I admit to being somewhat skeptical about Jonah Markowitz's 2007 gay romance drama Shelter before sitting down to watch it. I tend to be this way about most "gay films" as I find gay audiences are far, far too forgiving on any movie with a gay-centric plot. Or, hell, even just a gay character. I've seen my fair share of duds that I hadn't even bothered with Shelter until a mate recommended it.
So, colour me surprised that it turned out to actually be quite sweet and nicely made. What I appreciated most of all was that is existed in a realistic world that was inhabited by real people. The characters in Shelter actually have to deal with issues that range farther than "How do I get the high school jock to love me" or "How do I get the out-of-towner into bed?" or... well, you get the drill. The lead characters' homosexuality wasn't seen as tragic, nor was it perceived as their defining trait. These characters, gay or straight, have bigger things to deal with than whether one is gay, and I relished seeing that in a film of this kind that so frequently turns their homosexual leads into nothing more than fantasy cyphers for the audience ("omg, I want to screw that go-go dancer!") The film's finest moment is when the sorta-confused-but-not-really Zach (Trevor Wright) sits in his car after his first tryst with the older Shaun (Brad Rowe, a handsome man if ever I saw one), and he simply grins. It's real and it's relatable, which is more than I can saw for anything in Were the World Mine, Boy Culture, Tan Lines or Latter Days or... or...
Naturally, it's not all positive. The central characters - nicely acted by Rowe (a handsome man if ever I saw one) and Wright - are nicely fleshed out, but almost all of the supporting characters, barring a thankfully un-precocious child, are from the Straight People 101 school of screenwriting. There's the bigot, the brute and jock who can't help throwing about euphemisms for women's genitals in every second sentence and thrusts his hips about in barbaric, unpleasant displays of macho manliness. Lapses into silliness or shmaltz - the walkie talkies? - are the signs of an undeveloped screenplay, and I also found the end to be far too cutesy for what had preceded it. Hey, not all low budget independent gay features can be like Todd Stephens' Gypsy 83, you know?
Lovingly lensed by Joseph White - the recurring sunkissed imagery of the Vincent Thomas Bridge sure was a sight - and occasionally very endearing, Shelter was definitely better than I had expected. It lacks the edge of a Beautiful Thing and the joyful era-defining imagery of Edge of Seventeen, but its curious take on gay culture was refreshing. It's a shame the director has since focused his attention on being a production designer rather than pursuing more directorial options. Although, let's be thankful we have Shelter and that Markowitz didn't follow the same sad career path as Todd Stephens! B