As gay films hit the mainstream in the early 90s, a valid topic for a movie was a 90-minute “coming out” story that always included acceptance from peers and parents by the conclusion of the film. Getting past these hurdles is important for any minority group. But once the shock of the group’s existence is gone, then it’s time to move on to more generic issues — that show that as people, gays, blacks, Asians, etc., have lives that are just as boring and mundane as everyone else’s.
Douglas Langway’s BearCity, a flimsy sex comedy set in New York about fat hairy gays and the manorexic hairless queens who love them, is caught somewhere between this acceptance and mundane phase. While there’s the understanding that the subculture of Bears exists, there’s still the taboo of being attracted to them. For the young and skinny must maintain their front of stereotypical shallowness.
When the main character of BearCity, Tyler (played by the very boyish Joe Conti, who is looking like a less shrimpy version of Eric from Entourage), declares his love for a much older bearded man, it’s a shock to his mincing former roommate. And the material dealing with Tyler being indoctrinated into the Bear bars is the least interesting the film has to offer. With its voyeuristic gawking of faintly explicit sexual acts in a dark club setting, BearCity has more in common with William Friedkin’s Cruising (made in 1980) than an upbeat modern film should.
However, BearCity is more effective when it deals with how the heavyset are viewed by “normal” society. The subplot where the obese Michael believes he has to have surgery to reduce his weight so he won’t be judged during job interviews, and how the idea of the surgery alienates his svelte lover Carlos, is certainly unique; especially as it embraces the non-Hollywood notion that fat can be more attractive than thin.
The rest of the film plays it safe, belonging to the “sassy and bitchy gays” genre that it emulates (specifically Sex and the City). So we get lines like “love at first grope,” “there’s a bear in my shirt,” and “Walt Witless.” When director Langway and co-writer Lawrence Ferber put their mind to it, they manage to amusingly unnerve us with a turn of phrase or image. This happens when Tyler, an aspiring actor, hopes that his movie career includes “hopefully a sex scene with Kevin James,” or when Carlos vigorously tongues Michael’s flabby, hairy bellybutton as an effective method of foreplay.
This is the level that BearCity should have maintained throughout. But, unfortunately, it’s predictable; not particularly sophisticated (especially the sentimental music and the “up-with-people” message); and paced very slowly, like a TV show anticipating commercial breaks.
And when Langway doesn’t know how to show two characters — who seem to have very little in common — get along, he throws in a campy dress-up montage. That sort of narrative shortcut should be beneath BearCity (which is already overlong at nearly 100 minutes). But maybe Langway felt that the best way to ingratiate himself to a wider audience would be to give them something they’ve seen thousands of times before.
BearCity will be playing at QFest as a Centerpiece screening on July 9th and 10th in Philadelphia. The poster suggests that TLA will follow soon after with a DVD release.