Wednesday, August 28, 2013

G.B.F. (2013): Growing up post-Ellen

G.B.F. (2013)
dir: Darren Stein
wr: George Northy

Can you believe that it has only been / already been 16 years since Ellen Degeneres came out in her show?

In my opinion, 1997 was the year that the gay dam broke into the mainstream with Ellen.

Sure, we'd had gay episodes on heterosexual TV sitcoms before (notably Maude, and The Golden Girls), and even Soap had the gay Jody Dallas as a main featured character.  But, Ellen was the first time that a gay character had been played by a gay person and was also the lead of his or her own television show on network prime time.

In 1997, Ellen caught a lot of flack that was still coming around at that time.  JC Penny and Chrysler pulled their advertising for the episodes.  Wendy's pulled out of the show altogether.  Ellen was aired with parental advisory warnings after the episode.  Laura Dern wouldn't get work again until her role in the amazing October Sky.  Ellen would be cancelled after the spring season of 1998.  Will and Grace started on NBC later that fall.  In 1998, Matthew Shepard would be brutally murdered, making one of the highest profile cases I can remember.

The reason I bring up all this history is that anybody born in 1997 would be a high school junior this year.

G.B.F. is, ostensibly, about high school life in a post-Ellen world.  This is a world where gays are more and more accepted on television, and almost fetishized as the new minority. This is especially true in more populous areas. The culture post-Ellen is a culture where gay people are common place in mainstream media.

In the Everytown USA world of G.B.F., there is a GSLA but no out gay teenagers.  Gays have become a commodity, if only they would exist.  They are seen as trendy, and also reviled by the religious.  But, nobody is out to accept the prize.  Yet.

G.B.F. concerns the high school life of two fa-laming gay boys who are outcasts at their school, even though they're steadfastly in the closet...and nobody can tell they're gay for some reason (maybe Will and Grace didn't air there).  This suspension of belief is symbolic of the suspensions of disbelief that the rest of the movie requires, which is really the movie's main downfall.

The various cliques of high school are at war with each other, and they all have simultaneously come up with the idea of having a Gay Best Friend as the be all and end all of high school queendom.  As the GLSA is on the search for an out gay person to cherish, they stumble on the idea of checking out a hookup app, on which they discover the ID of one of the two afore-mentioned gay guys, and track him down to force him out of the closet.  And, as such, he becomes the object of attraction for all cliques, and the target of the religious group.

G.B.F. then parades down a road of generalities and cliches in order to end up at, you guessed it, the prom. The three princesses fight over the GBF, and the GLSA tries to woo him as well, while his closeted friend also gets outed to his family, but refuses to come out at school.

G.B.F. owes a lot to Jawbreaker (Darren Stein's first movie), Saved!, and Mean Girls (the latter two of which owe a lot to Jawbreaker as well).  Jawbreaker owes a lot to Heathers and music videos.  In turn, G.B.F. feels entirely derivative by now, and also has all of the suspensions of disbelief we have in the post-Ellen, post-Will and Grace world in which we live.  It feels stiflingly old, almost like an adult trying to seem hip and fresh but coming out kind of stale.  The only decent scenes worthy of any sort of surprise are the eagerness of Megan Mullally, as one boy's mom, and the nonchalance of Jonathon Silverman and Rebecca Gayheart, as the other boy's parents, to their kids' coming out scenes.  Also, Natasha Lyonne is in it, who almost qualifies as a gay icon, if only she'd do a bit more charity work as well.

The topics that G.B.F. is attempting to tackle are fairly interesting and new, even if it fails to do so in a compelling way.  In the post-Ellen world, being gay isn't seen as being a bad thing, necessarily.  Especially if you're a gay man, who is seen as trendy and hip by some. G.B.F. is trying to wrap all of that in to the Jawbreaker style universe of bitchy Queen Bees who rule the school, or something.  G.B.F. follows the setup of Jawbreaker to a tee, except the factions are against each other with separate cliques.  And, *yawn*

Growing up post-Ellen seems fascinating in terms of the dynamics of high school.  It's too bad this isn't actually representative of all Everytown USA high schools.  In 2010, The Advocate reported on lesbian students facing aggression from the institutions in Oklahoma.  Meanwhile, gay and lesbian couples have also been popping up in homecoming courts.  It's a completely transitional time for the gay population. Sadly, G.B.F. is not the film to comment on this, or satirize it with any semblance of teeth.

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