Monday, June 30, 2014

These Are The Gays Of Our Lives

Year: 2014
Director: Chris Nelson
Cast: Nicholas Braun, Hunter Cope, Dakota Johnson
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

I could count the number of good gay comedies I've seen on one hand. But enough bragging. Chris Nelson's microbudget picture Date and Switch, in spite of its warts, is one of the better ones I've seen in several years.

Perhaps the best would be Were the World Mine, an impeccably stylish musical based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Then you have your Patrik, Age 1.5's, your Hedwig's and your lengthily-titled drag queen road trip comedies (a bizarrely specific subgenre populated by the terrific Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and To Wong Fu Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar). But other than that and a smattering of other standouts, LGBT stories generally eschew comedy, preferring to be immersed in the midst of heady tearjerker drama.

Date and Switch is absolutely less of a personal affair than those classic comedies and has much less to say about the current state of society, but it fits in quite well with 2014's slate of surprisingly pleasant funny flicks.

It's like watching the Empire State Building hang out with a McDonald's.

Michael (Nicholas Braun of the short-lived TV series 10 Things I Hate About You) and Matty (Hunter Cope) are high school best friends despite both actors clearly being at least six years older than me, a third-year college student. I mean, they're old even by the standards of a slasher fan, committed to watching a genre where 20-year-olds routinely claim to be 14.

When they make a pact to lose their virginities before prom, Matty decides it's probably the right time to come out to his best friend, leading them both on a personal journey through what it means to be a gay man and how/if that changes the nature of their relationship.

Things get mixed-up when Michael falls in love with Matty's ex-girlfriend Em (Dakota Johnson) and Matty falls in love with Greg (Zach Cregger), a considerably older young man even by the already considerably old standards this film has set for itself. The fact that Greg had rear-ended Michael's car outside a gay club doesn't earn him a high place in his esteem.

Although his impressive beard probably should.

There are quite a few laugh out loud funny lines sprinkled throughout the film, keeping it popping along at a terrifically brisk pace. I won't list them here, although I did in my notes, rendering them almost entirely useless. And the two leads have an easy chemistry in spite of the wet-behind-the-ears Cope's tendency to slip into overemphasis and indication like a high school drama student. In this vein it is a lovely - and successful - hangout comedy.

What damages the film the most, however, is the total lack of weight and import given to the comic structure set up at the core of the film. What could be a blisteringly funny teen sex farce consistently makes the wrong choice at pivotal moments, turning it into a funny, but rather more low key and tepid affair.

The Midsummer-esque partner swapping is hardly given a second glance, ditto Michael's shrill attempts to assimilate himself into gay culture. And a drunk dinner table scene that could have been the comic centerpiece of the entire thing implodes with a soft whump.

Much like this bubble pile once 2 AM hits.

It's a Blue Ball comedy is what it is, with pristinely poised farcical elements refusing to materialize into something ridiculous and hilarious. And thus I lament the film Date and Switch could have been, despite the fact that the film it is isn't one to brush off right away. It's not often that a friendship between a gay teen and his straight best friend is explored so thoroughly and thoughtfully and with such a funny approach.

As both of them grow up and learn about themselves, Michael realizing that his best friend is the exact same person he always was and Matty realizing he doesn't have to change his life to fit the stereotypes he believes about the gay community, the film proves its worth as a documentation of the travails and realities of modern high school life.

It annoyingly spends way more screen time on the heterosexual half of the storyline, forcing most of the homosexual relationship to take place offscreen, but its heart is in the right place and the story is an important one that hopefully is going to get a lot more coverage in the succeeding years. 

I absolutely would not mind if Date and Switch began the trend of heartwarming comedies that explore teen metamorphosis in a more enlightened age. It's perhaps not a tremendously great film but it would certainly be worth remembering as a pristine example right at the beginning of the movement.

TL;DR: Date and Switch is flawed without a doubt, but carves its path with heart and humor.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 827

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