There is a long and eventful history of gay-themed films as an important, well-represented subset of independent cinema. There are a lot of dramas about LGBT-specific issues, some romantic comedies with a same-sex twist and a decent amount of documentaries. A rarer strand of this subset is the dark comedy that not only challenges the straight audience but also the more conservative members of the gay community itself. The Gays is that kind of rare cinematic animal — and it comes after the viewer with both transgressive comedic barrels a-blazin’.
After a mock-sitcom titles sequence, The Gays establishes a framing device that it will carry on throughout its running time: Kevin (Nicholas Wilder), a young man new to the L.A. gay singles scene gets involved in a chat with a local at the bar. That local turns out to be Alex Gay (Mike Russnak), a proud and confident young man who claims to come from a family composed entirely of gay men: there’s patriarch Rod (Frank Holliday), transvesite matriarch Bob (Chris Tanner) and little brother Tommy (Flip Jorgensen).
To the Kevin’s mounting disbelief, Alex explains how he was biologically conceived without a uterus, the codes of gay sex and dating his parents taught and a variety of other distinctly lusty and non-P.C. codes of behavior for a young gay man. As Alex’s tales unfold, there’s a comic bathhouse pick-up scenario, a birth-as–Exorcist-parody sequence and a gleefully taboo-trashing Christmas sequence.
The Gays doesn’t lack daring in the slightest: writer/director T.S. Slaughter takes his stylistic cues from John Waters as he eggs his cast on to delivering camp performances in outrageous sequences laced with reams of outré dialogue. Some of it is truly inspired, particularly the moment where Alex’s parents explain to him the biological process through which two gay men can conceive a child. The cast dives in with total enthusiasm, with Tanner in particular delivering a bombastic performance worthy of a Waters film.
However, The Gays has trouble sustaining the outrageousness it works hard to conjure up. For starters, the script is more a series of loosely connected skits rather than a proper narrative and those skits don’t always hit the mark: the framing device fizzles out without a payoff and a scene involving Bob getting advice from a fellow transvestite wife on how to handle an inattentive husband goes nowhere after a lengthy setup. There’s also a tendency to repeat gags — a gag where the family sings a filthy, gay sex-themed version of a well-known song goes on too long both times it appears — and there is also a randomness to how the gags are structured.
Slaughter’s directorial approach doesn’t really use the visual tools of cinema to sell the gags, instead leaning heavily on the cast’s efforts: even when there is an attempt at stylization, like in the Exorcist-sendup scene, the mise-en-scene is a little too raw to make the gags connect. Similarly, he has tonal issues, with the film hitting a single high note of outrageousness and maintaining in throughout rather than finding peaks and valleys to give the audience some variation. On a positive note, Jeanne Dielman’s editing goes a long ways towards adding a little kinetic zip to the proceedings, using a variety of wipes and other transitions to jazz things up.
Criticisms aside, The Gays is likely to find favor with the more daring members of the LGBT audience and any cult cinema fan who can appreciate its go-for-broke sense of audacity. Even when it fails to connect, The Gays is admirable for its desire to shake things up for the gay indie cinema world.
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