Yet another Amerindie coming-out comedy, "Dorian Blues" offers nothing special in outline, but sharp performances and writing lend it a fresh appeal well above this genre's average. Assured debut for writer-director Tennyson Bardwell should have no trouble scoring limited distribution, with plentiful fest travel likely in the meantime.

Yet another Amerindie coming-out comedy, “Dorian Blues” offers nothing special in outline, but sharp performances and writing lend it a fresh appeal well above this genre’s average. Assured debut for writer-director Tennyson Bardwell should have no trouble scoring limited distribution, with plentiful fest travel likely in the meantime.

Dorian (Michael McMillian of the WB series “What I Like About You”) is an upstate New York teen whose agonies of adolescent adjustment are as irksome as they are ordinary. He’s the odd man out not just at school, but at home as well — star athlete brother Nicky (Lea Coco) is the apple of overbearing conservative dad Tom’s (Steven C. Fletcher) eye, while bookish loner sibling Dorian is regarded more like the worm in the apple.

Mom Maria (Mo Quigley) is pretty useless as a mediator, given that she’s long since orbited into some Stepford Wife mental zone. Coming out as gay to these parents is an unpleasant prospect, albeit one that increasingly obsesses the rebellious protag.

First, however, he tries revealing that private identity to various others, with variable success. After his initial shock, bro Nicky proves accepting, though he avidly warns against telling Dad — whose eventual reaction, natch, is to throw Dorian out of the house.

Fortunately, protag is due to start his freshman term at NYU anyway. There, he gains some like-minded friends at last and achieves romantic bliss with fellow student Ben (Cody Nickell). Alas, the “soulmate” vibe proves one-sided. When Ben exits relationship, Dorian is inconsolable. At last a family crisis snaps him out of self-pity, letting Dorian face the future with a helpful dose of Lighten-Up.

Set around the early ’90s, pic covers a period of five years or more, and despite brightness of individual sequences, a stronger narrative arc’s punch is lacking –this is horizontal rather than vertical storytelling, simply lining up one incident after another. Still, Bardwell’s character writing, flair for organically funny lines/situations, and sure touch with actors make “Dorian Blues” a consistent pleasure.

In looks and presence a bit reminiscence of Eric Stoltz in his teen-pic years, McMillian is a terrifically droll protag, though it requires a certain suspension of disbelief to accept him on script’s terms. Dorian is labeled neurotic, depressive, a social pariah and “stereotypical gay” (by himself, even). As played, however, he seems more like the witty, precocious, self-confident type who’d naturally draw admiring friends. Pic’s touch is light enough that this disparity doesn’t matter much, though it does slightly undercut occasional darker moments.

Coco is equally good as Nicky, whose quintessential jock-itude doesn’t mean he can’t be a sensitive guy or a loyal brother, too. As an unbending father with few redeeming qualities, Fletcher pulls up just short of both caricature and too-vivid cruelty — his concisely limned Tom is as unsympathetic as possible without tipping film’s primarily comic balance. Supporting parts are just as astutely cast.

Briskly paced, nimbly staged prod sports nifty contribs down the line, though it would be unfair to comment on overall tech package — Super-16-shot pic hadn’t yet been transferred to 35mm by Cinequest preem dates, necessitating projection in mediocre video form.

Dorian Blues

Production

A Daydreamer Films production. Produced by Portia Kamons, Frank D'Andrea, Mary-Beth Taylor Bardwell, Tennyson Bardwell. Executive producer, Steven Beer. Co-producer, Ann Marie Lizzi. Directed, written by Tennyson Bardwell.

Crew

Camera (color), Taylor Morrison; editor, Ann Marie Lizzi; music, Will Severin; music supervisor, Jeanne DaSilva; production designer, Len X. Clayton; art director, Andy Door; costume designer, Agnes Elizabeth Kapusta; sound, Charles Eble Jr.; assistant director, Neil Benedict. Reviewed at Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose, Calif., March 12, 2004. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Michael McMillian, Lea Coco, Steven C. Fletcher, Mo Quigley, Ryan Kelly Berkowitz, Chris Dallman, Sian Heder, Cody Nickell.
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