Geography Club (Breaking Glass Pictures, NR)

geoclub 75There’s a dearth of films that have honest sympathy for what it’s like to be a teenager, particularly a teenager whose sexuality is not strictly mainstream

 

 

One of my not-so-secret vices is reading YA novels, which is how I became familiar with Brent Hartinger’s novel Geography Club, the first in his series of Russell Middlebrook novels. It’s totally charming and sympathetic to the growing-up issues of its teenage characters, which include but are not limited to the trials and tribulations of being gay or bisexual in a predominantly heterosexual culture.

So of course I was pleased to see that Geography Club has been brought to the big screen, because there’s a dearth of films that have honest sympathy for what it’s like to be a teenager, particularly a teenager whose sexuality is not strictly mainstream. However, the film is something of a letdown after the book, although it still contains enough good to make it worth your while. Consider what Glee would be like without the music—occasionally great insights mixed with galloping logical inconsistencies, acting performances that often overcome the deficiencies of the script—and that’s pretty much what you get with Geography Club.

The club in question is really a high school gay, lesbian, and allies club (the name is explained in the film as being so boring that no one would ever come to a meeting by accident, but also recalls the famous “we can always call them Bulgarians” remark about lesbian characters attributed to Samuel Goldwyn), and is a good device to bring together some interesting young actors, including Alex Newell (also on Glee), Ally Maki, Nikki Blonsky, and Teo Olivares.

Sadly, the film’s main story involves the secretive relationship between two guys, Russell Middlebrook (Cameron Deane Stewart) and football hero Kevin (Justin Deeley), who have good chemistry together but just aren’t that interesting. Ana Gasteyer plays a loopy teacher of the type that only exists in the movies, and Andrew Caldwell plays Gunnar, Russell’s rather dull best friend. In fact, I could have used a lot less Gunther and a lot more Min (Maki), one of the three main characters in the original novel but whose role has been cut down to almost nothing in this film.

The main problem with Geography Club, however, is the oddly choppy storytelling by director Gary Entin and screenwriter Edmund Entin (they’re brothers) and their handwaving use of some really absurd plot twists (in this high school, apparently, students have total control of who plays on the football team). There’s so much potential with these characters, it’s a shame to have to have the experience of the film brought down by what are essentially technical errors in construction.

Still, there aren’t that many films in which the central characters are gay teenagers (as opposed to sidekicks) and where the mood is basically upbeat, and for those reasons alone, Geography Club is worth a look. It has been nominated for a 2014 GLAAD Media Award (Outstanding Film – Limited Release), and won the Audience Award at the 2013 L.A. Outfest, so clearly some people think more highly of it that I do.

Extras on the DVD include commentaries by the cast, producers, director, and writer; a making-of featurette; and a photo gallery. | Sarah Boslaugh

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