The oeuvre of growing-up-gay-in-a-small-town just got another helpful entry due to Todd Verow’s fascinating compilation of events—real or imagined—that took place in Bangor, Maine.
Using a pair of fine-looking protagonists (Joe, Brad Hallowell; Andrew, Greg Lucas) Verow fills the script with an intriguing host of situations that are selectively funnelled through his spokespersons for Queer America.
Joe is the central figure. The aspiring art student takes up modelling to pay some bills and ends up becoming a live-in housekeeper for Victor (a beautifully nuanced performance by Charles Ard), the mobility-challenged artist whose digs are delightfully located in the inner sanctum of the Bangor Opera House. Schoolmate, football star and kleptomaniac Andrew gradually comes to accept the difficult truth that both his girlfriend Mandy (Jennifer Stackpole does a fine job playing the trophy-hunting cheerleader who promises to remain silent about her beau’s interest in men if he’ll lie about their “doing it all the time” to keep them leading the power-couple parade—clear fiction there!) and Joe’s (Mindy Hofman plays Kris with appropriate naïveté) don’t stand a chance after the first booze-fuelled kiss within sight of their dates does not become yet another instance of “Oh, we must have been drunk.”
Verow, along with Joe’s penchant for making up tall tales (“Mom’s boyfriend attacked her with the telephone!” sets up a queer bit of larceny at the mall), takes viewers into nearly all aspects of budding, same-sex relationships. Once the girls have been dispensed with, the film zeros in on long forgotten child molestation that wasn’t entirely unwanted (“I couldn’t leave”), the sudden allure of Mr. Right Now (Michael Dion plays Tim with equally convincing portions of grit and despair), murderous gay bashing (from the twin viewpoints of sadistic perpetrator and swift revenge), a trek to the only gay bar in town (guess who wins the Go Go Boy contest?) and some action interuptus in the stalls of the men’s room.
A diverting sidebar to the proceedings is Joe’s kid sister. Theresa (Hilary Mann) slaves away as a retail clerk and dreams of escaping the misery of her dead-end existence (having to look no further than her perpetually passed-out mother to see her desolate future) by taking a one-way flight to L.A. How she finally obtains that plane ticket (and the extra $57 that is all that stands between purgatory and freedom) is a recurrent theme in all of the principals’ characters.
Boyish Joe also doesn’t hesitate to dabble in blackmail. In his case, a married teacher (as Mr. LaBlanc, Nathan Johnson works up a completely believable state of repressed lust) is unable to keep himself from tasting his average-grade student’s forbidden delights. Consequently, a coerced letter of recommendation becomes Joe’s pass to higher education, having learned enough about life to begin manipulating others virtually at will—such is the strength of being out, hot and opportunistic. But that bit of unscrupulous behaviour only serves to set the stage for the grand finale where the incoming tide departs with a scumbag no one will miss.
Purposely absent is any semblance of authority. No police, social workers, security guards or parents block the way of the teens as they discover themselves and deal with adults on their own terms. While that seldom happens in real life, the sheer weight of circumstances in such a short period of time would flatten anyone who had to live through Joe’s and Andrew’s trials by fire.
Verow knows that. He also sends a wonderful message of hope to gays and lesbians (what really happened next with Mandy and Kris as they were left to their own devices while their men got to really know each other?) everywhere that as bad as things get, there is nothing quite as powerful as loving relationships that can see the good and bad in either partner and still stick around for a hug. JWR