerichs, Pete Bryant, Katherine Randolph
schlatter, debuono,lydic and marcellus release US Jun.07 siff,
UK 19.Oct.09 dvd
07/US 1h36
out at the wedding While it starts out as a silly farce, this film shifts into something a bit more interesting. Serious issues start bubbling up as the actors make more of their characters than the script suggests.

Alex (Marcellus) is lying to everyone about her mixed-race boyfriend Dana (Clark). She's told his parents (Stole and VelJohnson) that her entire family is dead. And after a joke gets out of control, she lets her father (Farrell) and sister Jeannie (Lydic) believe the rumour that Dana is a girl. But this means that, when Jeannie comes to visit, Alex's gay best pal (Schlatter) has to get his lesbian friend Risa (DeBuono) to pose as the female Dana. And the pretence only gets more complicated from there.

Director Friedlander goes for a bright and smiley sitcom style, complete with corny music and an emphasis on the plot's farcical elements. Everyone jumps to conclusions without bothering to check out the facts, which gets more than a bit irritating. Especially since no one bothers to correct anyone's false assumptions. So things get increasingly ridiculous and contrived as the film heads for the big finale, throwing all of the characters into a room for wacky confrontations and revelations.

But an odd thing happens along the way. The actors somehow manage to add a touch of authenticity to these stupid characters, and the connections between them become surprisingly involving. Most interesting is the blossoming friendship between Alex and Risa, which cuts through the film's gay surface in a surprisingly effective way. And Alex's relationship with Dana, although only in a few scenes, is also engaging.

Credit has to go to Marcellus for this, as Alex is such a weak-willed compulsive liar that we shouldn't like her at all. But we do. By staying just this side of cartoonish goofiness, while adding layers of interest along the way, the film keeps us smiling all the way through. And sometimes laughing out lout. And while it's clearly meant as just a bit of sexuality-blurring fluff, it's also a sharp portrayal of Walter Scott's proverb: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."

15 themes, innuendo
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dir-scr David Lewis
prd Bill Gollihur
with Brendan Bradley, Matthew Montgomery, Tad Coughenour, Caleb Dorfman, Elinor Bell, Cole Panther, Simon Burzynski, Libby Zilber, Clara Brighton, Laurie Burke
bradley and montgomery release US 8.Dec.09 dvd,
UK 11.Jan.10 dvd
09/US 1h22
redwoods Made with loads of earnest sincerity, this gay romantic drama wears its emotions on its sleeve. But some stiff acting and the thinly written script leave it feeling a bit cold. Although the scenery is gorgeous.

Everett (Bradley) is sensing the strain in his relationship with Miles (Coughenour). Their lives are dedicated to their disabled son Billy (Dorfman) and their careers, leaving no spark between them. So when Miles takes Billy to visit the grandparents, Everett thinks he can take the time to re-examine his life. But he instantly meets a travelling stranger, the writer Chase (Montgomery), and their friendship soon turns into lusty attraction. Everett's parents (Bell and Panther) and brother (Burzynski) aren't much help in his decision-making process. And Miles and Billy will be home in a week.

Writer-director Lewis is clearly going for a Brokeback Mountain vibe here, with aching shots of the California scenery, long walks among the redwoods and a love that can never be. The problem is that the dialog trivialises all of this, as characters continually talk about these things but never break the surface. We never realty worry if Everett and Chase will end up together; their attraction is pretty superficial, and their sex scenes are embarrassingly prudish (just two side actors get naked, and both instances define the word gratuitous).

Among the cast, only Montgomery is remotely believable, adding some personality and detail to his role. Centring the story on him would have made the film far more involving, as his journey turns out to be something rather complex and interesting, once we get the whole story in the very last scene. On the other hand, no one else on screen ever feels substantial enough for us to care.

Credit still has to go to Lewis for making a gay drama that doesn't hinge on the sexuality of its characters. And he also makes the most of what is evidently a very low budget. This is a story about human emotion, difficult decisions and life throwing unexpected things at us. If the script were a little looser, allowing us to become engulfed in the drama rather than telling us at every moment what's happening, it might have been a minor classic of the genre.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Richard LeMay
scr Jason Brown
prd Richard LeMay, Jason Brown
with Bryan West, Alexis Suarez, David Rudd, Brad Anderson, Desmond Dutcher, Mark Ford, Michael Paternostro, Karmine Alers, Laura Taylor, Gail Herendeen, Valentine Ryder, Jim Horvath
west and suarez release US 12.Oct.07 aglff,
UK 11.Jan.10 dvd
07/US 1h39
whirlwind Following a group of gay friends in New York City, this film attempts to deal with some key life issues. But it's impossible to believe pretty much anything about this over-constructed story and over-pumped characters.

Sean and Bobby (West and Suarez) have been together for three years and are talking about buying an apartment together. But Sean is having second thoughts. He mainly just wants to go clubbing with their friends: the relationship averse Desmond (Anderson), the insecure JD (Dutcher) and the troubled Mick (Ford). Then the predatory Drake (Rudd) arrives on the scene and starts shaking everyone up, deliberately undermining relationships.

The film is structured as a series of parties, club nights, gym workouts and party-planning meetings in which these guys sit around and talk about their issues. But the real question is: don't any of them work? They seem to have nothing but free time on their hands, although they continually talk about how busy they are. Actually, they continually talk, period. Nothing really happens in this film besides conversations, some of which become rather heated.

And then there's filmmaker LeMay's oddly prudish attitude toward sex. He seems to only reluctant hint that it goes on, while lacing the dialog with preachy pronouncements about it. His goal here seems to be to show that these gay men have the same morality as men and women everywhere, which is an intriguing idea that might have worked if we felt even a tiny bit of chemistry or passion. Why do Sean and Bobby, despite living together, have to schedule date nights in order be alone?

In other words, the whole film feels half-cooked. The acting is extremely uneven, the direction is dry and the sets are limited to a few rooms and a couple of bars. While watching, we wait for some sort of dramatic kick, but even when a few momentous things happen, they're not actually very interesting. We never have any doubts about how it will all turn out. And worst of all, we quickly realise that these guys have brought all of this angst upon themselves with their uptight attitudes and rule-bound lives. You can't simplistically blame a seductive interloper for that.

15 themes, language
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall