"Many of us have had passionate friendships that went unconsummated.
I really wanted to explore that kind of relationship
without pandering to the audience."
- Dave Snyder
Why are marketing efforts toward gay audiences sometimes so creepy? Welcome to Boys Briefs 5: Schoolboys, a collection of shorts from 2007 that--despite the wink wink! nature of its name--actually has a few deep and meaningful moments. But the title is only the tip of the icky iceberg: We also get a box cover with three actors transformed into super twinks dressed in highly unnecessary school uniforms (think Britney circa "(Hit Me)...Baby One More Time"), an image completely unrelated to any of the films.
There's also an unnecessary host: "charming 19-year-old" (why is his age important?!) Oscar Peralta introduces each effort (look! He's in a gym before we watch Benny's Gym! How cute!). It's harmless for the most part, but the sometimes-suggestive copy he reads off cue cards is bound to make you a tad uncomfortable at times: "If you'd like to learn more about this film or meet the director, just click on the special features section. Who knows? He might even take his shirt off for you!" (Just who is this package aimed at, anyway?!)
Most of the shorts revolve around the budding sexual attractions of young gay men, with similar structures leading to hopeful or heartbreaking conclusions. Here's a look at the films:
Kali Ma (United States, 14 minutes, directed by Soman Chainani; in English and Indian)
When a large, food-loving Indian mom (Kamini Khanna) discovers that her son Santosh (Manish Dayal) is still being bullied by school heartthrob Peter (Brendan Bradley), she heads to his house for a confrontation. The worst entry of the bunch, this fails in its attempt to blend comedy and violence--it's not funny, and any attempt at serious commentary on familial bonds is quickly discarded in favor of cartoonish antics. The "fight" is too mean spirited to be silly, but too silly to be believable (it actually makes you feel bad for the bully), and the ending is out of place. The film stops making sense regardless of how you view its tone. Khanna's performance doesn't mesh with her co-stars; it's almost like she's acting in a different story. My guess is that the script didn't help.
Flatmates (Norway, 21 minutes, directed by Magnus Mork; in Norwegian)
It's immediately obvious that the relationship between Bjorn (Sven Borang) and Hampus (Jonas Eskilsson) is unique: The two friends are moving into an apartment together, and have a comfort level with each other that speaks to their closeness. That makes it increasingly hard for gay Bjorn to keep his crush under control, especially when straight Hampus has his girlfriend (Emilie Lidgard) over. This is a simple story with natural performances and unforced developments, leading to a powerful, relatable finish that isn't forced or phony.
Secrets (United States, 15 minutes, directed by Jeff Warden; in English)
Five friends--two girls and three guys--spent a parent-free night partying with booze, lollipops and a deck of cards that decides which duo gets some alone time. This is the most colorful, flashy entry here, and it sometimes feels like a music video. But the performances feel genuine and real, which might scare a lot of viewers (some of the "games" the kids play behind closed doors get a little out of hand). Danielle (Lindsay Gareth) is the troublemaker--she has a crush on Mike (Bryan Endress-Fox, now Ber Fox), but when she gets the sense he has the hots for Tony (Casey Graf), the night takes an unexpected turn. While the scary sexual games may make some of the characters less believable and relatable, I was still caught up in the drama. And the climax is played with such heartfelt honesty by two of the leads (Fox makes you feel his ache), you can't help but fall for it.
yeah no definitely (2007, United States, 14 minutes, directed by Dave Snyder; in English)
"It's a statement of pure equivocation," says director Dave Snyder in the bonus features. "Most of us speak like stammering teenagers, unafraid to say what we really feel." My favorite of the six films here, this entry follows buddies Cam (Vincent Piazza) and Kiff (Alan Barnes Netherton) as they hit the road for a house party. Snyder notes that he let the two leads improvise, and the interplay between them goes a long way in selling the material. The two leads are outstanding--they look and act like close friends, giving weight to the story. As the two settle into the night, we learn more about Cam's past--and get a window into his feelings. Little touches go a long way--the insulin injection scene is so simple yet so beautiful, a simple glance going a long way in conveying closeness. While the ending may not please a lot of viewers, it's refreshing that it doesn't play to our expectations. The film leaves you thinking, and--along with Flatmates--is the most realistic story in the collection.
You, Me and Him (Brazil, 18 minutes, directed by Daniel Riberio; in Portuguese)
Another great effort starts with lovers Danilio (Daniel Tavares) and Marcos (Diego Torraca) smiling in bed as they discuss their upcoming anniversary. Danilio plans to finally move out of his parents' home and into an apartment with his lover, with a "honeymoon" soon to follow. But when Danilio's parents are killed in an accident, he's suddenly forced into a new role with 10-year-old brother Lucas (Eduardo Melo). A touching story about love and responsibility, this story has the most potential as a feature-length film. The script is surprisingly mature and complex for such a short running time, and all three actors turn in great performances--the scene between Lucas and Marcos is one of the most moving in the entire collection.
Benny's Gym (Norway, 25 minutes, directed by Marie Gamlem; in Norwegian)
The last entry feels a little out of place with the rest, primarily because the two leads are a lot younger. Mild-mannered artist Alfred (Atdhe Belegu) is the frequent target of school bullies, including Benny (Kim Erik Tena Eriksen). But away from the crowds, the two develop a surprising friendship--one that Benny wants to keep secret, much to the dismay of emotional Alfred. If you can free your mind of the sexual overtones of the other five films here and look at this as a tale of friendship, your potential discomfort will go away (the film makes it hard though, especially with the odd scene of the two boys dancing with much older women; it just feels awkward). A few of the developments are hard to take, and the story becomes more about co-dependency and violence. There are a few layers at work, and I didn't buy into the few "feel good" touches--I was left with a sour feeling in my stomach. Nonetheless, this is still a memorable watch, but in that gut-punch sort of way.
Each film is presented in anamorphic widescreen to varying degrees of quality, none of which is very high--although I image a lot of the problems come from the source material. Flatmates is dark and full of grain, Secrets suffers from color imbalance, yeah no definitely is dark and Benny's Gym has some film specks. You, Me and Him has the strongest video of them all. Nothing is unwatchable, but nothing really impresses.
Each film is presented in its original language with optional English and Spanish subtitles (as well as English for the hearing impaired). The tracks come in 5.1 and 2.0 options, and neither is strong. Kali Ma is full of white noise (which yeah no definitely also suffers from) and sometimes low dialogue, while the lines in Secrets are sometimes hard to understand--there's some loud background noise and an odd pitch problem with some of the dialogue. This quality issue is more distracting than the average video quality.
Interviews (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) with four of the directors provide a few insights: Jeff Warden (3:48) talks about the driving force behind Secrets, but we don't get much beyond the obvious "accepting yourself" stuff; it's more interesting hearing him talk about the performances of his leads, and how one actor perfectly combined intimidation and seduction (which I agree with); Warden also notes how the short was filmed in a "porn house"! Dave Snyder (4:37) is the most enjoyable listen, and shares some interesting thoughts on yeah no definitely--this is a must-watch for those who liked the film (and yes, Oscar, he does take off his shirt for us...); Daniel Riberio (4:40) talks about casting and how he developed a believable intimacy between his two leads, and says that he didn't want You, Me and Him to be about sexuality: "It's about dealing with loss, hard decisions, relationships and responsibility." Finally, Soman Chainani (7:41) is joined by the three actors in Kali Ma, although none of their observations change my belief that the film is a giant misfire.
Trailers for other releases round out the package.
If you can overlook the inappropriate packaging and boy-toy host (this isn't porn, people!), some insightful short stories dealing with the heartache of love, responsibility and friendship await you. A lot of what you'll find is relatable to viewers of any sexual orientation, with universal truths speaking to everyone's emotional side. Four strong shorts are worth your time. They are joined by two that use violence to varying results: One meaningful effort provides an uncomfortable gut punch, while the other is a mess that can't pull off its cartoonish comedy. If the video and audio were stronger all around, I'd pause before saying Rent It.