Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Boy Culture (USA, 2006)

Director: Q. Allan Brocka.
Principal cast: Derek Magyar, Patrick Bauchau, Darryl Stephens, Jonathon Trent.

Everybody needs role models. The choices people make and the lifestyles they have are more often than not influenced by these role models. A role model can be a showbiz star and it can be that cute couple whom you know and who’ve been together for what seems ages and still look glam and all lovey-dovey. But it’s also an individual process. Everybody finds (or often fails to find) his or her own role model(s). When it comes to gay men, these role models often seem to be of the more flamboyant and promiscuous variety. The kind that doesn’t automatically inspire you to have a quiet and monogamous life. Why is it so? Are gay men more afraid of commitments than their straight counterparts or are gay men a different breed with different values and needs?

Q. Allan Brocka’s so far second long feature film „Boy Culture” isn’t aspiring to be moralistic as such. The whole story is presented as a „confession” of a professional hustler who, for the reasons of „anonymity”, goes by the name „X”. Although he has been hustling since his teenage years, he has never had sex with anyone for free. In his own words, he is saving himself for that „special one” and finds more pleasure in masturbation than his work. Emotionally frigid, at least to the outside world, he goes about his life with the same sense of meaning and direction as a lift – in service when required but not much purpose or fun otherwise. It might also be symbolic that he has to use one to come up to his new client Gregory, one he is referred to after one of his other regulars „stops breathing for all the wrong reasons”. Gregory, played by the veteran Belgian/French actor Patrick Bauchau, is an old recluse living in his penthouse apartment high above everything and everybody with only memories to share (and apparently, his substantial savings). Unlike X’s other customers who may have very specific but still rather undemanding demands, Patrick wants X to want him before they make love. Their one hour long (paid) encounters are on the surface nothing more than conversations between a 25-year-old rent boy who knows his Oscar Wilde and a 79-year-old queer who’s got no one else to talk to. However, they soon take the shape of confessions, not unlike X’s own to the film’s audience, which subsequently help to unlock both of them.

In his private life, X shares an apartment (which has a small roof garden) with Andrew, a black guy around X’s age and Joey, an 18-year-old twink who has managed to convince X to let him stay rent-free, just by being „young and fabulous”. But while X doesn’t care much about Joey fooling around and having back-up plans for constantly changing boyfriends, the story is different when it comes to Andrew. As of recently, he has started bringing home „tricks”, thus triggering a strong reaction in our „Ice Queen”. In his confession to the audience, X doesn’t conceal the fact that he is attracted to Andrew and that Andrew is „boyfriend material”. However, he doesn’t do anything about it, and when confronted directly by Andrew while tending to the plants on his roof terrace, he cannot but exclaim „absolutely not” in capital letters. And what would be the point of their relationship? Would X give up his hustling? Will Andrew stop sleeping around? According to X, anyone can fulfill Andrew and why would he be so special? Our „moralistic whore” then makes things even worse by proclaiming that Andrew has now turned into „a very ugly faggot who would probably suck anything with a cock”. Tensions rise and the whole situation gets even more complicated when Joey pledges his love to X while being on drugs after a sex party involving Andrew and a third part (a cameo appearance by Jesse Archer from „A Four Letter Word” and „Slutty Summer”). The outlook is bleak for the three of them but change is on its way and the old guy helps to unlock the garden of Eden.

High moral grounds are not difficult to have in principle. And it’s probably even easier when you are physically high above the ground, like Gregory in his penthouse apartment or X on his roof terrace overlooking the whole of Seattle. Does Gregory live up to his own preachings? Is X afraid of being paid in feelings rather than cool cash? No matter what the answers are to these questions, one thing is focal to the film’s own moral ground. One shouldn’t be afraid to change oneself for the things that matter. One should be able to compromise with oneself and those around one or one can end up old, alone and miserable. Carpe diem – seize the opportunity and don’t be afraid of it.

When the romance between X and Andrew seems irreversably gone, Joey reproaches Andrew for being a bad role model which also sets this whole film in a perspective. In many ways „Boy Culture” is intended as a behavioural role model. It presents the audience with what it sees as a problem and offers a solution which it believes to be the right one. One to follow, just like you follow a role model. But herein also lies the film’s weakness. It offers a recipe and our protagonists follow it, so the grande finale ends up being fairly Hollywoody which is a trap the film’s creators laid out for themselves from the very beginning by aspiring to create a „role model” film. Therefore, the film couldn’t have had a different ending. Who knows, maybe they wrote the script on top of the Space Needle in Seattle?

Yes, also gay men can make a commitment and change their ways to have a lasting relationship, but in many ways it will be a more conscious choice and a choice that one has arrived at in one’s own time to a higher degree than in the straight world. There is seldom any pressure from one’s family to marry another man and there is no biological clock ticking with regard to children. Neither do gay men face the prospect of marrying someone at 18, having five kids and regretting that for the rest of their lives. But also on the other hand, when the going gets tough it is often the children who help straight couples get through their reconcilable differences. With gay men it’s mostly cats or dogs who, however, don’t tend to last as long as most children. I believe that in the end it will always be the conscious effort to commit and remaining true to that commitment which will matter the most for gay and straight couples alike. And yes, one has to be able to change oneself, adapt to different conditions, compromise while keeping one’s own integrity. It’s a difficult and demanding process which takes a lot of effort and is very individual. The story in „Boy Culture” is all about that and very believable until the final part which in my opinion is a bit of a fairy-tale ending – „and they lived happily ever after...”

„Boy Culture” is a thought-provoking film with beautiful actors who also know how to act convincingly. It’s humorous and it’s sexy. Despite its self-induced flaws, I will claim that it’s of one of the best gay-themed films to come out of the US in the recent years.

Here you can watch the film's trailer


Amy said...

I guess that begs the question: what's wrong with a fairytale ending? :)

I absolutely loved this film - surprisingly, because I had watched the first few minutes once, some time ago, and decided I didn't want to watch a film about a gay hustler, so I stopped watching. But a few weeks later, with nothing else to do, I decided to check it out again, and I was pleasantly surprised! I thought that not only was the film well-written and well-acted, but that the character and plot development was praiseworthy and set this film apart from most other gay films that I have seen recently.

That said, I am a straight woman, and perhaps therein lays my bias. While this kind of role-model/moralistic film seems normal and admirable to me, perhaps gay men would not, for the reasons you mentioned - perhaps gay men are of a different breed.

Still, many of my gay friends lament the superficiality and moral vacuity of the gay world. I imagine that they would appreciate this film as I did.

Whether the gay subculture is more or less superficial than other groups is a question that has been and is still being explored. This film presents a model saying that it doesn't have to always be that way - especially for those who don't want it to be.

I completely agree that change has to come from within and as the result of a conscious choice - this is the same for both straights and gays. It's not as though straight people watch "role-model" films and suddenly think "Oh, I should change my life!" and then do it. But perhaps the difference between the gay world and the straight one is the lack of positive role models for gays as you mentioned. Perhaps if there were more films like this then gay men would be presented with more options and, as a result, choose different ones in their own time, of their own volition - not as the direct result of watching a film. I certainly know that at least my gay friends who regret the triviality of the gay subculture would appreciate that.

I think everyone needs positive role models, gay or straight, and I applaud this film for trying to present some, and for doing it well. Even Joey expressed his desire for good role models in the film. I think X did change based on his own conscious choices, in his own time, based on the experiences that he had which were shown in the film, and - just as life parallels art - so can others, too.

As for the fairy-tale ending - true, this was very Hollywoody, but not unbelievable given the path taken by the characters in the film. By contrast, Short Bus also presented a Hollywood ending, yet it was just slapped on at the end without proper development, leaving me feeling cheated out of any kind of real resolution for the characters.

As for the fairy-tale ending, well, don't we all need some optimism and positive emotions now and then? Some hope for the future? Surely even gay men need and want that. I think perhaps the reason that you find the fairy-tale ending so unbelievable may be because of the aforementioned lack of positive models for the gay community. And I think the fairy-tale ending is just what it needs. It can't always be all doom and gloom now, can it? :)

Andrejs Visockis said...

Of course, it shouldn't always be doom and gloom. At the festival in Hamburg they even had a programme of gay shorts which had one thing in common - a happy ending. But as happy endings go, they can also be very different. As I mentioned in my review of Shortbus, it didn't hand out recipes like another Dr. Phil and the ending was just a warm tribute to the characters whereas the ending in "Boy Culture" was more like having way too much cream in your coffee when you usually don't even take cream in your coffee.

Rasid said...

You gotta love "Blowie" Joey :) Despite several very, very weak spots, the movie is actually well composed and manages to keep a plausible story together, yet it's those weak spots that ruin the overall picture.
It's a fun movie, serious to some extent, and it would be a really good book, perhaps even better than the movie.

Rasid said...

Correction: there is the novel :)

Andrejs Visockis said...

The novel' author actually interviewed Blowie Joey and published it in his blog. You can read it here:

I was pretty much taken aback by the fact that he isn't gay in real life. He certainly fooled me :)

Matthew Rettenmund said...

Thanks for the great review and free press that my novel exists! I appreciate the thoughtful comments and I'm sure the director and others will, too.