JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Shelter (Director/Writer: Jonah Markowitz) - January 12, 2008


3.5 3.5
88 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Cookie-cutter characterizations catch a few waves

Taking Shelter as seen through the vision and imagination of director/writer Jonah Markowitz is a harmlessly peasant outing. The ever-so-white cast members seamlessly intertwine to deliver an endless summer, and-then-I-became-gay yarn that will delight surfers of all persuasions (sidewalk, ocean or that-hunk-over-there), leaving the theatre with a queer-positive image of the new family values.

At the epicenter of this tale is Zach (Trevor Wright is always a pleasure to watch but the measure of his acting talent requires a script with more scope to reveal his depth). Also onhand are uncle/stand-in-father to five-year-old Cody (played with lovable charm by Jackson Wurth), son to a permanently disabled dad and brother/co-breadwinner to the luckless Jeanne (Tina Holes does her best to add much-needed emotional range as her bro’s queerness becomes apparent). Zach starts off the film during one of his frequent breakups with hottie Tori (Katie Walder). She’s every gay man’s dream: readily able to switch from frustrated lover (her advances can’t even compete with b-grade horror flicks) to No. 1 fag hag as soon as her beloved accepts the fact he’s been parking his pent-up ride-to-ecstasy in the wrong garage.

The lucky guy to help Zach step out of his wet suit and connect the dots all the way down his recently-jilted treasure trail is Shaun (Brad Rowe shines in the early going but is left too long in the shallow end once the heady days of first-love passion are abruptly run aground on the shoals of plot development). Of course, it turns out that Zach’s best friend is Shaun’s younger sibling—setting up such inevitable lines as “Do guys give better head?” when his bud’s dirty little secret comes in with the tide of truth (as Gabe, Ross Thomas is so easy-going with the “news” that one wonders if the brothers might have more in common than their last name).

And where is the impressionable Cody during all of these comings, revealings and goings? The happy-go-lucky kid never bats an eye at the sudden surplus of male role models in his life (also including his booze/pill-prone mom’s current red-neck beau who loves to sleep over but much prefers “married without children”) and infuriates his mother when he takes an instant liking to Shaun (Arrgh! Maybe the little tyke will catch “it!”).

As can be expected, the unexpected lovers are both artists (Zach’s a Cal-State-hopeful artist—actual work is brilliantly rendered by Ryan Graeff; Shaun’s a writer, struggling to finish his second novel, but once the pair create their own masterpiece of love, Zach gets into school and Shaun’s blockage is most assuredly unplugged).

All of these characters/situations combine to set up the BIG decision: Should Cody get raised by two surfers with bed privileges or will Jeanne dump her latest Mr. Right Now (who has snagged a well-paying out-of-state job) and remain a practising mom in her dead-end life in San Pedro?

Tough one to call …

No worries, come to Shelter for the brief, pounding-drum sex scene, but stay for the beautifully shot (Joseph White) surfing sequences and ride your fantasies all the way into shore. JWR

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