The college year has come to an end, and student Tyler (Derek Baynham) has invited best friend Chase (writer Charlie David) to his family's cozy home in the woods for the summer. The two spend their time working (and acting like 12-year-olds) at a golf course, where they also get in some tee time. The sport is meant to parallel the story--a mulligan, as the opening text tells us novices, happens when a player gets a second chance to perform a certain move or action.
Eagerly awaiting the friends' arrival are Tyler's mom Stacey (Thea Gill), recovering workaholic dad Nathan (Dan Payne) and inquisitive little sis Birdy (Grace Vukovic). Chase doesn't get along with his own mother, and his dad died a long time ago--so he's happy to have a temporary family to pass the time (which adds a creepy element to an upcoming twist, one that's never addressed).
It's clear to viewers (well, those with eyes) that Chase is gay--he's an artist, he carefully chooses his words ("Our interests are too similar," he says of a potential female date), he spurns the attention of young women, he doesn't mind male eye candy and he wears shirts that say things like "Versatile" and "Shoot for Distance". So it's shocking to discover that Tyler has no clue about Chase's sexuality (and we're supposed to believe that these guys are best friends?!), leading to an awkward coming-out scene.
You'll even start to question Tyler's preference--he walks around in t-shirts that only gay men would wear ("Rough Jock"? "Morningwood Basketball"?! Why the filmmakers-- including first-time director Chip Hale--chose to undermine their credibility with the intended gay audience is beyond me). But when I noticed that one of the executive producers was Joshua Harrell (his first and only filmmaking credit), the wardrobe choices made a little more sense. Harrell founded Otter Fashion, a line that caters to gay men and has a few of its shirts on display here--including two different colors of the same style (I have the yellow version!). There's also plenty of Andrew Christian and Pistol Pete (other wardrobe contributors) in my closet. But I digress...
Meanwhile, Tyler is equally clueless about his parents' problems. The two bicker in front of everyone and don't have sex--so unless you're really clueless, you realize that Nathan is also gay (not only does Nathan walk like a duck--he wears designer jeans with back-pocket flaps!--but the fact is divulged on the DVD box). Into this storm walks Chase, who Nathan quickly confides in (far too quickly to be believable). The tinderbox explodes when the rest of the family goes to visit grandma, leaving Chase and Nathan alone for the weekend. You'll see the development coming a mile away, but that still didn't stop me from yelling: "Oh God, please don't kiss!"
They do, and what follows is an odd sequence that's far too safe and sterile to have any impact. Instead of unbridled passion or conflicted emotions, we get a ho-hum love scene that's played in the middle--a neutered affair that looks like it was edited for network television. You just don't feel anything, which is what the film needs from an audience desperately looking to excuse such audacity.
If you're going to deal with such serious issues, you have to treat them--and your characters--with respect. Mulligans doesn't--it relies on an attractive cast (and the gay man/straight bud dynamic, a trendy fantasy in recent gay cinema), coasting by with a cavalier attitude toward such intense subjects. The misstep here isn't the preposterous inciting incident--it's in how the film handles it afterward, with careless characters and important conversations that are glossed over. How are we expected to care about such selfish people?
As the film's situations becoming increasingly heavy, David tries to lighten the screenplay's mood--thus lowering your expectations. We notice that Stacey has a wandering eye when she stares at Birdie's hot swim instructor (he's wearing Ginch Gonch underwear...will she never learn?!), so we aren't supposed to feel as bad for her. And when mom thinks Birdie might be a lesbian (after showing an attachment to a female tennis instructor), the floodgates open on the "gay conversation", softening the blow for what's to follow.
We also get this "cute" exchange at the grocery store, shortly after Chase comes out to Tyler--and Birdie becomes a vegetarian:
Tyler: "Man, no more meat for Birdie? She's so weird sometimes."
Yes, veggie burgers are being compared to penises (wouldn't veggie dogs have been funnier?). The tone is frequently too cute for the film's own good, and doesn't mesh with its more mature themes. And you might just give up when the secrets are finally out in the open after an absurd scene, one that almost had me shutting off my television (in full view of your daughter? Seriously?!).
Another development between Stacey and Nathan soon follows, making Stacey even more thankless and further testing your capacity to forgive. Like the movie, Payne doesn't make it easy--he is acted under the table during a crucial fight scene with Gill, whose emotional display is a stark contrast to her co-star's distant, almost nonchalant demeanor (give us something to hold on to, Nathan!).
Mulligans just can't keep its focus: As the film progresses, the attention shifts to different people. But in an effort to give equal time to different characters, everyone gets lost. Just when you think this is Chase's film, he practically disappears, retreating like a passive (excuse my language) pussy who can't own up to his actions (and David can't really handle his one brief emotional scene). And just when you think this is Nathan's story, he clams up and runs away, too.
The final act mostly belongs to Tyler, whose struggle to accept shocking developments is the most interesting arc. Baynham handles the material better than anyone; he grows into the role and does his best, providing a few laughs (love his scenes with girlfriend Bre) and some thought-provoking moments. Some of the moments between him and David--where the two are just acting like good friends--are the strongest of the film; if only Mulligans utilized more of that energy. (Vukovic is also a nice distraction as Birdie, the lone burst of sunshine.) But Baynham ultimately isn't given quite enough to do, leaving us unfulfilled. It feels like four huge monologues from the principal players are missing.
One of the biggest problems is the casting of Payne as dad--he isn't old enough to pull it off, despite the script's attempts to justify it: "You have to remember, I'm the product of a teen pregnancy," notes Tyler. "My parents had me when they were still in school." Apparently Payne's towering 6-foot-4 stature is supposed to make us believers, but the father/son relationship between him and Baynham is almost laughably absurd--I didn't buy their bond for a second. Other relationships here are just as troubling--Chase and Tyler, Stacey and Nathan...nothing feels authentic, just convenient.
Nathan comes across more like a slightly older friend (Payne's birth date is conveniently missing from IMDB!), but who cares since he's tall, handsome and built, the primary requirements for gay audience acceptance? The costume designers try to fool you by draping Payne in baggy shirts meant to conceal his chest, the male equivalent of ugly duckling glasses and bun hairdos--techniques Hollywood has frequently employed to "disguise" gorgeous women.
I can't fault a movie for having people that make decisions I loathe, but I can dislike it for using unrealistic developments and characterizations. Mulligans takes on more than in can handle, digging itself a deep hole that it doesn't have the sincerity to escape from. While the ending (thankfully) doesn't travel down the path I feared, it leaves a bitter taste. The characters come to terms with things a little too easily and quickly, responsibility is shirked and Chase practically disappears from the film's radar--he's never given a moment to pour out his heart and win us back.
It's not that I need a happy ending; I just need one that works with the film's intent. You have to work really hard to like Mulligans--it asks a lot and requires multiple leaps of faith. Perhaps I'm being too critical; I wanted to like it a lot more, and became invested enough in the characters to get frustrated with the film's missteps. I was even willing to overlook my anger at some serious character flaws if the film was able to make me feel the chemistry that shakes up the story. But ultimately--like both Chase and Nathan--Mulligans wimps out. Unlike its ever-present golf course, it just doesn't have the balls to pull things off.