By Jeff Walsh
"Shelter" is a sweet story of a young artist/surfer in southern California. Zach (played by Trevor Wright) works low-paying jobs, juggles his schedule with his sister to take care of her 5-year-old son, and when he's not doing those things he either works on his art of goes surfing. The movie opens in limited release, including San Francisco and Berkeley, this weekend and will debut on the here! Network next month.
Zach and his girlfriend have been in an on-again, off-again relationship. He doesn't see any way out of his entire situation, despite his dream of going to art school, which his sister dismisses as more trouble than its worth. Things change when he runs into his best friend's older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe, who you might remember from Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss), who is staying at his family's beach house for a while.
The two have chemistry together and, after a few beers, kiss one night. Things progress on a subsequent meeting. Eventually, Zach's sister has a problem with her son being around Shaun because he's gay, and this is before she even knows that he and Zach are dating.
I won't give the whole movie away, but it is a fun movie that has a complex undertow. There are two factors that sort of make it less compelling, although I don't know how they could be resolved.
First, when a movie is sort of sold as a "gay surfing" movie, and you're watching nearly 30 minutes of a movie where no one is gay, although the lead character is being developed, and you can sort of see all of the foundation that will be part of the payoff when he finally does admit to being gay. It's not that the movie isn't interesting, but the marketing of the movie means we're already sort of expecting what is going to happen. So, it seems like a lot of build-up in a traditional sense for a big reveal, targeting an audience who all know what the reveal will be. This isn't unique. People mentioned going to Brokeback Mountain because it was the "gay cowboy movie," and the sexuality element also shows up late in that one, too. Again, not sure what could be done about it. Were it not gay, I'd probably not watch a movie about surfing, and because I know it's gay I'm complaining that I know the big act one reveal.
Second, most of the drama of the movie occurs in Zach's head. He's just newly working through the issues of being gay, which the movie doesn't talk to death (so we do have that going for us), but it means a lot of the weight of the movie rests on Zach and, for the viewer, it doesn't seem like the hardest choice ever. Don't get me wrong, being on this site for more than a decade, many of life's hugest obstacles for us would be considered small things if they were someone else's problem. But, it's a leap to pin a movie on this, since every other character is not having a dramatic arc. The sister is pressuring Zach to change his life in a big way, Shaun is just waiting to see what will happen, and on down the line.
That said, the simplicity of the movie is what makes it sort of a relaxing watch. It looks great, the boys are hot (I was a bit unclear why two boys waking up in bed the next morning after having sex the night before would have put underwear on at some point before falling asleep), and we do root for Zach. There is a clear shift in his mood when he is first with Shaun, that we finally see he is looking for happiness, is capable of it, that makes us want him to have it on a more permanent basis.
I don't think Shelter is breaking any new ground here, but a good story, well told, is always worth my time. And yours. Check it out.