There were certain moments in "Coffee Date" that struck me as unnecessarily melodramatic, like "very special episode" of "Melrose Place" when homosexuality was just getting its feet wet in mainstream media presentation. However, there's a truckload of charm to be devoured in this modest indie film. It just takes a little patience to find it.
Taking his first dip into the internet dating pool, straight Todd (Jonathan Bray) is paired with gay Kelly (Wilson Cruz, "My So-Called Life"). At first freaked out, the couple find they have plenty in common, leaving Todd with a friend where he least expected it. Word soon gets out that Todd is gay, stunning family (Sally Kirkland and Jonathan Silverman) and office co-workers (Jason Stuart and an unnervingly sexualized Deborah Gibson). Trouble is, Todd insists he's straight, leading him on a path of self-discovery as he hopes to solve his sexual identity crisis.
Writer/director Stewart Wade is actually updating his 2001 short film with "Coffee Date," and you can feel the filmmaker fighting to fill 90 minutes with this fluffy farce. "Date" is a cute premise, but a thin one, depending heavily on the actors to forcefully push through some pedestrian staging of sexual persecution and the zany tone of gay panic that Wade keeps flirting with, yet never seems comfortable enough to rabidly pursue.
The two actors employed to help sell this comedy are thankfully up for the challenge. As the hopelessly in doubt Todd, Jonathan Bray captures those frantic impulses of regret well, fighting to make the character as real as can be expected, whispering Wade's more broad ideas to keep the flamboyance down to a dull roar. It's a repetitive character, with Todd's circular thinking coming off as padding rather than gut-felt desire and remorse, and I credit Wade in his ability to keep Todd far from the straight-man-ick cliché.
The real gem of the film is Wilson Cruz and his capacity to make anything written feel straight from the heart. Kelly is the soul of "Coffee Date;" the character sucked into Todd's detonation of esteem, getting his heart riddled with shrapnel in the lengthy process of self-actualization. It's a tremendous performance from Cruz, and the film would be a lump of coal without his gentle emotional reverberation and skill with a swish.
As Wade leaps between comedy and melodrama, it's difficult to pinpoint where the film is better off. The chemistry between Cruz and Bray is so strong, "Date" is more assured when it plays with a meet cute and other romantic comedy conventions. Yet, the last act of the film, when Todd stumbles over uneasy realities, features the finest work from the two actors. Bray tends to play one speed at a time, which is jarring, but grows more and more convincing as the plot spreads out.
Shot on a shoestring budget and in a short matter of time, "Coffee Date" didn't have luxurious visual elements to begin with, so the lackluster anamorphic presentation (1.78:1 aspect ratio) is unfortunately expected. What's so dispiriting about the DVD is the slight horizontal stretch of the image, which lends the whole film a faint funhouse look.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix keeps dialogue and music separated nicely. The actual sound recording of the film doesn't always offer the most crystalline presentation of performance, but the DVD doesn't leave the listener in the dark. It works uphill, but gets the job done.
"The Brewing of 'Coffee Date'" (21 minutes) looks behind-the-scenes at the making of this indie creation. Starting with an overview of the original short film and the troubles of adaptation, the documentary soon takes to the set, watching the actors rehearse and goof around while director Wade keeps the whole enterprise on task. Interviews with cast and crew are spread throughout the running time.
"Deleted Scenes" (13 minutes) offers a multitude of trims from "Coffee Date," with most concerning Sally Kirkland's mother character.
"Gag Reel" (2 minutes) isn't as funny as it should be. A lukewarm highlight reel of mistakes and time-killing, there are more entertaining peeks at set monkey business in the "Brewing" documentary.
Finally, trailers for "Rock Haven," "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros," and "Boy Culture" are presented.
Supporting work from Elaine Hendrix as Kelly's spicy roommate fires an unexpected spark into the proceedings, and the extremely low-tech vibe of the piece adds intimacy to Todd's exasperation, even when Wade has difficulty with production limitations. "Coffee Shop" is a film of small objectives, yet still achieves a fully-realized emotional state that's genuine, even in the midst of broad comedy.
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