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IN SHORT: The best written, cast and performed gay-themed movie I've seen this year. [Rated R for language, drug use and some sexual content. 104 minutes]
We're going to step outside the usual Cranky mode for this one, and delve in to the world of essay writing. Film student criticism tends to move into this world when they try to get you to eat stuff that you would never want to eat; I'm not going that route. But my reaction to The Broken Hearts Club calls for something different in these pages. So that's where we're going to go.
I have written many times that, eventually, someone will make a gay themed movie that will have an appeal to straight audiences. Saying that always pisses off the gay readers in the audience because they always tend to jump to conclusions about my personal feelings about their proclivities. So, enough of that, because we finally have the first movement towards the kind of film I've been predicting. The Broken Hearts Club isn't that film, but it is a quantum improvement over the kind of stuff I've been sitting through for the last couple of years, most of which tend to deal with the agony of coming out -- the parents that hate the poor sobbing little gaykid; the rejection or acceptance or indifference of friends; the actual decision to come out as a teen (Get Real and Edge of Seventeen). Sometimes the movies are about the joy of finding a way to get pleasure in a life that had been utterly devoid of pleasure (Better Than Chocolate). At it's worst, you get things like But I'm A Cheerleader, which had all the conceptual makings of great satire (straight girl sent to reeducation camp to have her suspected lesbian tendencies stereotypically drummed out of her -- and having the reverse effect) but whose execution turned it into a bitter, rage and hate filled satirical attack on straight folk.
The Broken Hearts Club is none of that. Indeed, it is about as seriously "gay" oriented a movie as you can get. None of the principal characters are straight. None of the situations in the film, parties, restaurants, other social events is sexually mixed in any respect. The Broken Hearts Club is the story of half a dozen or so twenty something LA based gay men looking for love and bitching to each other about the problems of finding it. One of 'em sums up the problem succinctly: "LA is all tens looking for an eleven".
Yes, there's a good dose of that hedonistic pretty boy looking for pretty boy stage, but all the young characters are well balanced by an older committed pair. Jack (John Mahoney) is the de facto father figure to the group who, with the descriptively named "Purple Man" (Robert Arce), have been partnered twenty years socially and in business, running the principal gay watering hole in West Hollywood called Jack of Broken Hearts. A good number of the principals work in the restaurant.
Among those that don't, the principal focus is on Dennis (Tim Olyphant), a photographer who is celebrating his 28th birthday and beginning to wonder about the direction of his life. His housemate Cole (Dean Cain) still plays the field and is strictly non-committal. Cole is an actor who may have landed his big break, a supporting role in a Kip Rogers macho action picture. That the married, macho Rogers is rumored to be in the closet is one of the more interesting subplots in the flick. Taking the guest room is Taylor (Billy Porter) just out of a long term relationship.
There are others, but it does take quite a while to be able to differentiate among all of 'em. A pair of glasses here, a prop camera or repeated mention of an occupation there helps, but it was a good 45 minutes before I had this larger than average group identified free and clear. If I've got it right: Patrick (Ben Weber) is faced with a different problem when his lesbian sister Anne (Mary McCormack) asks him to father a child with her lover Leslie (Nia Long). Benji (Zach Braff) has got the blonde, spike haired punk look and is dissed by the group for hanging with gym rats. Kevin (Andrew Keegan) is the "newbie" (meaning: probably gay but not out of the closet, either to his parents or friends though he hangs at the gay parties and clubs) who moves from friendly relationships within the group to a more significant relationship with Cole, who ultimately couldn't care less.
The film takes extra effort to explain some of the vagaries of this gay scene to those of us who have no exposure to it but it is at its root a dead on gay picture about relationships and gay life. No stereotypes. Very little queening it up. No fag bashing. No behavior requiring long lectures about "protection" and AIDS. Just a sizable group of gay men and a pair of lesbians, most of whom are reaching the end of the hedonistic stage and are seeking out stable monogamous relationships or, at minimum, an answer to the question "so what do we do with our lives now?"
As a straight person sitting in the audience, there wasn't a character or situation that I could sink any kind of emotional hooks into. The acting is fine. The situations are perfectly normal and realistic (sic) but I felt as if I was watching an arm's length examination of a different culture; something you could see late night on the Discovery Channel, perhaps. The sexual situations are not graphic enough to cause discomfort. There are enough "good" guys and "bad" guys (in re: how they treat their lovers) to keep a number of subplots moving, but this film is so seriously aimed at the gay demographic that there's little of interest to those of us who don't live and breathe the film critic mentality mentioned in the first 'graph.
And, being a well made film, the thing doesn't fit inside our normal ratings parameters. If you like sitting through arthouse films which would have little appeal to a general audience, you'll plop down for this one. If you're gay, you've got a movie that's aimed strictly at you. If you are neither of the above, there is little of interest here.
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