Thursday, January 16, 2014

Super Gay -- and pretty damned funny, too: Darren Stein and George Northy's G.B.F.

OK: You need to suspend  your disbelief just a tad to get fully in the swing of GBF (or Gay Best Friend), the new comedy treat from writer George Northy and director Darren Stein. The movie posits that in a certain modern day high school, nary a gay boy has "come out." Given the stigma attached to homosex-uality still rampant in schools, despite all the ground-breaking progress made by the adult world, this part of the film is no big stretch. But when the three reigning divas of the female student body decide that what they need most to be truly au courant is a GBF, it sort of beggars belief that most of the school wouldn't immediately know who is probably gay and would then immediately ferret these people out in order to please their popular divas.

Once the movie gets going, however (this takes about three minutes), it is so consistently funny and charming, naughty and sweet that I should think it'll win over a surprisingly large audience, if that audience will just give it the opportunity to work its magic. As directed by Mr. Stein (shown at left) and written by Mr. Northy, what separates GBF from the more typical gay-themed comedies is its delicious sauciness -- a quality that many of these movies try for but miss due to lack of real wit. (Instead they rely mostly on the recycling of cliché.) GBF has wit aplenty in everything from dialog & situa-tions to its smart, humane idea about what it actually means to be gay.

It also has a remarkably good young actor -- Michael J. Willett (above, center) -- in the leading role of Tanner, who brings such genuine sweetness and charm (plus a slightly goofy quality) to the proceedings that he'll win you over in a heartbeat. Mr. Willett never "plays" gay; he simply exists quite comfortably (or not so) in his skin and lets situation, coupled with character, create behavior. And so he comes off as just about perfect in this pivotal role.

Willett is surrounded with a bevy of talented support, all of whom the director and writer have managed to coax onto the same page in terms of tone and style. Included are Tanner's best friend Brent (Paul Iacono, above left, with Megan Mullally, who plays his way-too-supportive mom). Much more the campy queen who goes for glitter in a very big way, Brent is everything Tanner isn't, so the two make an interesting complement to each other's character and behavior.

The movie's funniest and most surprising gift, however, is its treatment of the three divas competing for their GBF's attention. These begin as whopping but funny clichés that slowly broaden and deepen into confused, relatively real (for movie comedy) and even funnier people. Each is impressive in her own way, beginning with Xosha Roquemore (above, right), as Caprice, the black drama queen diva.

White, blond and bimbo-esque, Sasha Pieterse -- as Fawcett (above, right) -- wears tresses that call to mind her namesake. She makes a wonderfully self-involved and irony-free character, who suddenly surprises us and Tanner with a little depth.

Finally, we have Ashley (or 'Shley, played by Andrea Bowen, shown at right), the "good girl" Mormon who discovers all sorts of new adventures via her GBF. 'Shley's would-be Mormon boyfriend, Topher (Taylor Frey) is even more willing to try new things. The scene in which he describes what he can expect from his upcoming life as a Mormon is one of the movie's comic high points.

Other than which diva our boy will finally choose to support, the plot also hinges on the upcoming prom -- who will attend, and with whom, and who will become its king and queen. The pacing here is swift, the length (92 minutes) just right, and the final what-have-we-learned monolog from our hero is spectacularly good: witty, smart, surprising and wonderfully inclusive.

Comparison has been made between this movie and Clueless, a connection that seems to me rather apt: I haven't had this much goofy fun at a teen movie in a long while. What with the recent release of Geography Club and now this little gem, I'd say GLBT films are growing both more fun and more creatively mainstream.

I should note that GBF has an "R" rating -- necessary, I suppose for its many sexual references. But I hope parents won't hold this against it and will let their under-age kids attend -- and maybe even go with them. The oldsters might learn something. (That's Natasha Lyonne and Horatio Sanz, above, as school counselor and principal.)

From Vertical Entertainment, GBF opens theatrically tomorrow in L.A. at the Sundance Sunset Cinema (Q&As with director Darren Stein and writer George Northy in person Friday 1/17 & Saturday 1/18 for the 8pm shows) and in Chicago at the Facets Cinématèque. The following Friday, January 24, the film opens here in NYC at the Quad Cinema (Q&A's Friday, 1/24 - after the 6:45 PM with Actor Paul Iacono and Moderator Rich Juzwiak from, and Saturday, 1/25 - after the 6:45 PM show with Actor Paul Iacono and Moderator Adam Baran from Queer|Art|Film), as well as in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and maybe elsewhere. (Shown above are Jonathan Silverman and Rebecca Gayheart, who play Tanner's smart parents.)

For those outside these opening locations (or who prefer the couch), GBF will simultaneously be available on VOD and iTunes. Or, just wait three weeks and you can own or rent the DVD of GBF, also from Vertical Entertainment, which hits the streets on Tuesday, February 11.

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