The politics of homophobia and child molestation receive a badly misjudged tweaking in “Queer as Folk” star Peter Paige’s writing-directing debut, “Say Uncle.” With ideological and dramatic intentions neatly and somewhat satirically in place, pic contrives circumstances in which an impossibly naive young man’s innocent love for kids is misconstrued by fearful, protective moms, making him the target of a grassroots witch hunt. Sure to be applauded by some and hissed at by others, the film’s lack of a daring filmmaking package and bland cable-like look will make it a tough theatrical sell, but Showtime support will ensure future eyeballs.
More than a mere godfather to toddler Morgan, artist Paul (Paige) is the little guy’s best buddy, a whirling bundle of energy who leaves a first, and firm, impression that he’s not just young at heart, but an arrested adolescent. Daydreaming at his work desk, he soon loses his dull-as-dirt phone-sales day-job, then learns Morgan’s parents are moving to Japan.
Paul appears unable to process such information, and instead of, say, seriously burrowing into painting to express himself (he only dabbles, albeit angrily), he unwisely decides to try to make new young replacement friends at the local park. The kids may have a terrific new surrogate daddy in their midst, but their mothers, led by Maggie (Kathy Najimy), soon begin to eye him with suspicion.
Long before it gets to full-flung civic conflict, “Say Uncle” telegraphs that this will be a story of a misunderstood innocent with a good heart clashing with unfounded community fear.
Paige’s script, for a while at least, tries to balance Paul’s generous spirit with a sense that he’s behaving stupidly. The weight of sympathy, though, eventually shifts in his favor when Maggie starts organizing an equally ill-conceived campaign to “out” Paul as a child molester, despite a lack of evidence.
Such a gambit transforms a genuine and reasonable fear of child molesters into something close to the butt of satire. For auds particularly sensitive to this issue, Paige’s generally good-willed storytelling may come off as a slap in the face, and undermine his rather obvious message about society’s fear of gay men. Working in the key of manic, and a world away from his far more adult role on “Queer as Folk,” Paige, in a performance both likable and repellant,can never quite get to Paul’s emotional core. It’s a wonder how he could so misunderstand that his obsessive behavior with kids could easily be misread. Najimy, meanwhile, is forced uncomfortably to play the heavy. Good actors slotted in marginal and oddly plotted roles, Gabrielle Union and Lisa Edelstein bring their accustomed grace to tone down the satire.
Paige may have done well to bring in a camera-savvy director, since his own shooting is bland and seems intended for tube viewing. Portland is never expressly announced as the story’s location, but burg’s attractive side is nicely used. Kurt Swinghammer’s music may not swing, but it sure is loopy.