Three half-hour shorts linked by theme, Strand Releasing’s “Boys Life” treats the gay male teen’s coming of age from different angles but with singular quality and perceptiveness. Result is a highly appealing package that has overcome the traditional weakness of omnibus pix to make a solid showing for Strand Releasing at arthouse sites and late shows. Homevid future also looks bright.
The individual films, by three young helmers, resemble one another in the best sense. All are handsomely mounted, adroitly acted and scripted in ways that avoid polemics and self-indulgence to evoke the bittersweet perplexities of rites of passage. Witty and nuanced, each offers an attractive young lead as a guide on the road to gay self-acceptance.
In Brian Sloan’s “Pool Days,” 17-year-old Justin (Josh Weinstein) starts off clueless as to his sexual leanings. Taking a summer job as a lifeguard at a health spa, he watches bodies of both sexes come and go, but mainly tries to focus on the job.
Sexual awakening may be the subject here, but pic derives much of its charm from Sloan’s sharp rendering of the numbing routine of such jobs and the general befuddlement of adolescence. When a handsome, thirtyish swimmer (Nick Poletti) expresses interest in him, Justin doesn’t know which way to turn. So he politely excuses himself and calls Dad for a ride home.
Thinking he may be straight, boy initiates a fling with an aerobics teacher (Kimberly Flynn) but finds he can’t perform. From there, his self-recognition is just a matter of time. Yet pic’s pleasing end has Justin still poised on the verge, waiting after work for Dad’s car while telling the genial swimmer that yeah, maybe he’d like to go out the following night.
Raoul O’Connell’s “A Friend of Dorothy” features a hero who’s more self-aware if no less romantically challenged. Winston (played by O’Connell himself) arrives at NYU ready for the freedom of Greenwich Village but all too impatient for his Prince Charming’s arrival. Forming an immediate crush on his hunky, apparently straight roommate (Kevin McClatchy), Winston suffers in silence, then begins to look elsewhere.
Bad luck brings him unconscious rejection from straight guys, avid interest from one who turns out to be a Moonie and self-thwarted groping in a library bathroom stall. These episodes elicit bemused sympathy from gal pal Anne (Anne Zupa), whose friendship is rendered with the warmth and delicacy that characterize pic throughout.
Here again, it’s just a matter of time, and story stops with fulfillment still an alluring glimmer as Winston finds a crowd that shares his interest in Streisand, Cher and other successors of Judy Garland.
Robert Lee King’s “The Disco Years,” which also has an autobiographical air, takes place in California during the era of Nixon, polyester and pervasive homophobia. High-schooler Tom (Matt Nolan) casually joins his pals’ anti-gay taunts until experience demonstrates that he’s cheering for the wrong team.
Boy enters a mutually intense friendship with a tennis buddy, Matt (Russell Scott Lewis), who, after initiating their single tryst, turns on him, urging him to “grow up and get a girlfriend.” Matt’s blunt denial of his own proclivities propels Tom to try explaining himself to his disbelieving mom (Gwen Welles) and to act in defense of a presumedly gay teacher smeared by Matt and others.
Pic limns the harshness of anti-gay prejudice, both self-imposed and cultural , with just the right amount of acerbity, balancing that with the buoyancy that Tom eventually feels in admitting and enjoying his real nature.
All three pix boast top-notch tech credits. Sexual passages are handled with a tasteful restraint that shows again that, when it comes to emotional richness, suggestion far outpaces explicitness.