The Skinny (Breaking Glass Pictures, NR)

theskinny 75The script by Patrik-Ian Polk is witty and a lot franker than your typical straight coming-of-age film.

 

There must be about a zillion, give or take, indie films about young people finding their stumbling way into adulthood with the help of a steadfast pack of friends. The catch is that most of these films are about straight white people, hailing from either undifferentiated suburbia or some working-class ethnic enclave.

With that context in mind, I have no problem cutting Patrik-Ian Polk’s The Skinny some slack, because while it’s not going to win any Oscars, it does a reasonable job in portraying the trials and tribulations of an attractive group of black, gay, and lesbian young adults negotiating the early post-college years. They’re all graduates of Brown University, and are having a reunion in New York City to check in with each other bask in their newfound independence.

Magnus (Jussie Smollett) is managing a luxury condo for his well-off parents and getting ready to start medical school. Baby-faced Sebastian (Blake Young-Fountain) just got back from a parent-funded trip to Paris and still hasn’t gotten laid, but is eager to change that status. Kyle (Anthony Burrell) is a tramp with the stamp to prove it, and is remarkably uninterested in hiding his behavior from the others. Joey (Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) is grouchy because he’s living at home in Atlanta with his disapproving mother, a circumstance due in part to his being too choosy to actually sustain a relationship with a man. The token lesbian slot is filled by Langston (Shanika Warren-Markland), a brainy Brit (she’s in grad school at Yale) whose love life has been inhibited by the fact that she spends all her time hanging around with guys.

These character types may be familiar from many other indie coming-of-age films, but Polk puts an original spin on them (if you think race and sexual preference don’t matter in 21st century America, you need to think again), and the actors are engaging and more than attractive. Their commonality as graduates of an elite university is also a nice corrective to films that limit black characters to a stereotyped ghetto world (although one of the characters clearly came from an impoverished background).

The script by Polk is witty and a lot franker than your typical straight coming-of-age film (if you ever wondered how to give yourself a colonic or what to do if you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, this film will fill in those blanks for you). There’s a lot more skin and almost-skin on display that is typical in straight movies of this type—sex is acknowledged as a normal human function, even if it’s also a way that people sometimes hurt each other. Also unlike the typical straight coming-of-age films, The Skinny acknowledges that’s it not just one endless party out there, and that the big bad wolf doesn’t just exist in fairy tales.

Eun-ah Lee’s location cinematography makes New York City shine like a diamond, and Polk’s music (a regular one-man band, he also edited the film and did the casting) is appropriate to the locales and situations of the film. All in all, The Skinny is an enjoyable film that accomplishes what it sets out to do, and offers an agreeable combination of eye candy and life advice which should be welcome to those just starting out on life as well as those for whom those years are a distant memory.

Extras on the DVD include director’s commentary track, deleted scenes, auditions for the Magnus and Sebastian roles, two photo galleries, and a public health service announcement featuring three of the cast members. | Sarah Boslaugh

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