"When a guy starts coming down on me, I just get rid of him...
can't be tied down with rules on how to live my life."
If you ever wondered what a gay Woody Woodpecker might look like in real life (actually, make that gayer Woody Woodpecker), meet Drake--an instigating troublemaker of the highest degree. His presence quickly rattles the close-knit bond shared among five friends in director Richard LeMay's Whirlwind, a low-budget indie that tries to channel The Broken Hearts Club and Sex and the City.
The film starts with the five thirtysomething New Yorkers talking about sex and life over dinner: Desmond (Brad Anderson) is the handsome player, a love 'em and leave 'em heartbreaker; J.D. (Desmond Dutcher) is unhappy with his job and appearance; Mick (Mark Ford) is a successful chef still mourning the death of his lover; and Bobby (Alexis Suarez) can't wait to buy an apartment and live with his equally sexy boyfriend Sean (Bryan West). The friends are soon spending more time together when they decide to plan an anniversary party for Bobby's uncle, the man responsible for bringing them all together.
But almost immediately, we see cracks in the surface: Mick gets increasingly irritated at his friends' suggestions to start dating again; Des seems to be getting tired of his own hookup routine, especially when he encounters drama-free Louis (Michael Paternostro); J.D. gets more and more insecure; and Sean is clearly not ready to take the serious commitment leap with Bobby. Into this tinderbox walks Drake (David A. Rudd), who meets the gang at a party. Almost from the get go ("This'll be fun!" he says after the gang invites him to dinner), we know he's up to no good.
The mysterious, handsome stranger takes every chance he gets to ask questions and gather information--and to flatter his new friends. He's a sly one, the little devil on everyone's shoulder who quietly uses their trust (and his good looks) to stir up emotions and pit friend against friend. It starts with a one-night stand with Des, who shares a little too much information that eventually leads to a conflict with Mick. Meanwhile, J.D. becomes jealous of Drake's attention and tries to work his way in, while the already tenuous relationship between Sean and Bobby is attacked from both sides ("Can I be honest for a sec?" Drake tells Sean. "You don't seem like the type to settle down.").
The problem is that Drake is far too jaded and evil for the film's own good. He's drawn with such a broad stroke, it becomes almost impossible to buy into everyone's infatuation with him--and to take the story seriously ("Like I said...relationships aren't meant to last..."). Two developments in particular--smart and skeptical Bobby's sudden blindness to Drake's manipulation and J.D.'s rushed reaction to one of Drake's suggestions--also hurt the film's believability.
And just when you think we're going to get a deeper look into Drake's persona, just when the film hints at a complex nature that may help us understand him, it backs away from a potentially complex path that would have strengthened the film. Whirlwind takes the easy way out, refusing to present its villain as anything but a convenient device to move the story forward. Drake's "excuse" is not explored, the roles of his friends in the film are underused and he eventually becomes unimportant to the story, leaving us dissatisfied.
You'll also have some difficulty buying into the core group's connection, especially when they all fall for Drake's obvious tricks; they don't always feel like truly close friends. Des doesn't always listen, J.D.'s feelings are sometimes ignored and Mick is frequently childish, overreacting in a few situations. On the technical side, LeMay keeps the camera a little too close for comfort in many shots; it's almost like the image was improperly cropped at times.
But the film still has a heart, and I fell for some of its charm. This is one of the stronger gay-focused indies that I've seen, and comes close to pulling things off--it takes itself a little more seriously than many similar efforts, and makes you genuinely care about its characters. The arcs involving Des and Sean/Bobby are the strongest, and the acting (for the most part) is solid enough. (And there are plenty of gorgeous bodies on display, which is equally frustrating and enjoyable...take your pick!)
As the film frequently reminds us, things change. But do people? According to Whirlwind, the answer isn't always so easy. No one here is at peace, and the film intends to force the characters (and us) to define their own version of happiness. What do we really want in life? What's important to us? Despite the film's flaws (are gay men really this dramatic all the time?), it still manages to make you think, and is more relatable than a lot of its genre peers. While Whirlwind and its characters aren't as honest with themselves and the audience as they could be, how many of us can say we are?
The disc provided for this review was a screener, so I'll reserve final judgment on the non-anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer; the presentation here got the job done, although was a tad dark and not sharp.
Ditto the 2.0 surround track; nothing will blow you away, but the dialogue was always clear.
The screener disc had no menu, much less any extras. The final retail version apparently has a table reading scene from the auditions, a commentary, a slide show and a trailer.
Aiming for a cross between The Broken Hearts Club and Sex and the City, Whirlwind explores how the already troubled lives of five friends are exacerbated by the entrance of a mysterious troublemaker. The problem is that the instigator is too evil for the film's own good, an exaggerated idea and not a believable character. That spoils what could have been a more thought-provoking work. Despite a few other flaws, Whirlwind still has its heart in the right placed and comes a lot closer to reality (well, if you overlook all the gorgeous bods) than a lot of the other indie gay-focused offerings. You'll still care about these characters, and that's a lot more than I can say about many of its genre peers. Rent It.