Saturday, August 19, 2006
Poster Boy was one of those films where I was expecting just pleasant fluff and got more than I expected. The set-up: conservative senator from the south wants to involve his college-age son in his re-election campaign to bolster his "family values" image, but doesn't know that his son is gay. This theme could have gone in a lot of directions, from farce (like Birds of a Feather) to unsubtle politico-dramedy (echoes of Fahrenheit 911), but they took it in a more interesting direction: what would life really be like for the characters in such a story. We got characters who went deeper than cardboard stereotypes, and with some interesting shades of gray instead of simple "white hats" and "black hats". Not that there weren't a few elements that verged on cliché, such as the hypocritical repressed student Republican and the overly idealistic student activists. To its credit, the film did not give an imbalance of sympathy to either side, but instead made both of them imperfectly sympathetic (and thus more real). And ultimately, it wasn't about either side. The film kept its integrity to its interesting characters, and successfully avoided the temptation to depict shallow characters in service of political points. Given its character focus, the film benefited from outstanding performances from Matt Newton (as Henry, the gay son who's not exactly a good poster boy for any ideal), Jack Noseworthy (as Anthony, the activist who becomes unwittingly involved with Henry for non-activist motivations), Valerie Geffner (as Izzie, Anthony's HIV-positive depressive roommate), Michael Lerner (as the senator) and Karen Allen (as the senator's beleaguered wife). I had read other reviews that complained about a complicated and confusing plot, an unnecessary side plot, and the distracting framing device of the interview/flashback. I didn't find it confusing or distracting at all, and found the "side plot" of Izzie rather engaging, like a more serious version of Will and Grace, with shades of Rent thrown in. Real life is a bit messy, and I quite enjoyed seeing characters develop in not-so-predictable ways without trying to serve any larger message.