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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001

On the gay and narrow

Get Real

Rating: * * 1/2 Japanese title: Dokyusei Director: Simon Shore Running time: 110 minutes Language: English Showing at Cinema Qualite in Shinjuku

"Get Real" is one of those British films of late that reek of National Lottery money. You know the type: politically correct liberal theme, earnest storytelling and tepid humor. In a word: dull.

Ben Silverstone in "Get Real"

In a controversial move a few years back, the British government decided to prop up domestic filmmaking by funneling lottery money through the Arts Council of England. While it's an idealistic notion, this support -- like nearly all state funding of the arts -- has resulted in more, but not better films, many of which don't even gain domestic distribution, and very few of which actually make an impact overseas.

In that respect, "Get Real," a gay teen coming-out story, is a happy exception, but one that still bears all the marks of having been approved by a committee; it has a safe, slightly didactic feel that nearly smothers its good intentions and actual insights. This is a work that could have soared with a bit of artistic daring. As is, it comes across as well-scrubbed TV melodrama, a bland semirealism that pales in comparison to the wicked laughs of "The Full Monty" or the scabrous drama of "The War Zone." One wag described it as a "queer John Hughes film," and that about sums it up.

"Get Real" follows high-school senior Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone), a slightly geeky loner and wannabe writer who's depressed with his own inability to come out of the closet. Only his best-friend Linda (Charlotte Brittain, stuck in a hopelessly cliched fat girl/"fag hag" role) knows his secret, as Steven keeps even his parents in the dark as to why he's spending so much time in the local park.

Things get interesting when Steven, furtively cruising a public toilet for pickups, runs into John Dixon (Brad Gorton), the big man on campus, a hunky jock who's adored by all the girls and dating a lingerie model. John laughs off the encounter, but soon starts hanging around Steven and confessing his own sexual confusion. For a guy who has it all -- athletic stardom, popularity, respect -- the risks of admitting he's gay seem too great.

Steven, who's already taunted as a "queer," has a lot less to lose by coming out, though the film magnifies his plight. His climactic coming-out moment -- announced weepily to a school assembly -- is staged with a melodramatic formality that drains the scene of honesty. The viewer will surely agree with Linda's assessment of Steven: "I had no idea you were such a drama queen."

Silverstone's performance as Steven is appropriately guarded and ironic, though he stumbles when he has to show romantic fixation, relying on a sort of secondhand awkwardness and jumbled sputtering (which isn't helped any by the script's overuse of double-entendre). Less believable is when he has to assume the mannerisms of acclimated gay behavior -- say, by making a queeny joke about interior decorating -- a conformity no doubt still in the future for a closeted teen.

Much better is Gorton as the tormented John, who convincingly gets across the doubt and fear of a man trying desperately to live two lives. He gives the film a rawness that gets past the all-too-polished dialogue (another symptom of state-funded films).

For all its glibness, the script is full of logical holes, like why would John suddenly get attracted to Steven upon meeting him in the park when he's been in the same class with him for years? Or why is Steven so afraid to come out when he's already being bullied and harassed at school? And the humor, despite the constant erection jokes given to Linda, is rather limp.

"Get Real" does manage to convey the agonizing issues involved in making the decision to come out, especially in as atavistic an environment as high school. And yet the film overreaches in what it preaches. Is it wrong and unfair that a young man should be bullied and ridiculed for his sexual orientation, that he should be forced to live a lie? "Get Real" is quite persuasive in convincing us so. (Though any thinking person probably already knows as much, and it's doubtful the bullies will be viewing this.)

On the other hand, are a boy's parents intolerant bigots for thinking that cruising public toilets for anonymous sex with older men is a bad idea? The film is on far shakier ground when it assumes this to be a given and will lose many viewers here. The last hetero film to feature dangerously promiscuous teen sex was "Kids," and at least it had the courage to explore the consequences. "Get Real," as is the case with most PC-infected films, is too busy setting up its Manichaen world of oppressors and victims to waste any time on such gray areas.

Yawn. Next, please.

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