Gay high school fantasia G.B.F. starts the way every teen movie should: with the image of a panda puking up a rainbow.
Sure, it’s a snappy, meme-y graphic that speaks directly to the film’s target audience (hip, animal-video-obsessed, neon-emblazed Top Shop addicts) but it also stands as a great metaphor for the film’s message: sometimes being a mascot – for a cause, a school, or a line of breakfast cereals – can be enough to make you vomit Roy G. Biv. Darren Stein’s G.B.F. is a comedy for everyone who has ever felt that the Pride flag they’ve been waving happily in the wind has just wrapped itself around their throat and is starting to cut off the air supply.
Tanner (Michael J. Willett) and Brent (Paul Iacono) are two gay best friends living comfortably under the RADAR at a high school we’re familiar seeing in everything from Heathers to Secret Life of the American Teenager: the cool kids are bitches, the outsiders are morally and intellectually superior, and everyone is either miserable or actively making others so.
But aside from the other two members of their support circle, nobody knows they’re gay – at least, not officially. The guys toy with the idea of coming out, but after a fashion magazine names the “Gay Best Friend” the must-have accessory of the season, a gay witch hunt kicks into gear and soon neither of them stands a chance of staying closeted.
Tanner – the less flamboyant one – is actually outed first, and before you can say “Will and His Graces”, he’s being pursued by the school’s three queen bees to lock their chances for taking the prom queen crown. Brent is reluctant to join him and a bit miffed that his own coming-out has been upstaged, and he becomes increasingly bitter watching his own popularity makeover fantasy play out in front of his very eyes with his best friend in the lead role.
Brisk, cheerful, and packed with rapid-fire wordplay and more slang than you can shake an Urban Dictionary at, G.B.F. (not to be confused with BFG, GBH, GCB, CBGB, BCBG, or GMHC) wisely avoids getting too nasty – it’s less Jawbreaker (also directed by Stein) and more Mean Girls. Although truthfully, following the recent trend of amazingly progressive television aimed at teens, it’s as disarmingly optimistic, smartly-written and unabashedly gay as a feature-length episode of Suburgatory. And I of course mean this is a compliment.
Zosha Roquemore, Michael J. Willett and Sasha Pieterse
G.B.F. speaks to a new set of social pressures for a new generation of gay kids. When I was coming of age (the STONE Age), it was easier to avoid being outed because NOBODY talked about being gay. It was like it didn’t even exist. These days, with gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court and Chris Colfer shaking his tail feather on a major network, kids feel much more free discussing gay issues and gay people. Like it or not, we are something of a pop phenomenon, and that has its repercussions (and thank you, Bravo, for all of them).
As the beleaguered besties, Willett (pulling a 180 from his gay character from United States of Tara) and out actor Iacono (sticking the landing on dozens of killer punchlines) are great. As the trio of divas out to win the race on the gay ticket (they’re amusingly referred to as a trio of battling warlords), Sasha Pieterse (Pretty Little Liars) brings some sly depth to beauty queen Fawcett, Andrea Bowen (Desperate Housewives) gets some brilliantly blank moments as Mormon ’Shley, and Zosha Roquemore (The Mindy Project, Precious) brings the fierce as socially-conscious drama queen Caprice. Are these ladies the high school equivalent of the Fanta Girls? Sure – but peeling back the layers of their images is of course part of the fun. Appropriately out-of-touch supporting turns by Megan Mullally (as Brent’s overly-accepting mom) and Natasha Lyonne (as a school administrator) help round out the solid cast.
Paul Iacono and Megan Mullally in a scene from G.B.F.
Alongside Chris Colfer’s somewhat more melancholy Struck By Lightning, G.B.F. – with an impressively nimble, zinger-filled script by first-timer George Northy – represents a new generation of gay films from a new generation of gay voices. While angrier, most subversive takes on the suburban teen experience certainly had their place, these new stories are set in the now, when being gay is no longer a guarantee that you’ll be the butt of the joke or a social pariah. It’s a movie that clearly loves teen movies and just wants to join in – and whether your own high school experience was akin to Tanner and Brent’s or G.B.F. still seems like a gay fantasia, we can all be part of the fun.
G.B.F. opens today (November 22) on DirectTV. Will be in select theaters/VOD (OnDemand) everywhere else January 17, 2014. FOr more information, visit the film’s Facebook page