If you're eighteen, gay, and have flashbacks to WWII, Judge Brett Cullum says this movie is made for you.
"A vortex of emotions…"
There's a Skid Row song called "Eighteen and Life to Go" that immediately sprang in to my head when I saw the title of this film. Any movie that makes me recall a hair metal hit has got to be in a strange category all its own. I'm still waiting for one to make me fondly recall Stryper, but as of this date no luck. Eighteen begs for an '80s metal soundtrack despite the fact its a gay production from Canada. I can't think of anything less metal than homosexuals from the Great White North, but perhaps I should open my mind to the possibility. Surely there are many metal loving boys North of the border who could sing along with my Skid Row memories. Is this film going to make them happy?
Pip Anders (Paul Anthony, Blade: Trinity) is a street kid with "Great Expectations," but lives homeless in the big city. He's actually a runaway from a prominent upper middle class family who is angry at his father over the loss of his older brother. On his eighteenth birthday he receives a tape from his grandfather (Sir Ian McKellan, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) about the day he turned eighteen. His life begins to parallel his ancestor, but in a modern way. Where granddad was fleeing German forces through the woods of France with a dying buddy in tow, Pip is running through life with a comrade who is a gay street hustler through the concrete jungle. Along the way he falls in love with a wise girl, the gay hustler falls for a childish gas station clerk, they both confront their daddy issues, and in flashback we see a World War II drama unfold. Love, sex, death, and Ian McKellan channeled through a Walkman—it's all here.
Eighteen comes from Canadian director Richard Bell, who had a minor hit with his first production Two Brothers (which was a short feature well worth seeking out). He's definitely upped the star power for his first full length outing with a cast that includes two X-Men franchise stars—Alan Cumming who was Nightcrawler in the second chapter, and an audio appearance by Ian McKellan recognizable as Magneato. There is also Thea Gill who Queer as Folk fans will recognize as Lindsey from the Showtime series. Young up and comer Paul Anthony (RV) stars as Pip, and Brendan Fletcher (oddly enough also in RV, and featured in TLA's release of Everyone) appears as Jason. Carly Pope also appears who will be recognizable from Tru Calling or Everyone. Mark Hildreth was also in Everyone as well as this feature, making me believe Richard Bell and director Bill Marchant (the director of Everyone) have some unnatural relationship.
Eighteen packs far too much plot inside an hour and forty-five minutes. I love the ambition to tell many stories, but it becomes a mess of straying strands which makes it hard to invest in any of the narratives. Much like Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin it deals with abuse of power sexually by authority figures, and how that impacts several young lives. The World War II flashbacks are a stretch to tie in to the modern story, and the film seems at odds with itself to make the two timelines mesh seamlessly. Perhaps a more innovative method would have been to use the same actors in both eras, but this is not done. Some scenes are quite powerful and work, while others seem to fall either melodramatically over the top or flat. In the finale things come together enough to make the viewer satisfied, but the movie as a whole still seems fragmented both structurally and in quality. It strives to be operatic, but only opera can get away with epic battles of the psyche without coming off as strained.
TLA Releasing always does right by the few titles they release every year. We get a clean widescreen transfer with great color saturation and nary a pixel out of place. The stereo soundtrack delivers dialogue well, and the entire technical presentation is topnotch. For extras there is a director's commentary as well as a featurette on the making of the movie. The documentary portion explains why the film was made, and it's sweet that the director wanted to honor his own grandfather. I hope Granddaddy was liberal, because he's taken his ancestor's memoirs and fused them with a story about a homeless kid and a gay hustler. The commentary is conversational and quite informative. All in all the film gets great treatment from TLA.
The movie is certainly worth seeking out, but don't expect it to be flawless. Eighteen is an interesting entry in gay cinema, because it allows sexuality to be secondary to story. The only problem is that with this much going on, anything would come second to the multiple, massive plots. Still, it's nice to see gay and straight characters coming together and learning and loving without being concerned with their sexuality. It's a step in the right direction, and hopefully Richard Bell will learn from this project. Eighteen shows his promise, but it doesn't fully establish him as the major talent it hints at. But like anyone on the cusp of adulthood at eighteen, he's on his way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Commentary With Director Richard Bell
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