Taking a muted, ambivalent stance toward a touchy subject, vid-shot indie drama “Eban and Charley” straightforwardly chronicles the development of a love affair between a 29-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy, as well as the parental anger and possible legal consequences it provokes. Sometimes spare to a fault (especially scriptwise), low-key effort nonetheless holds attention with its naturalistic, nonsensationalized approach. Specialized homevid sales will be apt after pic covers the gay-fest circuit.
Rather adolescent himself in his scrawny physicality and awkward manner, Eban (Brent Fellows) returns to his Washington hometown around Christmas. He’s vague about the reasons for having left Seattle, and his parents already seem to have acquired a “better not knowing” attitude toward this puzzling son’s activities. Killing time in the local record store, Eban spies skinny skateboarder Charley (Giovanni Andrade) and rather insistently strikes up a friendship on the pretense of swapping lessons (both guys practice guitar and American Sign Language, to varying ability).
This come-on is a little creepy — one could say the same about Eban in general — but Charley, a lonely newcomer forced to live with his hostile, long-divorced father in the wake of his mom’s recent death, proves precociously willing on all fronts. He’s less quick, however, to grasp the severe potential consequences of this relationship between adult and juvenile. In fact, neither Eban nor Charley is particularly mature, or cautious enough about “getting caught.”
It emerges that erstwhile soccer coach Eban fled Seattle under threat of prosecution for an affair with a student. Once both characters’ fathers glean what’s going on, it’s clear the two must never be seen together again, or else hit the road as fugitives.
Pic recalls Wolfgang Petersen’s debut feature, “The Consequence,” in both subject and treatment; writer-helmer James Bolton resists sentimentalizing or demonizing the protags, both of whom seem just half-formed as personalities — Charley due to his youth, Eban perhaps pathologically. We’re left to read what we will into their motives and judge for ourselves whether this is forbidden but true love or pederastic predation. (One mild, semi-clothed interlude aside, there’s no onscreen sexual activity.)
Lead thesps do well making these recessive characters intriguingly ambiguous, just as script’s plain, everyday dialogue avoids psychological/social-problem literalism. Still, at times this deliberate reserve seems clunky or just undernourished, with pacing occasionally lax. Charley’s friends, two heterosexual teens also on the verge of running away, provide sole subplot; parents’ roles are sketchy.
Good use is made of wintry Northwestern locations; micro-budget production is technically well handled. A selling point is the score by Stephen Merritt, whose low-fi pop cult band Magnetic Fields contribs several songs. Fans of Gus Van Sant’s early indie work won’t be surprised to find him among those thanked in closing credits.