Release Date: January 17th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Darren Stein Actors: Sasha Pieterse, Natasha Lyonne, Evanna Lynch, Megan Mullally, Joanna Levesque, Andrea Bowen, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael J. Willett
B.F.” is a teeth-grindingly awful high school comedy that reduces the reality of teenage homosexuality to the level of vulgar witticisms, sitcom contrivances, and stereotypes so grotesquely overblown that the fine line between satire and cruelty is not merely crossed but lapped several times over. How could anyone involved have actually believed this would be well received outside the relatively safe confines of gay film festivals, where it has spent much of its time throughout 2013? The presumption is that general audiences – or, more specifically, homophobic audiences – will somehow see through the comedy, hear its message, and become tolerant. To assume that such audiences will see this movie at all goes beyond wishful thinking. It will be seen only by its target demographic, who I suspect have already heard its message and believe it.
What is the message, exactly? It can be found in the title, which stands for Gay Best Friend, a label denoting a homosexual man claimed by a straight woman as her constant companion. It can also be found in the thoughts expressed by the lead character, seventeen-year-old gay high schooler Tanner (Michael J. Willett); he eventually laments that he doesn’t want to be treated as a prized possession by those seeking to be trendy, that he merely wants to be seen as a person. This dimestore epiphany so thoroughly fits within the structure of a sappy family sitcom that it’s accompanied by solemn piano chords, as is every scene that dares to be even remotely sentimental. More to the point, his plea for acceptance will not be heard by those who haven’t made that plea in their real lives or haven’t already received it. Without that key audience, this movie is just preaching to the choir.
Not that it matters a great deal, since the message is overshadowed by the film’s pathetic attempts at being funny. What do I mean by pathetic? Consider the dialogue; screenwriter George Northy labors mightily under the misapprehension that high schoolers, both gay and straight, talk like a combination of stock characters from “Sex and the City” and the contestants on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It truly is shocking how often the word “bitch” is used, which in this case degrades not just the young women but also the gay men. Let us also consider the characters themselves, who actually aren’t characters in the proper sense of the word. They are, in fact, broad, desperate caricatures developed solely on sweeping generalizations and devoid of any semblances of truth. Finally, let us consider the plot, which is about as deep as a wading pool in its examination of high school social warfare.
Tanner, who doubles as the film’s narrator, is a closeted teen at a rather posh high school where the students dress as if their parents can afford shopping sprees at Abercrombie & Fitch. He doesn’t stand out in any way, preferring to spend his free time reading comic books – or so he tells us, because we never actually see him reading one. His inner circle consists of the lesbian, the token straight guy, and Tanner’s best friend Brent (Paul Iacono), who’s also a closeted gay. Only in this closed universe could any of their teachers or classmates not know their orientations. This is especially true of Brent, a typecast so flamboyant that he might as well wear a sign around his neck. Why not? The film labels everyone else. Anyway, Tanner is accidentally outed when a liberal extracurricular club hellbent on promoting equality traces a gay dating app to his smartphone.
This immediately makes Tanner a target for the three most popular girls in school, who should be perfectly happy to remain the shallow leaders of their cliques yet insist on staying trendy by nabbing a G.B.F. Each girl goes on a cutthroat campaign to win Tanner over, which not only involves wardrobe makeovers in an effort to make him look “more gay” but also reveals just how astoundingly ignorant the girls are about homosexuality (the best example is the belief that gay people don’t eat carbs). The girls are: Caprice (Xosha Roquemore), the sassy black drama student; Ashley, known as ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), the wholesome Mormon with a closeted hunk of a boyfriend; and Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse), who sports flowing blonde locks and has an annoying habit of abbreviating every other word when talking. As Tanner embraces the social perks of being a G.B.F., a wedge is driven further between him and Brent. Cue the piano music.
The climax of the film is set at a hastily organized alternative prom, one that, unlike the school’s traditional prom, would allow gay couples to attend. The purpose of this scene is not to make any meaningful statement about homophobia or even sexual orientation in general, but merely to provide a setup for a tidy conclusion in which several of the characters learn valuable lessons about themselves and others. Did “G.B.F.” really have to be told in this particular way? I’m not saying that the story of a gay teen navigating the social landscape of high school can’t be funny. What I am saying is that it needed to be in the hands of more thoughtful filmmakers capable of seeing truth and humanity in comedy. No one in this film passes as human, not even Brent’s mom (Megan Mullally), who, despite being unbearably annoying, is nevertheless the most tolerable character. Showing her acceptance of Brent by ordering gay-oriented films from Netflix and making a night of watching them doesn’t indicate the filmmakers were trying very hard.
– Chris Pandolfi