BearCity’s bears come in all shapes and sizes. Roger (Gerald McCullouch) is the handsome gay in constant cruising mode, Michael (Gregory Gunter) is the brainy gay who can’t find a job because of his weight, Fred (Brian Keane) and Brent (Stephen Guarino) form the couple who thinks about “opening up” the relationship. There’s even a twink, Tyler (Joe Conti), with a bear fetish, which is apparently as embarrassing a secret to keep (in Manhattan!) as a DL gay’s fondness for the cock.
The film is mostly concerned with Tyler’s coming to terms with his taste in men and trying to get access to a world that seems foreclosed to anyone who doesn’t have a rug on their back (Tyler’s roommate’s words, not mine). It’s all very predictable and drenched in saccharine, even as it captures the quintessential white gay urban male with a hedonist imperative quite competently: one hand inside his pants, the other on the keyboard, and pathologically invested in turning others into sexual instruments.
Director Douglas Langway is aware that while bear-ness could be seen as a response to a culture obsessed with gender-conformant and hairless young bodies, it can also be a rather unoriginal one. As one escapes the dictatorship of twinks, one easily falls into another one. The signals may be switched (smoothness becomes hairiness, slimness becomes flab), but foreclosure to alterity remains. But Langway seems more intent in churning out some mindless fun than in advocating a post-gay world. Even if the film, perhaps accidently, asks some urgent questions when it focuses on the couple that is rethinking the wonders of monogamy. How to survive, as a couple, in a culture fueled by the interchangeability of human bodies? Fred wants to “spice up” the relationship and Brent goes along in order not to lose him, but he thinks “that’s got divorce written all over it.” Their wrangling for some kind of bearable (no pun intended) domesticity—auditioning third parties for a threesome and brushing off gangbang hallucinations—is one of the few moments in the film that feels unconstrained by formulaic schmaltz.
Non-experimental gay cinema often falls victim of the same social ailment that afflicts many gays themselves. In their attempt to prove they can be just as normative as the next heterosexual flick, or person, they wrap unconventional content in the most cringe-inducing conventional form. The result is something like BearCity, as it follows its pack of New York City bears with the kind of bathos, and denouements, that only the Hallmark Channel could muster. The homo-normative gay and movie would both do well in revisiting Audre Lorde’s 1984 memo setting out to prove they can be just like everyone else: The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.