Judge Christopher Kulik likes new twenties, but old fifties and hundreds are fine too.
Family is the new thirty. Gay is the new straight.
I'm sure many of you have heard the new catchphrase that "thirty is the new twenty." I'm 30 years old myself, and I don't exactly feel 20. Well, maybe 22 or 23. The point is the phrase is about how we feel to combat mid-life crises which will come later down the road. In the 21st century, it's become an emotional weapon of sorts. Some of us embrace the idea; others deem the notion too optimistic. This is the theme that dominates The New Twenty.
Facts of the Case
The film opens in 1997, as we get a quick snapshot of a circle of friends about to graduate college. Nine years later, they are still friends. Andrew (Ryan Locke) is an investment banker who's not as passionate about his job as he used to be. He's recently engaged to Julie (Nicole Bilderback, Bring It On), the only female of the group, who's becoming a little concerned about Andrew's disillisionment. And her commitment will soon be tested with the arrival of outsider Louie Kennick (Terry Serpico, Find Me Guilty), a guy Andrew meets at the gym.
The other friends have taken decidedly different paths. Ben Barr (Colin Fickes, Transformers) is a recluse who is hoping to find real sexual fulfillment via gay internet chat rooms. The problem is he's intimidated by his weight, which scares partners away. Tony (Andrew Wei Lin, Tekken) fares better when he meets a distinguished professor named Robert Cameron (Bill Sage, Blue Blood), who isn't afraid to admit he's HIV-positive. Then there's Felix (Thomas Sodoski, Loser), a drug-addicted loner who may find a key to happiness with a girl he chances to meet in a bar. As all of these characters approach 30, unforeseen circumstances come into play that threaten to destroy the close bond they once had.
Regardless of your feelings for gay cinema, The New Twenty is a gem. It's an assured, auspicious debut from co-writer/director Chris Mason Johnson. Unfortunately, the film's audience is going to be limited. The tagline and cover art, as misleading as it may be, will scare homophobes away. It's a real shame too, as it's not simply about gay relationships. In fact, Johnson himself hesitates to label The New Twenty as a queer film. Critics will look at it more as a post-modern Big Chill or St. Elmo's Fire but without the Hollywood dynamics (and A-list stars) those films possess. Comparisons are inevitable, and they will lead some to believe this is nothing more than recycled material packaged for the art-house crowd.
If I were going to compare The New Twenty with anything it would be Andrew Fleming's 1994 college film Threesome. The settings are radically different, and Fleming's film was more about friendships being tested by lust and experimentation. Still, both films are essentially about real people (both gay and straight) who deal with real problems in the everyday world. Like Threesome, The New Twenty is a slice of life, a multiple character study in how people change and then drift away from each other. In a Hollywood movie, these characters would go through a series of contrived plot complications only to reach an ending full of happiness and hope. At virtually every angle, The New Twenty dodges this trap for sometime more complex.
The most surprising element of The New Twenty is its unpredictability. Johnson is sly in how he introduces the characters and their numerous interactions. The storyline involving Felix and his new bedmate, for example, consummates in a completely unexpected way. Very little dialogue is utilized, and yet we still completely identify with these two individuals because of how Johnson tells their story visually.
The Tony-Robert courtship is also freshly handled. Instead of relying on awkwardness and outside prejudice to create dramatic tension, Johnson somehow finds a way to make these lonely people find solace in each other's company in a naturalistic way. Robert's medical status is something Tony can handle emotionally, and yet he still questions his commitment for other reasons.
Nearly every performance from the unknown cast rings true. Locke nails Andrew's frustration and half-hearted ambition. Bilderback scores as the sole female of the group. Fickes injects some memorable comedy relief while at the same time allowing us to sympathize with him and his place in a largely shallow world. Sage is amazing as the afflicted lover who only wants a healthy partner to be with. And Lin, as said partner, steals pretty much every single moment he's onscreen.
The budget may have only been $500,000, but The New Twenty looks positively glorious on DVD. Sporting perfect flesh tones, sharp black levels, and exceptional uses of light, the widescreen presentation is lovely. True, there isn't a lot of visual "wows," but the picture is clean and flawless. The DD 2.0 Stereo track also works wonders, particularly in how it channels the contemporary soundtrack. Closed captioning is also provided. Wolfe offers some excellent extras as well. The main attraction is a full-length audio commentary provided by Johnson and his co-producer Aina Abiodun. There is a bit too much back-patting when it comes to the cast and crew, though it's still a compelling listen. Also offered is a selection of deleted scenes (running about 3.5 minutes) and a music video ("End of The World" by Matt Alber).
If you can get past Wolfe's less-than-honest marketing, The New Twenty is well worth your time. Kudos to the studio, however, for giving the film a special edition-like DVD treatment. Finally, my hat's off to Chris Mason Johnson for giving us an intelligent ensemble piece which avoids overused stereotypes. The New Twenty is highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
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