The Last American Virgin

(USA 1982)

“Are you here to interview me or to fuck me?”

— Ruby

It was decades ago — probably the ‘80s — the last time I saw low budget ’80s cable classic The Last American Virgin. I recently noticed it in the “free movies” queue on…where else, cable. I had to know whether it was as good as I remembered.

An odd mix of other teen movies from its day — think of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Losin’ It and Valley Girl all rolled into one — it isn’t something I imagine being made today, not even as a remake. The Last American Virgin starts out all fun and games — centered on sex, of course — but abruptly takes a dark turn about halfway through. Subject matter aside, it ends on a brutally cynical note that leaves one pondering: what exactly is writer and director Boaz Davidson saying here?

None of this is a gripe; on the contrary, it’s an asset that puts The Last American Virgin in a class of its own. Kudos for that.

Gary (Lawrence Monoson) is a Los Angeles high school student. When he’s not delivering pizzas in a ridiculous pink Grand Prix (or similar late ‘70s car), he and his hornball friends Rick (Steve Antin), the cute one, and David (Joe Rubbo), the fat one, are constantly trying to get laid.

Their antics are pretty funny. They pick up three duds at a hamburger joint and snort Sweet ‘N’ Low with them when a party they promise doesn’t happen and the girls want drugs. They wind up together in the apartment of a horny Mexican woman of a certain age (Louisa Moritz) whose sailor boyfriend (Roberto Rodriquez) is away, and she wants all three of them. Later, they get crabs from a bossy Hollywood hooker (Nancy Brock). A dick measuring contest in the school locker room is, well, uncomfortably hot. Somehow, sex happens easily for Rick and David. Not Gary, though: he’s either too nice or too scared.

At school, Gary meets a new girl, Karen (Diane Franklin). He crushes on her, hard. Too bad she’s into Rick, which causes friction: a bizarre love triangle develops, and it doesn’t end well. In fact, it reaches a boiling point by winter break.

I never knew The Last American Virgin is a remake of Davidson’s 1978 Israeli film Eskimo Limon. He fucking nails it with his depiction of jealousy — better than most films do. It’s hard to watch Gary’s hatred for Rick grow stronger while they’re running around getting into trouble together. Monoson’s acting is good, and so is Franklin’s. Their scenes together are the best this movie has to offer. I would be remiss to mention that for such a minor role, Kimmy Robertson really shines as Karen’s wacky friend Rose, who seems like Katy Perry’s secret inspiration.

The Last American Virgin has its unimpressive moments, but it’s hardly a write-off. Overall, it’s held up well. Sure, it falls into nostalgia, but beyond its soundtrack it’s more memorable for its characters, its plot, and its unexpected turn. It certainly isn’t what it appears to be.

With Brian Peck, Tessa Richarde, Winifred Freedman, Gerri Idol, Sandy Sprung, Paul Keith, Harry Bugin, Phil Rubenstein, Julianna McCarthy, Mel Welles

Production: Golan-Globus Productions

Distribution: Cannon Film Distributors (USA), Citadel Films (Canada)

92 minutes
Rated R

(Impact) B

Mon Mon Mon Monsters [Bào Gào Lǎo Shī! Guài Guài Guài Guài Wù!]

(Taiwan 2017)

In his latest film, peer pressure horror comedy Mon Mon Mon Monsters [報告老師! 怪怪怪怪物!] [Bào Gào Lǎo Shī! Guài Guài Guài Guài Wù!], writer/director Giddens Ko takes us on a wild ride that leaves us pondering who the real mosters are. He subtly gives us his answer in the title.

High school student Lin Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai) is a neo maxi zoom dweebie with a masochistic edge. Why else would he tolerate the constant flying bits of paper, chairs pulled out from under him, and general teenage tomfoolery directed at him?

Lin becomes the target of Bully Ren-hao (Kent Tsai), a closet psychopath who relentlessly dreams up new ways to torment him. Ren-hao has two flunkies, Liao Kuo-feng (James Lai) and Yeh Wei-chu (Tao Meng) who do his bidding. Ren-hao’s girlfriend, Wu Si-hua (Bonnie Liang), contributes to the hell — never removing her star-studded headset as she snaps photos with her iPhone.

A pacificst teacher (Carolyn Chen) has an idea to get the boys on common ground: she assigns the four of them to community service feeding senile elderlies at a decrepit old age home that looks like something straight out of Blade Runner. Lin has a bad feeling about it, and he’s right: in the process of robbing an old man, the boys corner and capture a flesh-eating female beast (Lin Pei-hsin) they find roaming around.

They take her to an abandoned recreation center, where they chain her up and torture her with light, fire, and starvation. Lin reluctantly goes along with it, but he reaches a point where he either has to put up or shut up. Meanwhile, the beast’s protective and pissed off older sister (Eugenie Liu) is looking for her. This is where Lin is put to the test: does he have any character, and can he stay true to it?

Despite inconsistent pacing, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is overall engaging. Ko has something to say about the moral fabric of today’s youth, but he says it in a mostly lighthearted way. The acting is solid all around, which is pretty amazing for a slasher flick. The “monsters” are sweet in their own way. It’s smart to show them right off the bat rather than let us wonder what they look like; they come off as more human than the teenagers in this movie.

The special effects are pretty good, and the way Ko plays with light and color is downright spectacular. Quite a few scenes here are magnificent even if they’re cheesy and gory (that scene on the bus is fabulous, as are the scene where the teacher ignites in the gym and pretty much any of the scenes in the recreation center). Underneath all the blood and hate is a truth about the social ladder.

With Kai Ko, Vivian Sung, Emerson Tsai, Phil Hou, Bruce Hung 

Production: Star Ritz International Entertainment

Distribution: Vie Vision Pictures

113 Minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

They

(USA / Qatar 2017)

“You’ll never be a girl. You’re not a boy. So you’re probably nothing.”

— J

Writer/director Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s debut feature film They delicately tells the story of J (Rhys Fehrenbacher), a quiet suburban Chicago teen transitioning from male to female. Along with therapy sessions and physician consultations for “puberty blocking” drugs and “bone density” test results, J is processing the social and psychological implications of their change. We know it’s happening, but we see it in action when J puts on a dress and goes outside, or when he explains to others how to make an introduction to a stranger and which pronoun to use (“they,” hence the title).

The process is awkward, particularly when older sister, Lauren (Nicole Coffineau), brings her fiancé, Araz (Koohyar Hosseini), home to meet the family. With mom (Norma Moruzzi) away caring for an aunt who has early onset dimentia, J is left to deal alone. Meeting Araz’s Iranian family in the suburbs seems to be a reckoning for J.

If nothing else, They is visually arresting, artfully shot with georgeous pans and closeups of buildings, walls, plants, and flowers. Ghazvinizadeh plays with reflections on glass and uses a muted color pallet that nicely underscores J’s fluid state of mind. It sets just the right tone: hazy and dreamy.

That said, both the narrative and the character development in They fall short. I’m not sure Lauren and Azaz are necessary, and I certainly don’t have more than a passing sense of who they are or why they’re here. The dinner at Araz’s family is dropped in clumsily, throwing off the trajectory of the story. The focus gradually and inexplicably shifts away from J, which I found strange.

Watching They feels voyeuristic, which isn’t a bad thing in itself. However, it feels like an obstacle — a transparent partition — keeps me from getting too close to the characters. That’s a shame because this is a film that demands an amount of intimacy that simply isn’t accommodated. On top of that, the actors’ naturalistic performances meander quite a bit, which made me zone out at times.

Overall, They could have been a much more powerful statement. Still, it’s a decent effort even with its shortcomings and a few dull parts.

With Diana Torres, Evan Gray, Drew Sheil, Leyla Mofleh, Mohammad Aghebati, Alma Sinai, Arian Naghshineh, Ava Naghshineh, Aerik Jahangiri, Farid Kossari, Kaveh Ehsani, Robert Garofalo, Eric Fehrenbacher, Vicki Sheil

Production: Mass Ornament Films

Distribution: N/A

Screening introduced by Anahita Ghazvinizadeh and followed by a live Q and A with Ghazvinizadeh, Rhys Fehrenbacher, and Rob Garofalo

80 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) C-

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.massornament.com/they

Ginger Snaps

(Canada 2000)

“Shit, wrists are for girls. I’m slitting my throat.”

— Ginger Fitzgerald

Puberty is tough enough without your older sister turning into a werewolf. Just ask 15-year-old Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins), who with her sib, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), stages gory death scenes and takes pictures of them, like a pair of morose Cindy Shermans. When they were kids, they made a pact to die together. Their classmates think they’re weird.

A run-in with mean girl Trina Sinclair (Danielle Hampton) sparks a war. Walking through the woods on their way to exact revenge one October night with a full moon, Ginger gets her first period. She also gets attacked by a mysterious and savage beast — the same one responsible for eviscerating all the dogs in the neighborhood.

Ginger turns increasingly feral over the next few days, growing more aggressive and sexual. Her wounds, which heal almost immediately, are sprouting hair. Oh yeah, she’s also developing what appears to be…a tail?

Brigitte, or “B,” connects with cute, brooding dope dealer Sam (Kris Lemche), who struck and killed the beast while he was driving his van down the road where it ran after it attacked Gretchen. He’s got a recipe for what might be the cure. The clock is ticking as Gretchen gets farther out of control, and Halloween — with another full moon — approaches.

On paper — all I had going into it because I’d never heard of it — John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps sounds dubious at best. The premise seems trite. The part about the period sounds stupid, and the analogy to “becoming a lady” is obvious.

Turns out, Ginger Snaps is surprisingly good. Incorporating familiar elements of teen movies and splatter flicks, Fawcett, who wrote the screenplay with Karen Walton, pushes the “suspension of disbelief” envelope. He knows just when to stop, though. There’s quite a bit of gore here. The special effects are dated but effective nonetheless.

What really sells this film, though, is the acting: Perkins and Isabelle evoke a warmth to their relationship despite their offputting personalities and a fierceness to their bond. They’re totally believable as sisters. The final scene, which involves only them, is downright sad. Crushing, even.

With Mimi Rogers, Jesse Moss, John Bourgeois, Peter Keleghan, Christopher Redman, Lindsay Leese, Wendii Fulford, Pak-Kong Ho, Lucy Lawless

Production: Motion International, Copperheart Entertainment, Water Pictures, Lions Gate Films, Oddbod Productions, TVA International

Distribution: Motion International (Canada), Unapix Entertainment Productions (USA), Lions Gate Films

108 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B-

Music Box of Horrors

http://www.gingersnapsthemovie.com

Valley Girl

(USA 1983)

“Girls, we must fuck him.”

— Loryn

 

“Man, he’s like tripendicular, ya know?”

— Julie Richman

 

“Kings and queens, they don’t grow on trees.”

— Prom Teacher

 

“Well, fuck you, for sure, like totally!”

— Randy

“Bitchin’! Is this in 3D?” asks Tommy (Michael Bowen), whom no other Val dude can touch. It’s a fair question for a ticket taker wearing 3D glasses, I guess. “No,” responds Randy (Nicolas Cage) nonchalantly as he rips his ticket. “But your face is.” Burn!

I don’t know why Deborah Foreman isn’t on the poster, but I can’t help love Valley Girl. Directed by Martha Coolidge and written by Andrew Lane and Wayne Crawford, it’s a classic that always makes me smile. It’s not because it’s Nicolas Cage’s debut as Nicolas Cage (before Valley Girl, he was Nicolas Coppola). It’s not because it comes straight from the early ‘80s, or because it’s got a totally narly-ass soundtrack, or because of its awesome lines, or because it resonates, like, totally. It’s all of that. And more.

Well, like, it’s sushi, don’t you know? No one will mistake Valley Girl for anything but a product of its time. However, anyone can identify with the dilemma of Julie Richman (Foreman), who’s into Randy (Cage) because he’s not like all the other guys at school, but her friends don’t approve because, well, he’s not like all the other guys at school. He’s from the city — Hollywood, to be exact — and he’s new wave. Oh, the horror!

Randy sweeps Julie off her feet, taking her on a wild ride and introducing her to things you don’t get in the Valley. Her friends, shallow as they are, pressure her to drop Randy for Val dude Tommy (Bowen), who fits their idea of the right guy for Julie — never mind that they already dated and she broke it off because he made her feel “like an old chair or something.” Julie’s heart tells her not to do it. When her friends all but blacklist her, she capitulates. Spoiler alert: she’s not happy.

Randy’s heart is broken, but he won’t give up. He goes undercover, showing up literally everywhere Julie goes — drive-through diners, movie theaters, even camping out on her front lawn. Thanks to Randy’s bestie Fred (Cameron Dye), a plan to win Julie back comes together at her prom — which, incidentally, features Josie Cotton performing.

Part Rebel Without a CauseFast Times at Ridgemont HighGrease, and even The Graduate (Lee Purcell as Stacey’s mother is fantastic), Valley Girl is definitely romantic. It’s also fun and full of heart. The ending is predictable, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With Elizabeth Daily, Heidi Holicker, Michelle Meyrink, Tina Theberge, Richard Sanders, Colleen Camp, Frederic Forrest, David Ensor, Joanne Baron, Tony Markes, Camille Calvet, The Plimsouls

Production: Valley 9000

Distribution: Atlantic Releasing

99 minutes
Rated R

(Impact) B

Saturday Church

(USA 2017)

Ulysses (Luka Kain) is a quiet, delicate teen who lives in Queens and is just starting to figure out his sexual identity — it involves wearing panty hose under his jeans. When his father dies, he becomes the “man of the house.” Unfortunately, his mother (Margot Bingham), who works all the time, is already on edge because she caught him wearing her clothes. Ulysses shares a bedroom with his younger brother, Abe (Jaylin Fletcher), who knows that he’s still rummaging through mom’s closet on the sly and gives him shit for it. School is no respite because Ulysses’s classmates are jerks.

Enter stern Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) to help at home while mom is away at work. She takes charge, usurping Ulysses and his mother as the master of the domain. She’s not about to have a dress-wearing freak around, so she pushes Ulysses toward the one cure she knows: the Lord.

Ulysses escapes to the Christopher Street Pier, where he meets a gang of “drag queens”: Ebony (MJ Rodriguez), Dijon (Indya Moore), and Heaven (Alexia Garcia). They take him to “Saturday Church,” a space in Greenwich Village where one night a week trans mother hen Joan (Kate Bornstein) offers a meal, a shower, clothes, perhaps a spot to vogue, and companionship to homeless LGBTQ kids. This is where Ulysses finds his groove.

Too bad mean Aunt Rose is waiting for him to come home.

Damon Cardasis’s first feature length film is a winning mix of Moonlight (https://moviebloke.com/2016/11/19/moonlight/ ), La La Land (https://moviebloke.com/2016/10/13/la-la-land/ ), and Tangerine (https://moviebloke.com/2015/07/28/tangerine/ ) with just the right splash of Paris is Burning (https://moviebloke.com/2016/08/26/paris-is-burning/ ). Saturday Church has some shortcomings, but the film oozes so much charm and warmth that I found it easy to forgive its flaws. Some of the songs and dance numbers are better than others — the song in the locker room and the other with Ulysses singing to his new boyfriend (Marquis Rodriguez) as they walk to the train stand out, especially when flower petals start falling. It’s really cool.

The acting is really good all around, but Kain is particularly awesome. He gives palpable tenderness and vulnerability to his character. The so called “drag queens” are not just fierce but downright touching. The way they save Ulysses is sweet. They make you long for a friend who has your back like they do. The story here totally sold me. I look forward to what’s next from Cardasis.

With Stephen Conrad Moore, Peter Y. Kim, Evander Duck Jr.

Production: Spring Pictures, Round Films

Distribution: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with Damen Cardasis

82 minutes
Not rated

(Directors Guild of America) B-

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/saturday-church/

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer

(USA 1947)

Richard “Dick” Nugent (Cary Grant) is a dashing, self-absorbed playboy charged with inciting a brawl at a nightclub. A self-employed artist, he shows up late for his hearing before priggish Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy), who’s put off by his casual indifference. Nevertheless, she dismisses the case when she sees that the whole thing started with two floozies (Veda Ann Borg and Carol Hughes) fighting over him. With a slam of her gavel and an eyeroll, she sends Dick on his way, warning him to watch himself.

A free man, Dick heads straight to his next appointment: he’s the guest lecturn at a high school where Margaret’s dramatic 17-year-old sister, Susan (Shirley Temple), is a student. She attends the lecture, and is immediately smitten. Susan approaches Dick afterward and offers to, err, model for him. He’s noncommittal, clearly unaware that he’s dealing with a determined gal.

That evening, Susan gets all dolled up and sneaks out to Dick’s apartment, a spacious two-story downtown suite I’d kill to have. He’s not home, but she persuades the young doorman (Ian Bernard?) to let her up so she can wait for him. Naturally, she falls asleep on the davenport.

A big misunderstanding leads to Dick punching Margaret’s date, district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee), when they show up at his apartment to rescue Susan soon after he gets home and discovers her there. Dick is sent to the slammer, where court psychiatrist Dr. Matt Beemish (Ray Collins)—Margaret and Susan’s uncle—figures out what’s up. The good doctor proposes a “simple” solution: Dick agrees to date Susan, Margaret agrees to allow Susan to date Dick until her infatuation runs its course, and Tommy agrees to drop the assault charge. All three grudgingly agree to the plan. Hilarity ensues, especially as Dick and Margaret start digging each other—and Susan proves to be a real pain in the ass.

Penned by future TV creator/writer Sidney Sheldon (The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer is a solid textbook screwball comedy. It actually feels like a sitcom. Sheldon won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1948), and I can see why: his script is light and fun, capitalizing on the generation gap between youth culture and, I guess, middle age. I doubt the story would fly today; the whole premise reads as creepy by 21st Century standards. For a more innocent time, though, it totally works. And it’s amusing.

Director Irving Reis straddles the line between silly and ridiculous without going overboard. Grant, Loy, and Temple all have better work under their belt, but each still gives a memorable performance here even if their characters and this fluffy film are forgettable. I heard some grumbling from others in the audience, but I enjoyed this for what it is—and it ain’t Citizen Kane.

One final word about the nitrate print I saw: it was stunning, exceeding my expectations. I had my doubts that black and white film would make me sing the praises of nitrate, but The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer made me a believer; the whites were luminescent and the blacks and greys were deep and complex. Lovely!

With Lillian Randolph, Harry Davenport, Johnny Sands, Don Beddoe, Dan Tobin, Ransom Sherman, William Bakewell, Irving Bacon, Dore Schary

Production: RKO Radio Pictures, Vanguard Films

Distribution: RKO Radio Pictures

95 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) C+

Nitrate Picture Show

1 Mile to You

(USA 2017)

High school senior track star Kevin (Graham Rogers) is livin’ the dream in his Mississippi small town: he’s handsome, athletic, and setting records in the state. He and his girlfriend, sweet Ellie (Stefanie Scott), are working on a way to end up in the same city for college next year so they can be together.

Kevin’s happiness implodes after a track meet one Saturday in the fall: his coach (Tim Roth) loses control of the bus carrying his entire team, which leads to an accident that kills everyone on board—including Ellie, who happens to be his coach’s daughter. The only reason Kevin isn’t on the bus is because he has to go somewhere with his parents after the meet.

Kevin deals with his grief and his guilt by running—a lot. And hard. He quickly discovers that he can “communicate” with Ellie during the runner’s high he gets toward the end of a sustained, hard run. The chance to be with her again makes him run faster and faster, more and more.

For some reason—maybe his whole class was on the track team, I don’t know—Kevin switches schools. His new principal (Peter Coyote) coerces him into joining the track team, and he participates grudgingly. Kevin doesn’t like his new school, his new coach (Billy Crudup), or Henny (Liana Liberato), the girl who follows him everywhere. On top of that, a running rival (Thomas Cocquerel) is giving him shit. It’s all getting in the way of his time with Ellie.

Based on Jeremy Jackson’s Life at These Speeds: A Novel, 1 Mile to You is not what I expected. It’s an underwhelming melodrama disguised as a sports tragedy. The plot is somewhat promising and the film has a few good scenes, but the story lacks intensity. I’m not sure whether the problem is Marc Novak’s screenplay or Leif Tilden’s directing, but the characters don’t fully develop and Kevin’s catharsis is given shallow treatment. The whole thing is dull. Plus, the special effects that tell us Kevin is in his trance are, in a word, cheesy.

Tilden has a lot of talent to work with, but he underutilizes everyone except Rogers and maybe Crudup. While I won’t be surprised to see Rogers in bigger and better things in the future, 1 Mile to You did not impress me.

With Melanie Lynskey, Ty Parker, Peter Holden, Elizabeth Canavan, Jaren Mitchell, Casey Groves

Production: Cinema Revival, Culmination Productions, Ingenious Media, LATS Productions, WeatherVane Productions

Distribution: Paseo Miramar Pictures, Gravitas Ventures

104 minutes
Not rated

(Facets) C-

https://m.facebook.com/1MILETOYOU/

Some Freaks

(USA 2016)

A line from an old Billy Idol song (“Hole in the Wall”) appropriately sums up the plot of playwright Ian MacAllister-McDonald’s charming and touching debut feature film Some Freaks:

“We were such an ugly pair,
The chameleon twins they’d stop and stare.
Lovers know when love has gone.
A black hole there where love was once the end.”

Rhode Island high school senior Matt Ledbetter (Thomas Mann), who has the unflattering nickname “Cyclops” because of the patch he wears over his fucked up eye, doesn’t fit in with his classmates. Awkward and unpopular and literally a freak, his only friend is schlubby neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie gay motormouth Elmo (Ely Henry), who seems eager to blow just about any guy—not that any guy is ever going to let him. Lucky Matt gets to hear all of Elmo’s fantasies in graphic detail as they play video games. Yipee.

A chubby new girl (Lily Mae Harrington) in thrift store clothes and green-streaked hair flirts with Matt in biology class. Matt doesn’t know what to make of her, but he’s obviously intrigued even though he’s all shy about it. She turns out to be Elmo’s cousin Jill, who’s staying with his family for the school year after some trouble at home in Oregon.

Jill and Matt get off to a rocky start when she overhears him crack a fat joke about her to Elmo. Despite her tough facade, cynical and insecure Jill is forgiving—she has no choice because she has a thing for Matt. The three of them start hanging out. To Elmo’s dismay, Matt and Jill fall for each other and start dating.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

The end of high school brings about a quandary neither starcrossed lover anticipated. Jill gets into college out West, leaving Matt behind on the East Coast. Thus begins their long distance relationship. They lead separate lives and make similar changes without telling each other: Matt gets a glass eye and starts working out while Jill gets a new wardrobe and goes on a diet. Suddenly normalized, Matt goes to a party and hits on chicks while Jill attracts the attention of frat boy hottie Patrick (Lachlan Buchanan), who went to high school with her. His mean girl pals were not very nice.

Matt and Jill’s metamorphoses clash when he visits her six months later and they discover that their natural connection is now strained and forced. What’s worse, they bring out something ugly in each other. Is this the death knell for their relationship?

Written and directed by MacAllister-McDonald, Some Freaks is impressive even with its flaws, especially for a first time full length feature. The story and the characters recall John Hughes and Todd Solondz, but this is by no means mere imitation or an update of either. I like MacAllister-McDonald’s straightforward and unsentimental view. Yes, much of what happens here is predictable; however, there are enough twists that I didn’t see coming to keep it interesting if not fresh. The actors put a lot of heart into their characters, and it shows—even Buchanan, whose Patrick is underdeveloped and not entirely believable.

I happened to see Some Freaks on April Fool’s Day with my teenage nephew. All things considered, I couldn’t have planned it better.

With Marin Ireland, John Thorsen, Sylvia Kates, Devon Caraway, Brian Semel, Nikki Massoud, Stephen Thorne, Shannon Hartman

Production: Half Jack Productions, Mountview Creative

Distribution: Good Deed Entertainment

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Ian MacAllister-McDonald, Lily Mae Harrington, and Ely Henry

97 minutes
Not rated

(Tower City Cinemas) B

Cleveland International Film Festival

http://www.somefreaksthemovie.com

Center of My World [Die Mitte der Welt]

(Germany 2016)

Center of My World, director/screenwriter Jakob M. Erwa’s adaptation of German author Andreas Steinhöfel’s 1998 novel for young adults, is not a home run. Fortunately, though, Erwa knows how to extract enough charm, particularly from its two main actors, to downplay its shortcomings and proffer a respectable and enjoyable film.

17-year-old Phil (Louis Hofmann) lives with his mercurial, flighty mother, Glass (Sabine Timoteo), and his twin sister, Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck), in a gorgeous house on the outskirts of town. This family isn’t exactly The Brady Bunch: Phil is gay, Dianne supposedly communicates with animals, and Glass can’t commit to a partner for very long. She won’t even tell her kids who their father is.

Phil notices some friction between the women of the house after he returns from summer camp. When school starts, his best friend, Kat (Svenja Jung), encourages him to go after mysterious new guy Nicholas (Jannik Schümann), a dreamy transfer student who looks like a cuter blue-eyed version of Lance Bass with his chiseled cheeks, luscious lips, and perfect hair. Supposedly, he likes boys. Phil finds out for sure in the locker room one afternoon—and it leads to a passionate affair, insecurity, and a weird bout of jealous competition with Kat.

Center of My World is a cute and engaging story. Erwa does a nice job showing how any kid, gay or otherwise, has a lot to deal with when it comes to sexuality. The Chaun Ngo’s cinematography is well done, employing a bright color pallette verging on artificial that plays really well against the small town setting with all its gardens and summer greenery. The acting is generally good. Schümann is really easy to just…gaze upon, I guess, but in a harmless Teen Beat way.

All that said, Center of My World would have been a much gutsier film, say, 15 years ago. It probably would have made a bigger impact then, too. It contains hints and echoes of things I’ve seen before. The characters are a bit hollow; some of them come off as half-baked, rendering their importance to the story tenuous or questionable. These two boys have sex a lot, which is great. However, the sex scenes here need work even with the full frontal we get. More in-your-face than sexy, they come off as gratuitous. I don’t know if Erwa was trying to be shocking, but it didn’t work if he was. It’s like watching two puppies go at it. I hope that’s not the intended result.

With Inka Friedrich, Sascha Alexander Geršak, Thomas Goritzki, Nina Proll, Clemens Rehbein

Production: Neue Schönhauser Filmproduktion, Prisma Film, Universum Film, mojo:pictures, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE, Österreichischer Rundfunk

Distribution: Constantin-Film, Universum Film

115 minutes
Not rated

(Tower City Cinemas) B-

Cleveland International Film Festival

http://mitte-der-welt-film.de

https://www.facebook.com/diemittederwelt.film