If gay cinema is to be believed, male hustlers make up more than half the homosexual population. Whether it's wish fulfillment or a lack of imagination, there's long list of queer filmmakers who train their cameras on hunky protagonists trading their bodies and souls for a few bucks. They're not all bad, mind you. Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin from a couple of years ago boasted a haunting storyline and an amazing performance from Joseph Gordon Levitt. Still, in this rarified world of tricks and johns one must ask: Aren't there any gays in corporate middle management?
At least writer-director Q. Allan Brocka is intelligent enough to acknowledge the clichés of his genre. Right at the beginning of Boy Culture, his lead character, X (Derek Magyar), declares, "If you're smart, you've guessed I'm a hustler. If you haven't, here are two clues: I'm gay, and they've made a movie about me." Brocka's screenplay is littered with similarly clever asides and self-deprecating stabs, but the fact is his gay love triangle never actually rises above the truisms he's criticizing.
With its protagonist's narration as an ever-present soundtrack, Boy Culture, sometimes feels like a Bret Easton Ellis novel (American Psycho), nattering away with pop culture asides and oh-so-jaded cynicism. As he takes us on a tour of his life, X offers up a critique of nearly every aspect of the gay mating dance but never really examines his own emotional landscape. An avowed anti-romantic who embraces his alienation and narcissism, the brooding hustler finds himself unexpectedly pining for beautifully black roommate Andrew (Darryl Stevens). When a relationship finally flares up between the two, X struggles to reconcile his profound bitterness with a newfound capacity for love. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
It's a tried and true formula that, unfortunately, fails because Boy Culture's cast and director aren't talented enough to convince. Brocka's direction lacks anything approaching subtext, and the performances are as shallow and one-note as the lives their characters lead. Magyar has a certain amount of presence but plays X as all attitude and little emotion. That might work for his character's clients but for a movie role it's pretty tedious stuff.
The one shining exception in all this is Patrick Bauchau's elderly john, Gregory. X's relationship with this elegant gentleman, as contrived as it is, bristles with intrigue and sensitivity. Bauchau poignantly embodies the frustrations and dignity of an intelligent man left behind by the hedonism and vanity of queer youth. And it's details like this unvarnished and critical that elevate Boy Culture above the preening soap operas you can find on the Logo network. Boy Culture deserves credit for acknowledging the real impacts of class, age and even race on queer culture. While his script doesn't make any bold statements, Brocka's glib irony suggests he may yet grow into a queer filmmaker worth watching.
Opens Friday, May 18 at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].