Multihyphenate Patrik-Ian Polk sticks with what he knows in “The Skinny,” another likable seriocomic ensembler about a group of young, gay African-American best friends navigating hazardous romantic waters. As with his prior “Punks” and the various incarnations of “Noah’s Arc,” this is an enjoyable romp that touches on some serious issues while providing plenty of gossipy, quippy and hard-bodied escapism. The self-distributed pic has openings booked through May 11, when it hits Gotham and Los Angeles. Niche home-formats exposure should be hale.
Protags are a quintet of Brown U. grads reuniting in Manhattan, where Magnus (Jussie Smollett) is eager to introduce everyone to his boyfriend of five months, hunky Ryan (Dustin Ross). Unfortunately, it soon emerges that Ryan, who had insisted they stick to very heavy petting until reaching the half-year mark, is not only cheating on Magnus, but has been using the guy’s apartment to film porn videos. An unpleasant breakup ensues, putting Magnus in a less-than-celebratory mood for Gay Pride weekend.
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Meanwhile, naively romantic Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) is saving himself for hookup artist Kyle (Anthony Burrell). But Kyle’s intentions aren’t at all clear, and his eye-blink attention span leaves Sebastian vulnerable when they spend a druggy night clubbing. The sole female (and Brit) of the bunch, Langston (Shanika Warren-Markland) is bubbly among friends but shy in the presence of sexy strangers, bungling numerous opportunities to connect with brassy bartender Savannah (Jennia Frederique). Cynical Joey (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) has similar issues, but also bigger worries: The sole Brown alum here from a less-than-privileged background, he’s stuck back home in Atlanta in Mom’s public-housing apartment with no job prospects above minimum wage.
There’s lots of raunchy talk and nudity, although the script is all for traditional coupledom and responsible behavior. A few passages (one with Wilson Cruz making a cameo as a doctor) are a bit clumsily instructive on moral matters, and the pace occasionally slackens for too much earnest chat. But whenever things get a bit heavy-handed, the pic regains a pleasing breeziness. While its characters may live in an upwardly-mobile fantasy world unreachable to some viewers, “The Skinny” does take care on a couple of occasions to point out that not everyone is so fortunate.
Performers, including several prior Polk players, make for pleasant company. Production values are decent on a budget, though the Manhattan setting isn’t used to maximum advantage.