Maybe it’s festival fatigue, but every once in a while a film rolls across the screen that seems to fail miserably as a story but manages to kindle a shared emotional response through its ability (intentional or not) to transfer the absurd to reality.
And, as is becoming more and more frequent (cross-references below), The Curiosity of Chance—despite its overt array of drag queens, homophobia and swishing male butts—is less a gay movie than a study of Survival 101 for any “misfit” that has endured taunting from their peers.
As Chance Marquis, newcomer Tad Hilgenbrink zips through Russell P. Marleau’s (who also directed) narration with engaging verve and saucy panache. The often sarcastic insights into life in an international high school for a dandy who comes to class dressed as a stand-in for a Fred Astaire flick are funny enough, but a nickel short of queer-like-me-droll. Later on, at his/her drag début (lovingly aided and abetted by Clair Vuoyant—Danny Calander, outrageously resplendent), Chance fills his long-departed mom’s cocktail dress with courage and a flattened package, but can’t find the special balance that real “girls” have when strutting the stage in heels.
The object of the struggling-for-identity youth’s affections comes in the personage of schoolmate Levi Sparks (the characters’ names are a hoot on their own). In this role, Brett Chukerman gets more to act than Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds (cross-reference below), yet there’s absolutely no doubt the film can mark its actual liftoff when the, literally, boy-next-door engages in a strip tease for Chance that—sadly for everyone—doesn’t finish its boxer-tease fantasy. The real kiss, when it arrives many scenes later, demonstrates that at least one of this on-again/off-again pair needed little rehearsal.
Chance’s family is a marvel of stereotyping gone wild. Colleen Cameron as younger-sister Sienna brings her mid-Atlantic accent, make-up sense and status as sibling confidante to a level high enough to win fag-hag-of-the-year honours. Their father, Sir (Chris Mulley), has his doorbell set with a trumpet charge, wears fatigues in the house but can’t fully convince that under his rough exterior there’s really a heart of gold for his troubled “daughter.” He’s unable to find his inner-army mean, which isn’t a bad thing.
In the takes-one-to-know-one category, Chance’s friends are (a) the dare-devil solitary black girl (Twyla, played with fun by Aldevina Da Silva) (b) school photographer (Hank, er, developed by Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyze) whose lack of getting laid creates his buddy’s school-wide outing in glorious black-and-white.
Chance’s chief tormenter is Brad Harden (Maxim Maes, lacking the right mix of bullying and insecurity to convince). Refereeing the shenanigans is the deliciously named Ophelia Smelker (shamelessly brought to life large by Magali Uytteraegen), the vice principal whose faint-inducing body stench is only bested by her compassion for the downtrodden (should make a great musical with the hit song: “I Could Have Chanced All Night”).
So the plot limps along, clichés pop out (“Some day, you’ll have to stand up to people.”), the eye candy is slight (but savoury) and the music track picks up the tempo where required.
But forget all that has proceeded and imagine yourself as Chance when he finally gets to be himself in front of family and friends, sees the humiliation of his arch enemy then gets a big wet one from the man of his dreams. Marleau’s film has its greatest moment when he allows us to superimpose ourselves into the final frames and cheer through a spectacular happy ending that, frankly, only happens in the movies. Cheers to that! JWR