"You don't sound like the ones on Bravo," says the blondest, hottest girl in the school, Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse), to the guy she is tying to woo, Tanner (Michael J. Willett). Tanner is freshly out of the closet and the coveted accessory of his school's three most popular girls, to whom he compares "warlords in a Third World country." Tanner is the titular G.B.F. – gay best friend — of Jawbreaker director Darren Stein's latest movie of high-school clique absurdity. Tanner is one of the most specific gay teens I've ever seen portrayed on screen.
Tanner can't be reduced to "masc" or "fem," and resides in the middle. That's a stock label for describing how a gay dude is and what he likes, too, but it's fertile territory for character-building. Tanner is not into musicals or performing. He has no opinion on the popular girls' outfits. He says he doesn't like "heinous pop dance crap" (but he does have fun dancing to it). He doesn't do bitchy. He's not a jock. He's into stereotypically dudeish stuff like comic books, but he is unmistakably gay – his coming out to his dad and stepmom (played by Jonathan Silverman and Rebecca Gayheart) proves to be a nonevent. The biggest rise he gets is when he overexplains that he could be bisexual. (They laugh at him.) He is pretty, wispy, unable to defend himself physically, at times whiny and rarely admirable. He acts selfishly and allows his identity to be shaped by peers who are more comfortable in their own skin (or project the bravado suggesting as much).
Tanner's presence in the highly unnatural world of G.B.F. only enhances his depth. Stein and screenwriter George Northy are virtually obsessed with representation here (there are a few spoken acknowledgements of movie tropes G.B.F. adopts or avoids), and consequentially, almost all of the non-gay characters are one-dimensional – and then that's mocked as well (Xosha Roquemore's Caprice, one of the popular girls, rolls her eyes when someone pigeonholes her as a "sassy black friend"). Tanner's more flamboyant gay friend Brent (Paul Iacono) remains closeted after Tanner is outed by some G.B.F.-hunting girls who track him down to the exact location via a Grindr-like app (that's not how Grindr works, by the way). Brent's longing and jealousy results from matters that aren't exactly either his or his friend's fault, but that also could be corrected if being young and gay weren't so damn difficult. Brent ends up doing shitty stuff, too – unforgivable, gay-betraying shit if he were being held to the standard of people just a few years older. G.B.F.'s willingness to show gay people as imperfect is at least as humanizing as its overt disdain for the cultural hand-bagging of gay dudes.
G.B.F. gets so much right and is so smart that its shortcomings generally reveal themselves on a joke-by-joke basis. "High-speed DSLs" to describe a guy's pretty, full mouth is funny; "This is an A and gay conversation so kindly C your next Tuesday out of it," is clunky. Sometimes G.B.F. seems to be trying too hard within its lingo, but it's clear that his movie exists to try hard. It is a bright and cheery teen comedy that nonetheless wants to explore the delicate area of prejudiced acceptance, when well-meaning, non-hateful people uphold a power dynamic that is antithetical to true friendship.
The most sophisticated thing about this movie's sense of humor is its open laughter at overt homophobia via the Katy Perry-esque Mormon 'Shley (Andrea Bowen), her bi-curious boyfriend and her equally religious friend who feels betrayed when 'Shley decides that Tanner is cool even though he's gay. A culture war erupts, Tanner isn't allowed to bring a guy to prom ("It's just so outrageous. What is this, 2008?") and the hateful shit that people say is too ridiculous to hurt ("PROM IS SHORT FOR PROMENADE NOT PROMEN-AIDS," says one protest sign).
As Brent's mom, Megan Mullally steals every scene she's in, especially the one in which she and Brent watch Brokeback Mountain together and she narrates the tent-sex scene – she’s clearly improvising and spot-on ("I guess necessity is the mother of invention," is her response to the spit lube). That movie is one of several queer-themed films she presents Brent with the option of viewing and most of them are tragedies — Milk, Boys Don't Cry, Brokeback, Shortbus. G.B.F. is the rare gay film that is not. Nothing here is sacred except for equality. It's a story that's very gay and very human.
G.B.F. is screening as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.