A cute gimmick and a good message keep things noteworthy, but a shallow treatment of them undermines crucial wit and spark in this hit-or-miss indie.
Radiating affection for teen movies, director Darren Stein (“Jawbreaker,” alas), working from a script by newcomer George Northy, delivers “Mean Girls”- and John Hughes-style growing-pains themes, along with 1980s visual styles, and folds these elements into a contemporary story.
The setting is a suburbia where denizens have progressed but aren’t as enlightened as they think. Protagonist Tanner (Michael J. Willett) is a closeted teen hoping to stay invisible in this terrain.
The action takes off when Tanner, outed at his high school by a technology mishap, becomes the social quarry of queen bees Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse), Caprice (Xosha Roquemore) and ’Shley (Andrea Bowen). Each girl seeks Tanner for a gay best friend, a hot new form of arm candy.
Initially, Tanner enjoys the GBF experience, which includes a fashionable makeover. But as the girls continue to regard him in accordance with what they expect him to be, based on images from TV, and discount who he truly is, he longs to return to his real friends. These include best pal Brent (Paul Iacono), who resents Tanner’s new popularity.
A Christian girl’s anti-gay crusade, among other obstacles, adds to the complications as the characters head toward the proverbial prom night.
With its gay protagonist, message of acceptance and overall gentleness, the film scores novelty and likability points, and it’s not a bad movie to take the kids to (the much-publicized R rating laid on this nudity-free, almost zero-profanity movie is indeed wrongheaded).
It also contains amusing bits, including a gay-straight alliance that contains no gay members, and worthy themes, such as how the media, perceiving itself as progressive, continues to present gays stereotypically.
But the shortcomings are as numerous as the merits in the movie, which fails to deliver the bite of “Heathers,” the style of “Carrie” or the warmth of “Sixteen Candles,” as teen flicks go.
It simply isn’t convincing or sharp enough to succeed as the be-yourself sparkler or the wicked teen farce it needs to be.
A major problem is that the characters are too bland and hollow. Fawcett is a fashionista and Caprice a drama diva, but little more. The purportedly meaningful Tanner-Brent friendship is treated so superficially that viewers cannot sense what is at stake when it crumbles.
While nobody expects a light comedy to probe deeply into its teen protagonist’s sense of self, the filmmakers blow an opportunity to explore what it is truly like to be a gay teenager in today’s changing but still homophobic world. A scene of bullying jocks doesn’t cut it.
The cast is adequate to inspired. Megan Mullally, deserving special mention, is hilarious as Brent’s ultra-gay-friendly mom.
Starring Michael J. Willett, Paul Iacono, Sasha Pieterse, Andrea Bowen
Written by George Northy
Directed by Darren Stein
Running time 1 hour, 32 minutes