It’s not too reductive to say there are two types of gay men: those who love the idea of a gay cruise where they can let it all hang out (quite literally), and those for whom the mere thought of such a venture sends shudders through their system. How audiences react to “Dream Boat” will entirely depend on where they fall on this polarized spectrum. Tristan Ferland Milewski’s ship-bound documentary follows five men from different nationalities as they check off a predictable litany of issues, from body fascism to HIV, acceptance at home to the search for love. If wall-to-wall bulges and mind bogglingly awful fetish gear float your boat, then welcome on board; others will have every fear confirmed. Needless to say, “Dream Boat” will find a hospitable berth at nearly every LGBTQ festival imaginable.
The Cruise is an all-male week-long voyage from Lisbon to the Canary Islands in a ship that holds 2,386 passengers. For many who come from societies less than friendly to “out” behavior, it promises the powerful experience of being yourself in an open-air, protective environment. For those used to living openly, the ship has the lure of a 7-day rave where displaying your pecs and abs is a far more effective mating ritual than mere peacock plumage. But if your delts can’t come up to even Zac Efron standards, then old-fashioned charm won’t do the trick when set against an intimidating array of thousands of preening supermen stuffed into Speedos.
Milewski’s subjects all want to be loved for what’s inside but they know that packaging gets all the attention. There’s Polish-born, UK resident Marek, blessed with a face and body that would attract most appreciators of the male form, yet lacking the confidence to know what to do with his physical charms. For Indian Dipankar, living in Dubai, the cruise starts as an abject lesson in how to feel lonely amidst thousands, though by the end he claims to have reached an epiphany. Frenchie Philippe is an anomaly in a wheelchair, the result of a meningitis infection 20 years earlier. Although traveling with his indulgent partner, he wonders what sort of luck he’d have with all these hot guys were he single. Palestinian Ramzi is on board with his Belgian partner, celebrating the latter’s recovery from cancer. Finally there’s Martin from Austria, the least developed of the bunch but presumably included because he’s living with HIV.
For Marek, Dipankar, and Ramzi, all familiar with homophobia at home, the cruise offers the illusion of solidarity; Philippe and Martin must have experienced such issues earlier in their lives, but seem to have moved beyond questions of acceptance. All except Martin express unhappiness with the gay community’s emphasis on the form fantastic, and even Ramzi, no slouch in the muscle department, has a moment of insight when he comments on the problematic standardization of gay male beauty: the same designer beard, the same clothes, the same biceps.
Milewski contrasts these brief moments of doubt with endless semi-naked tea dances, high-heel races, dress-up parties, and so many bulges that any connection between sexiness and well-filled underwear is quickly jettisoned. It’s almost as if the director is saying, “Why complain? Look how fabulous it all is!” While that’s unlikely to be his intention, the documentary seems even less self-aware than most of the passengers — and that’s saying something. No doubt everyone on-board signed a waiver allowing his image to be used, giving them license to preen for the cameras; at moments when the lensing seems too intrusive, it’s worth remembering that everyone is performing, whether they’re aware of it or not. Music rights for all the disco scenes must have been prohibitive, so composing-performing duo My Name Is Claude provide all the accompaniment.