Romance blooms between two boys in rural Louisiana in "Dream Boy."

Romance blooms between two boys in rural Louisiana in “Dream Boy,” James Bolton’s toneless cross between gay coming-of-age drama and ghost story. Weighed down by countless cliches and a maddeningly assertive score, pic has difficulty weaving together its various themes, including first love, small-town repression and sexual abuse; clunky climax lacks convincing emotional uplift. Being gay might be enough for specialized fests and a few bicoastal cinemas, but a broader release is unlikely.

New boy in town Nathan (Stephan Bender) can’t take his eyes off blond, long-haired, obviously sensitive farm hunk Roy (Max Roeg), who lives next door and drives the school bus when not in class. Roy doesn’t mind Nathan’s furtive glances, and the two hit it off when Nathan offers to help with Roy’s homework. Brushed hands over algebra quickly leads to sex.

Though Nathan can’t believe his luck, tensions at home are threatening to derail his new happiness. Soon the reasons for his ultra-shy, awkward look are clear: Dad Harland (Thomas Jay Ryan) has a history of sexually abusing his son. Perpetually tense mom Vivian (Diana Scarwid) sees the nightmare returning, and Roy notices Nathan seems awfully familiar with certain coital positions.

As one of the cool kids, Roy hangs with a couple of jock types (Randy Wayne, Owen Beckman) fairly reeking with homophobia. The three decide to take an overnight camping trip, to which Roy brings an uncomfortable Nathan. Extended ghost tale-swapping precedes lights out, when it’s only a matter of time before Roy’s buddies clue in to what’s going on in the pup tent.

The urban style Bolton used in his previous “The Graffiti Artist” is here exchanged for a more romantic overlay, but his feel for the material never progresses beyond the generic, and the disparate elements fail to flow organically. The sense of teen sexual yearning rarely extends beyond Nathan’s too-coy glances and Roy’s wooden imperative, “Touch me!”

Part of the problem is the thesping, especially from Bender, who substitutes wide-eyed looks and hunched shoulders for characterization. Roeg, son of Nicolas and Theresa Russell, fares a little better, though uninspired dialogue doesn’t help anyone in the cast, which includes a brief cameo by Rickie Lee Jones as Roy’s mother. Once again, poor Scarwid is saddled with a thankless role.

Lensing by d.p. Sarah Levy (“In Between Days”) is blandly attractive, though later scenes in a haunted plantation house lack clarity and are poorly edited. Most problematic, however, is Richard Buckner’s insistent score, full of unresolved chords that play on and on to the detriment of concentration.

Dream Boy

Production

A Garbus Kroupa Entertainment production, in association with Mettray Reformatory Pictures, Tetrahedron Prods. Produced by James Bolton, Herb Hamsher. Executive producers, James Garbus, Robert Kroupa. Co-producers, Katie Mustard, Terry Leonard. Directed, written by James Bolton, based on the novel by Jim Grimsley.

Crew

Camera (color), Sarah Levy; editors, Annette Davey, Chris Houghton; music, Richard Buckner; production designer, James A. Gelarden; costume designer, Ann Walters; sound (Dolby Digital), John Northcraft; line producer, Katie Mustard; associate producer, William Dose; assistant director, Caroline O'Brien; casting, Natasha Cuba, Kerry Barden. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2008. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Stephan Bender, Max Roeg, Thomas Jay Ryan, Diana Scarwid, Randy Wayne, Owen Beckman, Tom Gilroy, Tricia Mara, Rickie Lee Jones, Nick Ericson.

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