Starring: Matt Newton, Jack Noseworthy, Michael Lerner, Valerie Geffner, Ian Reed Kesler, and Karen Allen
Director: Zak Tucker
Writing Credits: Ryan Shiraki and Lecia Rosenthal
Distributor: Shallow Pictures (US 2004)
Rated: Not Yet Rated

Zak Tucker's debut feature, POSTER BOY, finds itself on the precipitous ledge of perfect timing, at least as far as America's social mores are concerned. Dealing with the volatile issues of right-wing politics and increasing cultural visibility for gays, POSTER BOY may seem in current context more polemical than it actually is. What is refreshing -- given the gay-baiting and marriage-as-Holy-grail clumsiness of the current debate, is Tucker's more complex read on the subject. A moderately affecting film, POSTER BOY is really concerned with how we construct an individual, personal -- and political -- identity. And once those decisions are made for ourselves, how do we balance who we are against the grey areas of reality, including love and family pressures?

Narrated in flashback, Tucker's film surrounded a high-drama premise: a far-right senator, Jack Kray (Michael Lerner), wants his estranged son Henry (Matt Newton) to help garner young voters to his reelection campaign. Trouble is, Henry is a closeted gay man who is struggling to keep silent about his father's homophobic political career. As Jack sends a young Republican operative (Ian Reed Kesler) to fetch his reluctant son, Henry has a one-night-stand with Anthony (Jack Noseworthy), a lovelorn gay activist whose best friend, Izzie (Valerie Geffner), is fighting depression over being diagnosed HIV-positive.

Permutations of this kind are difficult to manage; POSTER BOY struggles over some pretty wide narrative leaps just to get all of the major characters into one room. The stresses show, too. The screenwriters, Ryan Shiraki and Lecia Rosenthal, opt for soapy melodrama to compensate for their tremulous plot contrivances, peppering the story with half-hearted reversals and overly grandiose, soap operatic pronouncements. (When Anthony says to the female Izzie about her now-dead boyfriend, "I fucked him too!,” you keep expecting Gloria Swanson to emerge from the bushes wondering where her close-up is.) The episodic nature of the script doesn't really build, and Tucker's low-budget aesthetic and DV photography makes the story seem smaller than it is. The film also sports a meditative atmosphere, which fights with the mountain tension that should be a part of the building climax.

Still, by the final half-hour, POSTER BOY manages to have a surprising amount of magnetism. As the conflicts come to a head, some of the characters really begin to shine. There's a tangible, engaging chemistry between Newton and Noseworthy, who begin to fall in love in spite of themselves. Noseworthy, a charismatic stage and screen presence (on Broadway in Sweet Smell of Success and in films like U-571), can't help but be charming. Anthony is a rare moment of bright light amidst all these depressive characters, and his optimism is infectious. As the brutish Senator Kray, Academy Award nominee Michael Lerner (Barton Fink) is frighteningly mesmerizing. He wears power and largesse like a crisply tailored suit...or a spiked mace.

POSTER BOY finds itself intermittently engaging...just enough to warrant attention. Its talented cast overcomes many, but not all, of the screenplay's pitfalls, finding a deeper expression of the convoluted issues -- fathers and sons, gays and straights, politics and ethics. As we collectively search for new definitions of family and morality in the 21st century, POSTER BOY is one of the early indicators of how cinema may help us navigate the choppy waters of modern life.

-- Gabriel Shanks

Review text copyright © 2004 Mixed Reviews & the author. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Mixed Reviews or the author is prohibited.

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