Review: Blackmail Boys

Blackmail Boys is more interested in the more obvious gay issues such as marriage equality and religious hypocrisy.

Blackmail Boys
Photo: Shumanski Brothers

Sam and Aaron are the kind of gays who decide where to live based on which states allow same-sex marriage. They have been in a long-distance relationship for three years, nurturing all sorts of homo-normative dreams while getting by on all sorts of non-normative practices. When Aaron (Taylor Reed), a pimply Lukas Haas type, finally moves to Chicago to be with Sam (Nathan Adloff), a self-described artist with prostitution tendencies and shaggy Rob Thomas hair, they have to negotiate the impossible project of being a gay couple in a Craigslist world.

Such is the story behind Blackmail Boys, an exercise in faux auto-fiction that struggles to keep up conceptually with its captivating images of intimacy. Assuming the need for something to happen besides queer bodies making love and frying eggs post coitus, the film quickly turns into a botched extortion-based heist plot involving one of those Christian crusaders who just can’t shake out the need to take it up the ass once in a while. Instead of focusing on the highly unexamined romance of real gay men without gym memberships, even if still meth-loving (no one is perfect), directors Bernard and Richard Shumanski make a stylistic collage with self-aimed camera confessionals à la the annoying suicidal gay guy in Shortbus, love-making scenes showing refreshingly non-manicured pubes and typed diary entries such as “Once I came out to my parents they told me I was on my own.”

There is a lot to be explored about the ways a post-coming out twentysomething gay boy in a big city might manage to pay rent, turning opportunities for meaningful contact into business deals. Blackmail Boys is more interested in the more obvious gay issues such as marriage equality and religious hypocrisy. When the film turns to those, it’s rather didactic, and to the tune of that incessant guitar-strumming common to pseudo-mumblecore films. When it turns to its actual plot, it ties all of its ends in a ghastly bow. It’s when the film takes a step back from its characters, letting them be, that it achieves some kind of cinematic novelty. Aaron and Sam, unlike the privileged beefcakes with pretty fag hags in tow of most gay cinema fare, are free-spirited and desperate vagabonds surviving in the shadow of a city that only sees them when they bleed. They don’t seem to tweeze, exfoliate, or do brunch. All they have is their excessive youth, and a kind of yearning that does much better when untainted by the real.

 Cast: Nathan Adloff, Taylor Reed, Joe Swanberg  Director: Bernard Shumanski, Richard Shumanski  Screenwriter: Bernard Shumanski, Richard Shumanski  Running Time: 67 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2010  Buy: Video

Diego Semerene

Diego Semerene is an assistant professor of queer and transgender media at the University of Amsterdam.

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