A terrifically entertaining anthology, “Boys Life 2,” the follow-up to the highly acclaimed 1995 hit, consists of four remarkable short films about various aspects of contempo gay lifestyles. Focusing for the most part on adolescence and young adulthood, the segments deal with coming out at a young age (“Trevor,” “Must Be the Music”), responses to gay-bashing (“Nunzio’s Second Cousin”) and the effects of the past on the sexual identity of a youngster living in the heartland (“Alkalai, Iowa”). Strand release will be applauded by gay men in urban centers, and will perform even better when it hits the video bin.
The first story, Nickolas Perry’s “Must Be the Music,” is set on a typical Friday night, when four adolescents head for a hot disco in downtown L.A. Narrated by Jason (Milo Ventimigilia), tale depicts some tensions within the group before settling on their conduct in a gay disco, where most of the action takes place. Fluidly shot and smoothly edited, the film demonstrates its helmer’s talent in telling a rather weak story in a striking visual manner.
In Tom DeCerchio’s darkly comic, message-oriented “Nunzio’s Second Cousin,” Sgt. Tony Randozza (Vincent D’Onofrio), a gay Chicago police detective, gets a chance to exercise his own brand of justice when he and his black date (Harry Walters Jr.) are harassed by five hoodlums who believe it’s a “good night for gay-bashing.” Forcing them to recite in tandem “Gay people are nice people,” Tony proceeds with a dinner invitation to the gang’s handsome leader, Jimmy (Miles Perlich).
Centerpiece is a dinner at the house of Tony’s domineering mom (brilliantly played by Eileen Brennan). Sharply written and deftly staged by DeCerchio, tale veers easily from dark, macabre humor to harsh words to violence. As Tony says, “Sometimes fags bash back.”
The richest and most accomplished yarn is Mark Christopher’s “Alkalai, Iowa,” situated in the heartland, where handsome farmer Jack (J.D. Cerna) unearths some painful — but also liberating — truth about the clandestine identity of his dead father, a war hero. It turns out his mom (Mary Beth Hurt) has suppressed knowledge of her hubby’s homosexuality under the stricture of her father-in-law, a primitive brute who still can’t face the truth about his son.
Set against a vast Midwestern landscape on the Fourth of July weekend, the story beautifully evokes gay life in a small, provincial town, where men congregate in public parks. Director Christopher demonstrates facility in his attention to both narrative and visual detail as he excavates a family tragedy that has affected three generations. This complex tale, with its lyrical sense of melancholy, could easily be expanded into a feature-length movie.
Concluding the lineup is the well-intentioned, glitzy and a bit superficial “Trevor,” Peggy Rajski’s 1995 Oscar-winning live-action short. Tale’s titular hero (Brett Barsky) is a sensitive, overweight adolescent who worships Diana Ross and is utterly captivated by showbiz. Misunderstood by his dull suburban parents and ridiculed by his classmates for “walking like a girl” and for his attraction to straight guy Pinky (Jonah Rooney), he becomes depressed and considers suicide.
The segment’s “dear-diary” format is a bit shallow and rigid, consisting of brief, often funny entries, narrated by Trevor in a seriocomic manner. Nonetheless, the text is so well performed by Barsky and so impressively shot by lenser Marc Reshovsky that pic easily overcomes its structural problems. Kids of Trevor’s age, struggling with their own sexual identities, may find solace in the hero’s predicament and ultimate urge to live.
Displaying the diverse talents of a quartet of tyro filmmakers, “Boys Life 2” should serve as a calling card. Each helmer shows strong potential for a viable filmmaking career.