The first product of U.S. gay cable net Here’s new feature-film shingle, “Shelter” is a pleasant romantic drama that works best when focused on the romance — or on the waves, since the principal characters spend a lot of time surfing. Other aspects of writer-helmer Jonah Markowitz’s first longboard, er, longform pic can be more pedestrian; as projected on HD at the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Fest, this Super 16-shot tale certainly looked more like a telepic than bigscreen fare. Presumably an improving transfer to 35mm will occur before a planned theatrical release this fall.
While his leisure-class best friend Gabe (Ross Thomas) can chase waves in far-flung locations, line-cook Zach (Trevor Wright) is lucky if he can squeeze in a few hours to surf here and there. He lives with his jobless, invalid widower father (who disappears from the pic after being introduced), older sister Jeanne (Tina Holmes) and her 5-year-old son Cody (Jackson Wurth) in working-class San Pedro. Cody’s dad is MIA, and she frequently dumps the child into Zach’s care to go out partying.
Dedicated to his nephew — and to being the only responsible member of this dysfunctional clan — talented Zach has already given up a scholarship to art school. Given sis’ selfishness and lax parenting skills, it looks like he’ll be continuing to put any of his future plans on hold.
But he does manage to get his wetsuit on fairly regularly, keeping his board at the posh Orange County home of Gabe and parents, who are all abroad the day he runs into Gabe’s older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), a writer who’s temporarily moved back home on the rebound from a failed relationship.
They hit the beach together, then hit more than that. At first Zach — who’s been taking a break from on/off girlfriend Tori (Katie Walder) — freaks out over these new feelings. Then a “Brokeback”-style liplock ignites the romance in earnest, albeit in secret. Jeanne does not fail to notice her default babysitter’s nocturnal absences, however, nor to ask if he’s a “fag” when she discovers who he’s been hanging out (or 10) with.
Doing a respectable but uninspired multitasking job overall, helmer Markowitz fares best with the scenes between Zach and Shaun, which sport a real chemistry that emphasizes affection over eroticism. A big plus is the ingratiating turn by Rowe, who makes his gay surfer seem less a fantasy than a casual fact of life.
Another plus is the handsome aquatic footage shot by “surf d.p.” David Warshauer. On land, lensing is more routine. Too many same-sounding ballads by Shane Mack displace some good alt-rock cuts early on.