By Jeff Walsh
With "Boy Culture," co-writer and director Q. Allan Brocka quickly gives a hustler-weary audience some indication that he's aware of the abundance of gay movies about hustlers. With the credits barely finished, he has lead character "X" say in voice-over narration:
"If you're smart, you guessed I'm a hustler. If you haven't, here are two clues: I'm gay and they made a movie about me."
Upon hearing that, I immediately sat up taller, thinking if you're going to be ballsy enough to address the premise of your movie as a huge cliché, you must be equally confident that you haven't made a cliché movie. That thinking, sadly, wouldn't entirely prove to be accurate.
"Boy Culture" (opening in New York, San Francisco, and West Hollywood this Friday, and soon in other urban areas, see schedule below) isn't a bad movie, it just doesn't have much new to say. The lead of the movie, known only as "X" (Derek Magyar), is a high-class escort. He only has 12 high-paying regulars and only gets new clients through word of mouth. For tax reasons, his accountant said he would be better off having roommates, so that brings us to Andrew (Darryl Stephens) and Joey (Jonathon Trent). X has a crush on Andrew, although he doesn't usually go for black guys, he tells us in voice-over, and Joey has a thing for X. Andrew has a problem with X being a hustler as far as being in a relationship with him (and, in a funny moment, complains about people who like him but say they don't normally go for black guys). And with Joey being so young, X doesn't have the same feelings for him. In addition to that triangle, X has a new elderly client, Gregory (Patrick Bauchau) who wants to tell him a story about the love of his life, over many sessions, before they ever have sex.
X considers himself sexually inexperienced, because he's never been with anyone he's actually cared about. There's never been emotion behind any of his action. His sessions with Gregory play more like therapy sessions than sex work. But I think the biggest problem with the film is that we never really identify with X, and without that, there's a "so what?" attitude that pervades everything else. He is so used to shutting people out of his life and keeping them at bay, that he had the same effect on me. But unlike everyone else in the film, I had no reason to stay in his world.
At least the clichéd "hooker with a heart of gold" has a heart, but I never felt any sort of connection with or empathy for X, and that makes it hard to understand Joey's interest and easy to agree with Andrew's avoidance. So, if you're rooting for the way things are at the beginning of the movie to stay the same, that's a bad sign, no?
I don't believe I read the novel of the same name by Matthew Rettenmund, although with it being more than a decade old now, who can tell. I know I owned it, but that doesn't indicate I ever read it. I do recall enjoying his "Blind Items," and think some of the established conventions of a novel play strangely on film.
For example, When X first meets Gregory, whom X shorthands as 'Geezer' in his list of clients, Gregory addresses him as X. But then X, in the ever-present voiceover tells us that in reality 'Geezer' used his real name, not "X," but then further corrects that he actually used his real hustler name. From that point on, it seemed strange to think that the whole movie was apparently taking place inside of X's mind, since everyone addresses him as X. I think this was just something that you can easily establish in a novel told with a first-person narrative, as the conceit is they are telling you the story, but my experience of a film with a voiceover narration is that they are filling in additional details of the story, but that when other characters are talking, that is not a recollection of X, but what they actually said. I realize I'm putting way too much emphasis on this, but it is something that could have been easily avoided by just having everyone call him X with no explanation. This may be a result of me currently editing my novel, as logic flaws are something I'm trying to discover and remove.
To be fair, though, this movie went down easy (insert your own sexual cliché here). It was well-paced, well-shot, well-cast, and showed that Brocka (who wrote a directed Eating Out, and wrote Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds) knows how to put a movie together. I just think my lack of connection with X kind of poisoned the well. Andrew seemed to have better options than X available to him, and we never got enough of what made Joey tick, which would have been more interesting, as well. And I'm sure these things may be further developed in the novel, but this is a review of the movie.
There were fun running jokes, such as X never able to figure out which roommate matched which trick that was leaving the apartment. Other stuff, such as the continual confessional script, "Bless me father, but..." didn't catch as easily. And maybe I'm a bit too bored with hustlers who don't think much of their clients, but all their demeaning nicknames and such seemed a bit played out (perhaps another part of the novel being from the mid 90s?).
I do think that seeing a movie like this on Friday at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, in a theatre filled with hundreds of gay men hooting, hollering and yelling at the screen would have given me a different experience of the film. But that seems an unrealistic requirement to offset the flaws of a movie. And, at the end of the day, ignoring a movie's flaws doesn't mean they aren't there.
Still, Boy Culture is a fine date movie with hot guys, surprisingly little action, and yet another hustler protagonist. As most gay audiences go into the theater with little expectation, this sadly won't let them down (unless they expect nudity). But, don't fall for the same trap I did. The ability to acknowledge clichés doesn't mean a film is going to rise above them.
The movie's official website is here.
Boy Culture Release Dates:
March 23 New York, NY Quad Cinema
March 23 San Francisco, CA Castro Theatre
March 23 West Hollywood, CA Laemmle Sunset 5
April 6 Chicago, IL Landmark Century Centre Cinemas
April 13 Dallas, TX Landmark Magnolia Theatre
April 13 Palm Springs, CA Cinemas Palme d'Or
April 13 Washington, DC Landmark E Street Cinemas
April 20 Minneapolis, MN Landmark Lagoon Cinemas
April 27 San Diego, CA Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas
April 27 Seattle, WA Landmark Varsity Theatres
May 4 Atlanta, GA Landmark Midtown Art
May 4 Boston, MA Landmark's Kendall Square Cinemas
May 11 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Gateway Cinemas
May 11 St. Louis, MO Landmark's Tivoli Theatre