Thursday, July 2, 2009

Queer Film Spotlight: Shelter

Shelter (2007) This movie was a pleasant surprise because I thought it'd be just a softporn like Latter Days but with "surfer dudes." It turned out to be a well thought out story about a young graffitti artist named Zach who's stuck in urban California dreaming of getting into art school while taking care of his sister, his father and his orphaned nephew, Cody. When Shaun, the gay older brother of his best friend comes into town, Zach starts to rethink his relationships and the direction he wants to take with his life.

Shelter's fault is its vageness about its own story. It lacks plotholes but it also lacks focus. It's not clear how his sister finds out about him and Shaun, or why Cody's father is gone. One scene makes it seems as if Zach and his sister (as well as his on-and-off girlfriend) all happen to work at the same place. At times, the film's ambiguity gives way to gimicky plot tricks, like the com radio. In addition to taking care of Cody, Zach and his sister presumably must care for their mentally disabled father as well, and yet we only see the father at the very beginning and forget that his character exists until he's mentioned, in passing, towards the end of the film. These might be minor flaws, but they undermine the film's believability.

Zach often sleeps away from home, is socially disconnected, and is defensive over his artwork. He has to worry about being a father figure to Cody while maintaining so-called masculinity and applying to an out-of-state art school. I think these are good ways to underline Zach's feeling of restlessness, but unfortunately it was hard to buy all of these things when they happened because, due to Wright's acting, they went like lukewarm milk.

This brings me to the film's biggest problem: the characters were all believable except the protagonist himself. The character could have been very interesting, but Trevor Wright plays him like a wooden puppet. His angsty fits would be understandable but his age is supposed to be 22. It's difficult to care about Zach when everything he does feels somehow lacking. Worst is Zach's "change of heart" which feels like a magic trick out of thin air because of how sudden and unexplained it is. By the end when Zach is trying to convince his sister about the future, it sounds more like he's trying to convince himself.

Ultimately I think most of the problems I have with Zach were first impressions, and maybe the character will seem better handled on a second round. The film's protagonist might seem like the most underdeveloped part of the movie, which is unfortunate, but ultimately I'd recommend it to anyone. It's very enjoyable, tells a good story, and has a great soundtrack. Shaun's character was well-acted and so was his brother, Zach's best friend. Additionally, the kid who played Cody was good at being both sensitive to the tension between others as well as being innocent.

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