"The Toilers and the Wayfarers" is an engaging indie effort whose gay youth theme will interest relevant fests and, possibly, select theatrical programmers. Haphazard story and character development suggest writer-helmer Keith Froelich bit off more than he could chew with this first feature. But the B&W drama is mostly offbeat enough to avoid telepic tenor latent in its runaways-hit-big-city scenario.

“The Toilers and the Wayfarers” is an engaging indie effort whose gay youth theme will interest relevant fests and, possibly, select theatrical programmers. Haphazard story and character development suggest writer-helmer Keith Froelich bit off more than he could chew with this first feature. But the B&W drama is mostly offbeat enough to avoid telepic tenor latent in its runaways-hit-big-city scenario.

Handsome Dieter (Matt Klemp) and prankster Phillip (Andrew Woodhouse) are 16 -year-old best friends bored to death in New Ulm, Minn., where German settlers’ original language — and conservative attitudes — prevail. Wanting companionship, Dieter’s ailing aunt sponsors passage abroad for a nephew from the old country. But she doesn’t expect somebody like genial, good-timey Udo (Ralf Schirg), a 20-ish layabout content to drink beer and watch TV.

Chafed by parental restrictions, then mortified when Dieter rebuffs his advances, Phillip runs away to Minneapolis. Dieter, now (falsely) suspected of homosexual involvement with Udo, runs afoul of his own harshly disciplinary dad — and begins having second thoughts about sexual exploration, too. Meanwhile, Udo’s crabby auntie suddenly dies. The hapless emigre blows his inherited money on a convertible, then lets Dieter convince him they should likewise scram to the city.

In Minneapolis, the trio’s reunion yields mixed results. Dieter and Phillip enter a blissful new carnal phase in their relationship, but latter has resorted to hustling, and Dieter (with juvenile authorities already in pursuit) feels pressured to do the same. Promptly robbed of remaining cash, Udo finds he can’t hold a job any more than he can hold his liquor.

Pic ends on an ambiguous note for all that fails to satisfy, and the film has consistent trouble deciding on a central thread or protagonist, though focus does eventually fall on Dieter. (Adding to confused feel, all three leads provide some voiceover narration.) Pacing is perhaps too brisk, leaving numerous odd gaps. We’re never certain, for instance, whether Udo is gay; awkward scene transitions often make it unclear how much time has passed, where characters are living, and so on.

As a result, tale grows more improbable as it settles into the dark side of urban survival, though Froelich doesn’t hammer home any rou-tinely cautionary message. Dialogue is uneven, sometimes (as with narration) too authorial-sounding.

Despite ample flaws, pic does hold interest with its sympathetic, uncondescending view of young adults forced to mature faster than they ought to. Tech aspects are generally above average, lead performances likable if not fully supported by sometimes insightful, sometimes lax writing. German dialogue (about one-third of total) is subtitled.

The Toilers and the Wayfarers

Production

An Outsider Enterprises presentation of a Keith Froelich production. Produced by Karen Manion, Ralf Schirg, Froelich. Executive producer, Marc Heustis. Directed, written by Keith Froelich.

Crew

Camera (B&W, 16mm), Jim Tittle; editors, Robb Harriss, Froelich; music, Chan Poling; set decoration, Merrill Stringer; costumes, Jeannie Millett, Sally Englehardt; sound, Matt Ehling; associate producers, Rob Borm, Michael Murray; line producer, Manion; assistant director, Michael Tabor; casting, Jessica Nelson. Reviewed at the Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Dec. 8, 1995. (Also in Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Film Festival; Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 75 MIN.

With

Matt Klemp, Ralf Schirg, Andrew Woodhouse, Jerome Samuelson, Joan Wheeler, Michael Glen, Ralph Jacobus, Douglas Blackstone.
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