Friday, April 2, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: An Easter Threesome

Peter Cottontail and his pals at Gay.com have brought a special treat to all you good queer boys out there, at least those in LA and NYC. In conjunction with Regent Releasing/Here Films, a split triple bill of festival hits Manuela & Manuel, Dream Boy and Just Say Love is now playing at LA's Laemmle Sunset 5 and the Chelsea Clearview Cinema in NYC.

Manuela & Manuel is a hysterical, not-to-be-missed delight from Puerto Rico. The charming Humberto Busto (Amores Perros) stars in the title roles as a female impersonator whose boyfriend has recently left him. As Manuel pines for his lover's return with the help of a video diary and a teddy bear named Brad (for Brad Pitt), he receives surprising news from his female best friend, Coca. She has learned she is pregnant by a soldier who has since shipped out of town. Unable to inform her parents of the news without also telling them she and the father-to-be are getting married, Coca asks Manuel to pose as her fiancée.


Needless to say, complications ensue. Upon meeting Coca's father, Manuel recognizes him as a frequent patron of the bar at which he performs as Manuela. Manuel's fundamentalist-Christian landlady, Rosa, becomes increasingly excited by what she sees as her tenant's apparent attempts to become straight. And Manuela's bitchy co-star, Faraona (the very funny Marian Pabon), tries to manipulate the situation in order to seize the spotlight all to herself.

Director Raul Marchand Sanchez and screenwriter Jose Ignacio Valenzuela milk their comedic scenario for all that it's worth, but it never feels strained. The great script and performances — Ineabelle Colon is also a riot as Coca's alcoholic mother, appropriately named Margarita (note how she blesses herself before brunch) — result in a near-masterpiece of comic timing. My partner and I laughed pretty much non-stop through the film's 94 minutes.


Definitely not as funny but almost as worthy is the second film in Gay.com's current triple feature, Dream Boy. Written and directed by James Bolton (Eban and Charley) and based on the acclaimed novel by Jim Grimsley, it weaves a gay coming-of-age tale that unexpectedly becomes a gothic ghost story.

When shy teenager Nathan (played by Stephan Bender, who made a brief impression as young Clark Kent in Superman Returns) moves to a rural farm in the deep South, he begins to find himself attracted to his schoolmate next door, Roy. Roy also serves as their school bus driver, and it doesn't take much of an invitation from Roy for Nathan to start sitting in the seat right behind him!

The two become study partners and, gradually, lovers. Roy is predictably conflicted, since he has a pseudo-girlfriend and is friends with two of the school's more athletic, seemingly straight guys. When Roy invites Nathan to join the three of them on a weekend camping trip, things take a decided turn in an old, reportedly haunted plantation house.


While I'm generally over coming-of-age stories at my curmudgeonly middle age and find they rarely have anything new to offer, I discovered Dream Boy to be surprising and genuinely affecting. Bolton's approach to the material is subdued and rarely exploitive, aside from occasional, shirtless shots of hunky Randy Wayne (who plays Roy's buddy, Burke). Diana Scarwid, Christina Crawford herself in Mommie Dearest, also lends credibility as Nathan's mother.

The chief attribute to Dream Boy, however, is Max Roeg in the role of Roy. Max is the 25-year old, British-born son of actress Theresa Russell of Black Widow and Spider-Man 3 fame (whom he resembles closely) and director Nicolas Roeg, and Dream Boy marks his feature film debut. Max gives a sensitive yet strong, assured performance, which is all the more impressive for his authentic-sounding Southern accent. Anyone tempted to think British actors can easily master Southern US accents needs to listen to the London cast recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind, and learn first-hand how nearly impossible it can be! Roeg, Bender and Dream Boy will more than likely haunt you.


The third — and weakest — film in this special triple-header is Just Say Love, a meditation on Platonic love adapted from David J. Mauriello's play. Sole cast members Matthew Jaeger and Robert Mammana play two very different men; one is gay and mourning the recent death of his cat, while the other is seemingly straight and expecting a child with his girlfriend. Doug (the sexy Mammana) is the bi-curious construction worker who comes on to Guy (Jaeger) on a park bench one day during his lunch break. Doug just wants a blowjob, while the Plato-reading Guy is longing for a soul mate.

Though talky and unnecessarily stagey (wasn't a real park and bench available?), Just Say Love is often compelling. If viewers overlook the characters' heavy-handed jokes about each other's names and even more heavy-handed lines of dialogue such as "You'd be my wings if I had 'em," one can appreciate the men's deepening attraction and the actors' heartfelt performances.

So, boys, arrange your baskets, head to the cineplex, and have a happy Easter! For more information about these films, visit the Regent Releasing website.

UPDATE: Manuela & Manuel, Dream Boy and Just Say Love are now available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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