Frameline Reviews: In the Name of & GBF
In the Name of
Polish star Andrzej Chyra plays priest Adam, unusually hip and good-looking for a man of god, in Malgorzata Szumowska’s pensive character study, In the Name of. The film explores a loaded (if somewhat dated) issue—homosexuality and pedophilia in the Catholic Church—that would be a veritable minefield for most directors, but is handled gracefully by Szumowska.
Father Adam is great at his job—mentoring and supervising a group of delinquent boys to keep them out of deeper trouble. The problem is, he’s in deep trouble himself as he’s unable to shake his sinful, sexual gravitation toward one of the boys, a near mute wild child (think Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, but even dirtier and more violent.) Sobbing and beside himself, he vents to his sister online, “I’m not a pedophile. I’m a faggot.”
Steeped in melodrama and angst, In the Name of takes its time, revealing bits and pieces of Adam’s psyche artfully and with a degree of understanding and acceptance. Sunlight gently spills over the lush Polish landscape majestically, softly, as if to say God’s eye loves and forgives all. Szumowska similarly casts no judgment on his troubled characters, the key to the film’s success.
After nearly 15 years, Darren Stein follows up 1999’s Jawbreaker with GBF, a plastic, mildly funny, but surprisingly touching and sweet high school clique-drama. When geeky introvert Tanner (Michael J. Willett) is accidentally outed to the school by his BFF, the more colorful but still closeted Brent (Paul Iocano), Tanner gets even by outing him to his homo-ignorant mother (Megan Mullally, in uncharacteristically underwhelming form.) Feelings are bruised badly, and the buddies split. The three most popular girls in school (uninspired archetypes every one) anoint Tanner—the sole out kid in school—as their GBF (Gay Best Friend), while Brent resentfully watches from the social outcast sidelines. Tanner struggles to get comfortable in his new role as the school’s “it” kid, all the while coming to terms with being “out and proud.”
The script, written by newcomer George Northy, grasps at the teen comedy glory of Mean Girls, Easy A, and even Clueless, but falls short with lingo that’s sorely lacking style and eloquence. “This is an A and gay conversation, so kindly C your next Tuesday out of it!” Huh? Painfully contrived lines like these are in abundance and stink up the joint.
GBF’s shining star is easily the character of Tanner who, unlike the rest of the cast, is multi-dimensional and avoids nearly every gay stereotype in the book—he’s not into fashion, he reads comic books, and he’s not into theater. He’s played brilliantly by Willett, whose performance carries an authenticity absent in his co-stars. He talks like a real person, looks like a real person, and shows compassion like a real person. The juxtaposition of his (and to an extent, Iocano’s) heartfelt performance to the rest of the casts’ broad, shallow ones may have been intentionally aiming for the satirical, but it ultimately feels clunky and uneven.
There are some genuinely cute moments to be found in GBF, and the sweet central relationship between Willett and Iocano saves it from mediocrity, but unfunny writing and a forgettable supporting cast weigh everything down.