By Our "Goes Where Angels Fear to Tread" Correspondent, Bill S.
As we all know, October 11 is the birthday of Anntichrist S. Coulter (see previous World O' Crap post). It's also the birthday of the beautiful and talented Matt Bomer, who in the parallel universe where my life is perfect, is my husband.
But October 11 is also National Coming Out Day, and I'd like to mark the occasion (which, unlike Columbus Day, isn't a national holiday) with a look at a movie aimed at LGBT youth. In their book Better Living Through Bad Movies, Scott and s.z. failed to include such an entry -- a forgivable oversight, since there are only so many bad movies a human being should be expected to endure. Fortunately, I'm here to pick up the cause. Every movie genre gets the Manos: the Hands of Fate it deserves, and I do believe I've found it: a 2007 gem titled An Angel Named Billy.
Here's the trailer, enjoy!
One of the comments posted at YouTube reads, "omg i used to work with that guy at jamba juice!" The commenter doesn't specify which guy, or when they supposedly worked together. It could be anybody in the cast, and as recently as a month ago. But I'd rather not focus on the batch of virtual unknowns who populate this movie, except to note that the actor playing the titular role was, according to the IMDb, born in December of 1987, which means he was over 18 when this was made. At least I hope so; who knows how long it was sitting a shelf before it saw a release date?
Instead, I think most of the credit for this movie should go to one George Osborne, who wrote, directed, and co-produced it. Mr. Osborne's artistry and insight into human nature take him where Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant would never go -- on a fast track to total obscurity. At least I hope so.
Before I dive into the plot synopsis, I must confess I only watched this once before mailing it back to NetFlix. While I'm 99% sure I'm recalling it right, there does exist a possibility I've misremembered the order of some scenes. I offer my apologies for any errors, and I offer my sympathies to anyone who saw it enough times to spot an error.
This is the story of Billy, a teenager living in an unamed rural area. We know it's rural from the presence of cowboy hats and bales of hay. Billy's mother left the family years earlier, and he's being raised by his dad, who's a religeous fanatic, an alcoholic, and an abusive asshole. We know these things because he sits at the kitchen table poring over a Bible, slugging down one Scotch after another, and screaming at Billy's younger brother Zack, who looks like a scared rabbit everytime the camera is on him.
He orders Billy to leave, and the young man trudges over to a nearby closet, grabs a tiny bookbag, and heads for the door. Zack appears in the stairwell and pleads with him not to leave, but Billy shakes his head mounfully and exits. We rightly, and incorrectly assume the brothers will try to remain in contact, but for the rest of the picture Billy seems to completely forget about Zack, or maybe the director does. As Billy walks down a long, desolate stretch of a road, a car stops, and Billy gets in to travel to places unknown.
A scared, broke, homeless teenager is traveling through the state by hopping into strange cars, and this seems to a good time for the director to cut away from him to introduce us to some of the other characters. Thomas, a bald, aging drag queen, is seated at his vanity table, dabbing on makeup and talking to himself, announcing each action before he does it. This is the most depressing, humourless drag queen in movie history ("Priscilla, Queen of the Desolate"), and as this scene played on (and on and on and on), it marked the first of many times during the film that I began to wonder if it might be some kind of stealth project by an anti-gay wingnut. Who else would have such trouble coming up with a decent drag queen name?
Thomas gets a call from his straight friend Mark, who he appears to have a crush on. His slurred speech suggests Mark is recovering from a stroke; his dialogue however, suggests a far more severe form of brain damage. Mark has an adult son named James, who lives in an apartment next door to Mark's house. James is a gay photographer in his late thirties. Thomas and Mark are concerned that James is lonely; they'd like to see him settle down with Mr. Right. Mark has even started looking at websites for gay singles, hoping to find his son a date. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.
Before Mark can sign his son up with Manhunt.com, tragedy strikes: late one evening, James is awakend by a noise next door. Sensing it's a medical emergency, he LEAPS OUT OF BED URGENTLY...dutifully hunts for his bathrobe and carefully puts it on, then...RACES TO HIS FATHER'S SIDE. He realizes it's another stroke and dials 911, sobbing hysterically. This second stroke leaves Mark confined to a whelchair. It becomes clear to James that his dad will require round the clock assistance from a qualified health care proffessional, or failing that, the assistance of the first person he can find who can work cheaply and move in immediately.
Billy arrives at Donna's Cafe. At least, I think it's supposed to be a cafe; it looks more like someone set up a bunch of patio furniture on their lawn and hung a sign out. He befriends the waiter, Guy, a spiky haired twink who has a laid-back attitude about everything, including the fact that Billy can't pay for anything. He helpfully directs Billy to a bulletin board where there might be want ads posted, and offers to let him crash at his apartment until he can find a place of his own. He then introduces Billy to his boss, Donna, a self-proclaimed "fag hag", who Guy says is helpful to many a young gay newbie, offering protection.
Billy asks, "Protection? From what?" Guy replies, "From them!" pointing at a pair of leering old queens who look like they were bussed in from the '70's. We rightly, and incorrectly assume Donna will be an important figure in Billy's life, but she disappears after this one scene, which is just as well since she's super annoying.
Billy finds the want ad placed by James, and tears off the phone number, then he and Guy retire to Guy's apartment. We are treated to a tour of the place that showcase the director's keen eye. For instance, when guy a opens the door to the bathroom and lists the available items for use, the camera then cuts to a closeup of the bathroom, revealing all those items, to prove Guy was telling the truth. (The moral of the story so far: man-pimpin' your offspring leads to cerebral blood clots, and never trust a stranger who picks you up in a diner and takes you home unless you can verify the location of his Listermint and bunion pads.)
The two young men strip to their boxers and climb into bed. We rightly and incorrectly expect them to hook up, but they shut the light, turn away from each other and go to sleep. The director was more interested in showing their pecs than showing any aspect of their relationship.
Billy arrives at Mark and James' place, and James offers him a glass of water, which Billy eagerly accepts (yes, this conversation occurs.) He meets Mark, and the old man hits it off quite nicely with the teen, so he's hired right away. I guess puppy dog eyes and a sweetly blank-faced grin qualify someone to care for an elderly stroke victim. But he soon proves his job skills, taking Mark to the park to do wheelies in his chair. Mark declares Billy is "an angel". Uh, okay. James also begins to take a shine to Billy. His father notes, "I haven't seen such a spark you in a long time." Perhaps it's the way James looks at Billy: namely, the way he peers into the kid's bedroom as he sleeps, clad only in his boxers. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.
Billy asks James to show him the studio where James does his phtography. The studio is a sparsley furnished room with no lighting equipment or darkroom, only a single camera set up on a tripod. We rightly and incorrectly assume this may lead to some kind of erotically charged scene, but they barely look at each other. Billy does however take note of some pictures on the wall, of a rather uniteresting-looking middle aged man. James identifies the man as his ex-boyfriend, Todd, who was a drug addict. The two walk back to the main house, and James asks Billy if he'd like to join him later for margaritas. Which isn't creepy and disturbing at all, at least not to the director.
Billy has written to his Aunt Sharon, telling her about his new home and job. She relays this news to his mother's place of work, where the note is intercepted by a Sassy Black Woman whose eyes look like they're about to bug out of her head. S.B.W. delivers the note to Billy's mom. We rightly and incorrectly hope we'll get some insight into why she deserted her family and didn't retain custody of her sons, but this leaves us more baffled than we already were.
Billy takes up the offer to share margaritas, and they have an intimate chat, which goes like this:
BILLY: So, if Todd was your boyfriend, does this mean...you like...guys?
JAMES: Yes, I do.
BILLY: Are you still in love with Todd? Do you ever think of getting back with him?
JAMES: No, I'm not still in love with him, and I don't want to get back with him.
BILLY: Then why do you keep his picture up on the wall?
JAMES: It hides a messy stain that's lying there.
Okay, I added those last two lines, but the rest is almost word for word what they say to each other. Billy gets an invitation from Guy to go out to a club. He asks James if he'd like to come along. James declines, saying his days of hitting clubs are over. (Yeah, from the looks of him, he hasn't set foot in one since Falco was big.)
Billy gets a call from his mother. We rightly and incorrectly expect him to be furious with her for deserting him and his brother and leaving them with an abusive drunk. But as we've already seen, the boy's as sharp as a bag of wet hair, so he's happy to talk about his new job, and the two "cool guys" who've taken him in. (Yes, this conversation occurs.) Mark beams, "I'm cool!" and adds, "Chickenpot, chickenpot, chickenpot piiiiiee!!!"
The evening at the club, which happens off-screen due to obvious budget constraints, doesn't go over well. Billy returns in tears, telling James that Guy's friends teased him and called him a "nerd" for having a job caring for an old man. WHAT THE FUCK?
Seriously...what the fuck?
James puts his arms around Billy, and assures him there's no shame in the job he has. They share a kiss, and head into the bedroom. We rightly and incorrectly expect a romantic love scene, but instead they lie on the bed, fully clothed, about a foot apart, and the scene fades to the next morning.
Mark has been waiting up all night, and as James shuffles into the kitchen looking disheveled, his father cheerfully notes that he's aware of what happened. He also observes, "You were pretty loud", and proceeds to make heavy breathing sex noises. Which isn't creepy and disturbing, at least not to the director. Billy then enters, equally disheveled, and Mark repeats the observation, because the first time wasn't gross enough.
Now that he knows his son has found True Love with a teenaged runaway, Mark is content that he can die happily. He calls up Thomas to discuss his will. Why, is Thomas a cross-dressing lawyer? And if he is, why didn't they make that movie instead of this one? ("Priscilla, Queen of the Default Judgment.")
With less than 20 minutes left to go in the film, a new complication arrives: Todd wants to get back together with James, and figures the best way to do it is to break into his house. But James catches him and insists he never wants to get back together. He then adds, "I've found somebody else. He's younger, cuter, and less likely to give me hepatitis." (Well, he would have said that, if I'd written the script.) He kicks Todd to the curb.
Mark finally kicks the bucket, once again reducing James to a puddle of tears. Billy's mother arrives. She tell him he's known all along her son was gay ("a mother knows these things."). She then rather matter-of-factly tells Billy his father died in an auto accident, his brother is staying with his Aunt temporarily, and she plans on moving to be closer to him. Billy reacts with a blankness that suggests nobody on the set has the slightest clue how a person would react to such news.
It's time to wrap things up, so we get a montage of the characters as Billy tells us what happens in voiceover:
His mother and Thomas start a computer dating service for gay singles (who better to play matchmaker than an insecure drag queen and a deadbeat mom?), Billy and James get married (we see them in a limo with the words "Just Married" on the back window) and Guy "surprised us all" by moving back to Billy's old hometown, where he inherited a house he now shares with Rick.
Um, okay then.
We rightly and correctly assume there have been porno films better directed. And better written. And better acted. And more rooted in reality. And less skeevy.
But what message of hope does it offer to LGBT youth? I guess it might be this:
If you're a gay teen who feels rejected by your family and you're struggling to find your place in the world, try to look on the positive side of things -- after all, you could wind up being married, at the age of 18, to a creepy, reclusive, middle-aged loser who still lives with his dad. Aren't you glad that hasn't happened to you? So cheer up kids, things could be a whole lot worse.
I guess the movie was inspirational. Just not in the way it was intended.