Well-meaning YA adaptation makes personal coming-out issues as nonthreatening as possible for teenage auds
An LGBT movie for the “Glee” crowd (minus the musical numbers), “Geography Club” sports a clever concept but also a built-in marketing problem: A group of high schoolers choose the nerdiest name possible for their new club, hoping their homophobic classmates won’t realize it’s really a front for the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance. But given the clunky title, how to message what this well-meaning meller is really about to its target audience? It helps that this kinda-corny acceptance-oriented pic was adapted from a book series, which means self-questioning teens should be able to sniff it out now that it’s available on DVD.
Directed in that semi-frank, mostly square ABC Family style by first-timer Gary Entin (whose twin brother Edmund penned the script), the feature retains just enough of novelist Brent Hartinger’s no-nonsense style (think Judy Bloom for queer readers) to give it cred. The story centers on an all-American teen named Russell Middlebrook (Cameron Deane Stewart), who’s “normal” in every way except the fact that he would rather date the quarterback than the school cheerleader. Lucky for him, the school football star (“90210’s” Justin Deeley) has been hanging out in the same gay chat rooms.
It’s interesting to note that the conflict here comes mostly from within, rather than from school bullies or inflexible parents, as each of the characters must decide whether to go public with his or her sexual orientation. While the misfit club members (we get anti-macho comic relief from “Glee’s” Alex Newell and dramatic energy from a heavily mascaraed Nikki Blonsky) debate whether to reveal the club’s true identity, Russell agonizes over whether he can stand to be in a closeted relationship with his jock b.f. Such discretion is not without its consequences, and also means having to go on a fake date with an incredibly forward girl from school (Disney Channel darling Meaghan Martin).
Overlit so it looks more like television than “Twilight,” the film doesn’t shy away from same-sex kissing or talk of experimenting with more advanced bases, but it also avoids the somewhat lecherous vibe of more adult-oriented coming-out movies. The idea here isn’t to titillate with tawdry teen hormones, but to offer an outlet for all that mental distress young people take on while trying to find their place in the world. To that end, the comic relief goes a long way, with Ana Gasteyer working overtime to amuse as the school’s daffy sex-ed teacher.