If “Coffee Date” writer-director Stewart Wade’s new “Tru Loved” plays like an “Afterschool Special,” that may well mean it’s fulfilled its function — as an entertaining tolerance lesson targeted at teens. Better making points via humor than sometimes heavy-handed earnestness, pic is savvy enough to package a gay-sensitivity-training crash course in terms that will overcome most young auds’ resistance, although discriminating adults might roll their eyes at some baldly manipulative and stereotypical elements. Theatrical biz looks slight; cable, rental and educational exposure, hale.
Quintessentially Ringwald-ian “arty girl” Tru (Najarra Townsend) hates, hates, hates being moved from diverse San Francisco to Southern California suburbia due to a job offer one of her two moms (Alexandra Paul, Cynda Williams) couldn’t turn down. Her new high school is ruled by jocks and unironic Valley Girl types who view her moderately boho dress, let alone her lesbian mothers, as proof she’s a freak — and most likely “lesbo” by association.
Tru (short for Gertrude) is thus surprised when star quarterback Lodell (Matthew Thompson) asks her out. At least, he appears to: After some oddly chaste “dates,” heroine realizes she’s being used as a beard — or as the script wickedly phrases it, a “Katie Holmes” — for deeply closeted Lodell, whose best friend Manny (Joseph Julian Soria) and coach (Vernon Wells) exhale homophobia like carbon dioxide. Feeling kinship with Lodell nonetheless, Tru reluctantly agrees to carry on this masquerade.
Still, she chafes when her “boyfriend” turns a blind eye to the bullying of overtly gay student Walter (Tye Olsen). She starts a Gay-Straight Alliance at the school, an endeavor that earns both immediate success and backlash. Her loyalty to Lodell’s ruse is further tested when dreamboat GSA sign-on Trevor (Jake Abel) turns out to be an open-minded hetero eager to be her real boyfriend.
Perfs by youth and parents (also including a barbed Jasmine Guy and Eartha-channeling Nichelle Nichols as Lodell’s single mom and cranky grandma, respectively) are good. Glorified B-list cameos by Bruce Vilanch, Alec Mapa, Marcia Wallace, etc., tend toward hamminess.
Wells’ homophobic coach, lone angry holdout amid an overdone climax that bowties every last plot string, is cartoonish. Likewise crude is the script’s earmarking Lodell as gay by exposing him as a passionate showtune lover. Tru’s fantasy scenes (one a lame “West Side Story” parody) are poor and gratuitous, though the real-world dialogue is often smart when not over-earnest.
Most of “Tru Loved” does a good job of appealing to kids who might otherwise be turned off by the subject (apparently, school screenings to date have gone very well).
Production values are pro, though as viewed at the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Fest, the package just doesn’t look or play like bigscreen material. Soundtrack heavy on tracks by undistinguished gay musicians (must so many lesbian singer-songwriters imitate Melissa Etheridge?) don’t further that cause.