By Jeff Walsh
"Poster Boy" tries to be so many things, you end up wishing it just picked one thing and stuck with it. The movie is about a closeted gay son of a powerful right-wing Senator up for re-election. His father wants him to introduce him at a campaign stop at the son's school. The son has kept a low profile there and doesn't want to be associated with the campaign. Another guy hooks up with the senator's son and decides to out him at the event. And the movie is told with the framing device of the son finally telling a newspaper reporter the whole story of what happened leading up to the father's speech on campus.
Reading that, it sounds like a pretty decent movie, so let's drill down a little further. First of all, let's examine the framing device. Four months after a political scandal, the son is going to tell his story to the press? In politics, there's no such thing as four months for something like this. It would be an entire non-story at this point. The other thing, we have a reporter from a fictional San Francisco newspaper who seems to not get the gist of homosexuality, telling him he's a handsome boy, didn't he even try to hook up with some of the co-eds on campus? Not to mention taking a call in the middle of the interview and saying he's getting great stuff and will need room on the front page. I understand I'm being harsh and I'm all for using a framing device to suck all the exposition out of the other scenes, except every character talks more like they're explaining their position to everyone else in the room aside from speaking like a real person.
The lead character is also confusing, which is fine since he wants it all, to have flings with guys on campus, to stay closeted, etc., but he keeps flipping back and forth between closet case and polished gay activist so often, it just seems like the whole movie is trying to cover every nook and cranny of this issue rather than making him a complete person with one perspective and one through line.
One thing I always dislike in gay movies is when they make the bad guys caricatures. It's too easy and I think when you don't value the honesty of the opposition's belief system, you will never make any progress. Yes, I know this is just a movie, and it can be just for fun, but the senator seems so dismissive and nasty to everyone, putting politics above everything else, that you never buy this guy would get elected. I mean, say what you will about our current administration, but they honestly and truly believe they are doing the right things for the right reasons. Now, I don't agree with anything they do, by any means. But to demonize them or just ignore them as being wrong is a losing battle, and why in my opinion, we're often on the losing sides of the battle. It will always be easier to get people to think they are doing the right thing and motivate people through positive means than what the left often does, which is going to the polls to prevent things, and stop people from getting into power. I know this is a movie review, but since they put political stance over story, giving every character their moment on their soapbox, this review reflects the thoughts I was having while watching it.
The movie really finds its groove in the last half hour, around the time of the actual speaking event and what happens, but at that point, it's too little too late. The film likes to use "edgy" jump cuts when things are tense, rather than believable dialogue from characters we understand, which gets a bit cloying. And the timeline of the film is pure fantasy for the sake of the story. A powerful Senator making a campaign stop stays on campus overnight? The activists on campus that plan to disrupt his speech say he's speaking later today, then the next morning they're going to disrupt the same speech? This is basic stuff. The truth is that a Senator of his stature would be doing a handful of appearances per day, most involving him jumping out of a limo, doing a stump speech, shaking some hands, and then back in the limo, already late for the next stop. Also, the Senator really thinks it's important that his son introduce him because it's a younger crowd? Again, you need to come up with a storyline that has some basis in reality. Does anyone think the person who introduces a politician at a campaign stop has any impact on voters whatsoever? So, given that the first two-thirds are contrived, and the framing device is used to let us know something interesting is going to happen, my guess is the filmmakers first knew what they wanted to happen in the third act and then built a weak case for how it might come about.
I like the notion of how in a polarized world, people are put in a position where they are pulled to become "poster boys" for either side: the gays using him to show up the rightwing senator, and the senator wanting to use him to rally the youth vote. In a world of Mary Cheneys and John Schlaflys, this isn't far-fetched. But I didn't feel his conflict, because I'm not quite sure what the movie wanted to say.
So, by trying to say so much, "Poster Boy" ended up not saying enough to leave a lasting impression. But as you can tell from the above, it certainly gets you thinking about the possibilities of the movie it could have been, and perhaps tried to be.