Three out of four actors in this film are straight, according to Judge Brett Cullum's gaydar.
Gregory Talbot: You don't desire me. You're just confused…and lonely…and horny.
"If you're smart, you've guessed I'm a hustler. If you haven't, here are two clues: I'm gay and they've made a movie about me." So begins director Q. Allan Brocka's sophomore gay theatrical feature Boy Culture. Brocka knows and even acknowledges the gay clichés strewn throughout the film; he uses these familiar touches to endearing effect by ironically juxtaposing them against character depth. This tragicomedy about misplaced desire looks great and has an outstanding cast. Boy Culture is the rare, extremely well done GLBT film that manages to be witty, romantic, sexy, and thoughtful. It's definitely worth checking out on DVD, and TLA Releasing has provided a fully loaded disc for the feature.
Facts of the Case
"X" (not his real name, to protect the innocent) is a male hustler (Derek Magyar, Enterprise) who lives a well-appointed life in Seattle due to the generosity of his twelve regular clients. He has two roommates—not out of financial necessity, but as a tax fraud to hide some of his income. One is a video store clerk (Darryl Stephens, Noah's Arc), while the other is an underaged twink (Jonathan Trent, Cane) without a job. They're achingly young and obscenely attractive, and all three flat mates have feelings for each other. Yet "X" keeps everyone at a distance because of his profession. But once he takes on a new, wealthy, reclusive client (legendary thespian Patrick Bauchau, The New Age), things begin to change. The walls come crashing down.
Although it was based on the Boy Culture novel by Matthew Rettenmund, the movie changes the written version significantly. Director Q. Allan Brocka has been known for his comedic projects such as Eating Out and Logo's Rick & Steve the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, but here he branches out and personalizes a dramatic adaptation. The action is moved from the book's Chicago to Brocka's hometown of Seattle. Literary X's obsession with the singer Madonna becomes a fixation on the religious icon. Most significantly, Andrew (who was white) is now African American. The novel's myriad characters are culled down to four essential roles, which both tightens and expands their stories. Brocka has made the story his own, and it works to make the film feel more personal. The script is smart and observant with some highly quotable lines.
I must have been a male prostitute in another life, because I've loved films like My Own Private Idaho, Sugar, and Mysterious Skin that feature hookers front and center. The male hustler is a favorite subject of gay filmmakers, and such roles inspire the best work in young actors. Boy Culture continues the tradition as it fixates on "X," a complicated ball of ironic displacement. Derek Magyar makes the character likable despite his tendency to do rude, selfish things designed to keep his isolation intact. The film hinges on the audience rooting for him, and we do—thanks to his cynical-yet-insightful voiceover, which provides dramatic tension as the main character does one thing yet feels another. The story is full of quixotic duplicity where people say words that betray their inner selves. This quality deepens the film and adds layers where there might have been mere surface.
The supporting cast is stunning. Boy Culture features four compelling portraits of gay men of various age and race. Patrick Bauchau gives a standout, bravura performance as the aging client in his seventies who wants to talk until the hustler desires him. Bauchau's unique voice and spot-on delivery convinces the viewer that seduction is possible by telling stories. Darryl Stephens proves he is capable of a broad range by playing a tough guy who is still questioning his sexuality. His chemistry with the leads is undeniable, and he's the sexiest boy in the room at any given moment. Jonathan Trent gets to play the broad, foppish role as the fey Joey. He makes the character funny and endearing.
It's hard to believe this film was shot over eighteen days on a small budget. Boy Culture is a handsomely shot film that takes full advantage of its Seattle setting. Traditionally gay neighborhood Capitol Hill is featured prominently, and the rain-prone locations fit the moody tone of the piece. You'll catch a glimpse of a now-defunct, famous Seattle gay bar; several gorgeous lofts; the rain soaked streets; and lush greenery that is the city's trademark. Lighting throughout is sexy dim, and Boy Culture unspools a marvel of technically proficient design executed on a dime. It looks incredible, and the cinematography works well with the narrative.
TLA Releasing offers us a great DVD with substantial extras to buoy Boy Culture. The transfer remains true to the theatrical experience with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that is deeply color saturated and purposefully dark. There are no digital artifacts and the simple stereo mix serves the dialogue well enough. Included as extras are ten minute interviews with the director and all four leads and an insightful commentary with the director and screenwriter. All of these add up to exactly what you need to appreciate the themes and inventive production of the film. A pair of short deleted scenes don't add much, but they are here if you want to take a peek. Also included is some shaky handheld footage of the film's premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is going to seem petty, but Boy Culture suffers because three of the four leads are straight in real life (only Darryl Stephens is out and proud). They accurately portray their characters regardless of their true sexuality, but in the couple of infrequent love scenes there is hesitation from the heterosexual members of the cast. A climactic tryst that should be passionate and raw is stilted and oddly awkward, mainly because the two men engaged in the act are just not that into each other. Gay viewers are going to know, and I can't imagine any other audience as the film's target. If you're making a gay movie with straight actors make sure they are game for the love scenes (better yet give the roles to deserving gay actors who have few opportunities in Hollywood to play true to themselves). Darryl Stephens compensates for all of this, and his scenes seem effortless when things get steamy. It's a small nitpick, since the film really doesn't revolve around showing sex.
Boy Culture achieves everything it sets out to do, and it's a great film. It has a dark tone at the start, but manages to make light by the closing moments. You'll see familiar gay trappings such as three buff studs living together, stock characters used countless times, and plenty of sexy moments. Yet the film's irony and cynicism elevate it beyond the constraints of the genre. Boy Culture is romantic, funny, touching, and surprisingly deep. It explores the tried-and-true question of what prevents someone from falling in love, but does so through a unique glimpse at a jaded male hustler. His journey from closed off from everyone to open to possibilities is what makes the film work. The cast performs everything pitch perfect to the hilt, the production values are high, and the script is smart. TLA Releasing has loaded up the excellent disc to make this a DVD that comes highly recommended for fans of GLBT-themed films.
Not guilty on the basis of taking a common formula and gleefully turning it around to make an insightful movie. Boy Culture is a strong feature that can't be held down by the court. It's free to go and entertain without dumbing down its message.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Commentary by Director Q. Allan Brocka and Writer Philip Pierce
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