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Surf, Gay Romance, and Family, All Seeking SHELTER
Sep 14, 2009 (Updated Dec 14, 2010)
by Mark Vaughan
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Great script, great actors, great production value.
The Bottom Line: Incredibly sensitive gay romance, and coming out and coming of age story, all set in the world of surfer dudes.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Shelter (2007) Written and Directed by Johan Markowitz
Shaun: You're so beautiful.
Zach: [laughs] Shut up.
Shaun: Hey, learn to take a compliment.
Zach (Trevor Wright) is a kid living on the wrong side of the bridge in San Pedro. He is an aspiring artist, a surfer, and the number one baby sitter for his nephew Cody (Jackson Wurth). Zach's family consists of his disabled father, who counts as furniture, Cody, and Cody's mom, Jeanne (Tina Holmes). Jeanne has the full manipulation mode down pat. Zach has the ‘family' gene and she works it.
Zach works at a hamburger joint. But his real passion is art. He does a lot of "tagging", painting murals or stencils on any blank wall. His relationship with his girlfriend Tori (Katie Walder) is such that people start conversations by asking Zach if it is on again, or off again. His best friend Gabe (Ross Thomas) is from the other side of the bridge. He is off at college. Zach wanted to go to Cal Art, but his family responsibilities kept him home.
But when he heads out for some surfing at Gabe's house, he is startled by Shaun (Brad Rowe), Gabe's older brother. He is in town for a few weeks following a bad breakup, until his new apartment opens up.
They hang out, have a good time, days pass, and then one night, Shaun kisses Zach. And Zach lets him. But then he bolts. Things are really strained for a day or two. But then Zach shows up at the Andrews mansion, and jumps Shaun. What follows is one of the better depictions of the urgency of passion. But rest easy; there is no graphic sexual activity; in fact, there is no nudity in this film. The next morning, Zach bolts, but behind the wheel of his car, he breaks into a grin.
Their romance bubbles; it swells, and it gets popped. Zach is eager, but scared of being caught so the passion blooms, then fizzles as Zach suddenly pulls away. Shaun is very patient.
But they do not exist in a vacuum, and Zach is confronted by his sister with that classic line everyone loves so well, "You're not a f*g, are you?" Zach is caught in a crunch; Shaun is very demonstrative, he wants to keep it a secret, and his sister is simultaneously is trying to pressure Zach to watch Cody more, and threatening to take him away if he "gets too gay." Where do you draw the line; where does your family responsibility end, where do you go for what you want, to fulfill your dreams?
This is a wonderful gay romance, partly because it is very much a romance; it is about emotional connection. It really breaks the mold of the sort of ‘made by gays for gays' movie by doing away with the gratuitous nudity. Further, the dynamics of the family are as important as the relationship between the two men.
Coming out is hard. And if you are just discovering your sexuality, it is doubly confusing. It is a hard time, full of conflicting emotions, so much so that there is sort of a psychic paralysis. Trevor Wright is a genius, portraying the wide range of very subtle emotions. To the uninitiated, it might seem subdued. If you have lived through it, you can see the depths of the currents.
There is often an amateurish feel to many gay movies. It is absent here. This one is exceedingly well done. The cinematography is so tight, the dynamics really capture the California life style, the compare and contrast between the two families' lifestyles is flawless, really captured on the phone, when Zach is backed by his very urban art, black, white and red with an industrial feel, and Shaun is backed by palms blowing outside. The Andrews both say, Grab what you want. But Zach is very constrained by his perceived family obligations.
But as with any coming of age, coming out movie, Zach has to grow up, and he does. It is a hard job to reevaluate your entire life and decide what is important to you, but he does, and I like who he becomes, and how the movie ends.
With any drama, the actors are everything, and there are a group of stellar performances. I don't even want to discuss Zach and Shaun, but to focus on the support. Tina Holmes as sister Jeanne. There is a flawless vulnerability to Jeanne. She is a woman of a certain class (a hint of the trailer park) of a certain age (when the looks are starting to slip and desperation sets in). Her performance as the loving by manipulative sister is great. It would be easy to make her a monster (ala Mommy Dearest) but she is far more subtle, and not irredeemable. You like her. Sort of.
Ross Thomas as best friend/brother Gabe. Gabe has the casual awfulness of the siblings of gays. He is alright with it, truly, in his heart, which means that it is fair game for the torture and needling of your siblings and friends. Poor Zach is not ready to have that leveled on him; it is salt in the wounds, and Gabe is happy to add a squeeze of fresh lemon. He is also incredibly personable.
And Katie Walder as the girlfriend Tori. In the typical fashion of intelligent women, she knew before Zach did. She is a subtle actress, and has really great emotional range with just glance and stance. The scenes where they don't kiss; when she wants to make out, and Zach wants to watch the movie, and when he wants to reassure his manhood as she is going into work, and she is having none of it...brilliant.
But the best thing I like about this movie is it has a happy ending; historically, if a gay was in a film or novel, it only worked if he was comedic, or if it ended in tears. This movie helps break that stereotype.
It won eleven awards, pretty much a clean sweep of the GLBT movie awards...eleven nominations, eleven wins. It is intelligent, touching, and sweet. I give it my highest recommendation.
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Torchwood: Season One
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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