Michael J. Willett, Paul Iacono, Sasha Pieterse, Andrew Bowen, Xosha Roquemore, Molly Tarlov, Derek Mio, Megan Mullally, Rebecca Gayheart, Jonathan Silverman, Evanna Lynch, Natasha Lyonne, Joanna Levesque, Taylor Frey, Brock Harris
R for sexual references
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
At some point in High School, everyone has that worry that they won’t be popular. Popularity isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, especially when you become the first outed homosexual in your school. G.B.F. explores that dynamic in an exuberant, exaggerated exploration of stereotypes and prejudice in the modern High School environment.
A colorful blend of characters and clothes highlight Darren Stein’s fourth outing as director. His bubble gum-flavored approach to the examination of High School intrapersonal relationships makes for an effervescent, if realism-starved look at being gay in today’s pre-collegiate environment. Michael J. Willett plays Tanner, a shy senior struggling with his identity in a school where no one else has come out of the closet. He and his best friend Brent (Paul Iacono) have created an insular group of friends who support their closeted personalities, but have discussed going further.
Brent has discovered a way into the in-crowd by becoming the first openly gay student in school. Magazines have declared that the hottest accessory is a G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend) and he hopes that he can parlay that trend into becoming a hanger-on to one of three prominent, popular girls in school. Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse) is rich and beautiful and was, up until recently, dating the captain of the football team. ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen) is a Mormon and is the core member of the school’s religious clique. While Caprice (Xosha Roquemore) is the gravitational force pulling together the drama students. Each is chomping at the bit to become Prom Queen and to do so, they are willing to experiment with the G.B.F. fad.
Tanner is absolutely opposed to the prospect, but agrees to help Brent by creating an anonymous profile on a gay dating phone app that ultimately leads to his predictable outing, putting him into the center of an all-out war to win his influence and thus the votes of the school’s majority. As he abandons his old friends to spend time with his new, Tanner learns the inner workings of the popular cliques while coming to terms with his own abandonment of friendships he had held for many years.
Embracing and then exploding a number of clichés in the process, Stein’s film may have the look and feel of a throwaway teen drama, but the essence of its narrative is to open conversations with young people about the negative impact of stereotypes, the acceptance of others who are different and the investment of time and interest in the lives of teenagers. By creating a film that focuses its attention on teen appeal, Stein and company have created a welcoming picture that will hopefully encourage more thoughtful contemplation of these subjects among the youth of America (and perhaps around the world if it’s accessible).
An issue that plagues the film and not of its own doing, is that the Motion Picture Association of America has assigned an R rating to the film, a kiss of death for the targeted teen audiences. The MPAA has been notoriously slow in progressing their rating system and to date, they rate depictions of homosexuality as deserving a higher classification. Even when those depictions are largely innocuous. Yes, there’s some surprising language in the film, at least from a rating perspective, but that wasn’t why the film was assigned the rating. The one truly sexual encounter was from the waste up and was merely hinted at, but not depicted. If that’s deserving of an R rating, then half of what we see out ther as PG-13 should have R’s slapped on them as well.
Years down the road as social mores ease and change, the rating for G.B.F. will be looked at with derision and surprise for there’s nothing exceedingly objectionable in its entire runtime, except that it tries to humanize and normalize kids who are simply trying to be themselves even if it’s not what some parents want them to be.
If G.B.F. accomplishes anything, it’s that it manages to stay true to its purpose without getting bogged down in unnecessary details. It may be debatable as to how necessary the sugary pop flavor is to the success of the film, but it’s impossible to watch it and not feel warmth towards its characters and especially to its themes. Acceptance is an issue even adults struggle with and to see kids finding a balance and turning towards acceptance is a great thing. We’ll just hope brave children will find a way to sneak into this film and avoid that harsh R rating even though their parents might object. After all, without being exposed to people different than you are, there’s no way to avoid an insular reaction that colors the current debate over gay rights in the United States and elsewhere in the world.
January 7, 2014