Coming during a period in which the collision of politics and gay rights has created perhaps unprecedented sparks, “Poster Boy” is a flawed but absorbing drama about a right-wing U.S. senator campaigning for re-election and the gay son at odds with his father’s narrow views. Underproduced and compromised by an uneven script and a tendency to descend into melodrama, the DV-lensed feature nonetheless is well acted and directed with confidence by first-timer Zak Tucker. Blowup to 35mm and less frugal use of music could bolster niche theatrical potential before a more robust outing on DVD.
Troubled project originally was slated for late director Herbert Ross — to whom the film is dedicated — with Billy Crudup in the key role. When that failed to materialize, Douglas Keeve (“Unzipped”) signed on to direct a more modestly reconfigured production. He departed early in the shoot, leaving then-editor Tucker to graduate to directing.
Known variously as “the Nazi from North Carolina” or “Mr. Family Values,” Senator Jack Kray (Michael Lerner) seeks to harness the elusive youth vote by enlisting his handsome son Henry (Matt Newton) to introduce him at a rally at theNew York State college the young man attends.
Henry, however, is a sexually active gay man who has never come out to his parents. Despite Henry’s vigorous objections and the less forceful ones of his jaded mother, Eunice (Karen Allen), Jack insists his son should be a visible part of his campaign.
Henry flees to the family’s Palm Springs house, but Eunice sends eager young Republican Skip (Ian Reed Kesler) to retrieve him. Back at college, Henry hooks up at a party with Anthony (Jack Noseworthy), a young activist from off-campus, who refuses to observe Henry’s strict one-night-only policy. Anthony persists with him the following day, while liberal agitators post six-degrees-of-penetration charts all over the campus, linking Henry sexually to various guys.
When Jack and Eunice arrive on campus with their entourage, the emotional stakes are upped further by the unpredictable presence of Anthony’s volatile, HIV-positive roommate Izzie (Valerie Geffner).
Screenwriters Ryan Shiraki and Lecia Rosenthal adopt the cumbersome framing device of a post-election newspaper interview with Henry. The action cuts to the interview repeatedly, creating halting momentum and laboring the political agenda.
But despite some overwrought confrontations, the drama remains interesting and its characters intriguingly complex.
Lerner sinks his teeth into a borderline caricature role as the self-righteous bully. Allen is especially good as the neglected wife he refers to as “my rightest wing,” a sympathetic woman who “takes the bones with the fish,” numbed into a meaningless life of drinking, chain-smoking, shopping and providing purely decorative support. Newton, Noseworthy and Geffner all do the job.
While initial involvement is slowed by the fragmented storytelling style, Tucker eventually gets a firmer handle on the drama, with the jumpy editing and nervy handheld shooting style providing additional texture.