While it’s refreshing to see non-normative bodies depicted on screen, BearCity 2: The Proposal, like its predecessor, goes on to drum up the same “unconventional content in the most cringe-inducing conventional form,” to quote from my review of BearCity. This time the group of bear friends heads to Bear Week in Provincetown, where couples in various degrees of relationship openness test their loyalty in foam-filled dance floors surrounded by strangers multitasking between cruising on Grindr and giving one another head.
Apart from the more intellectual pleasure derived from witnessing a representation of gays that goes beyond their idealized Ken doll-ness, there’s also a less easily explainable pleasure in being immersed in the bears’ hermetic and impenetrable world where hairless and skinny start seeming like an unusual fetish. Except there’s nothing authentically bearish about this world beyond the surface, as the characters suffer from the same problems and aim toward the same goals as non-bear characters in similar cinematic pap. Namely, the uncertainty of their partners’ love appears as the greatest anxiety, while marriage is the utopic panacea that will save them from themselves. And if, in an attempt to suggest the legitimate possibility for alternative arrangements, director Doug Langway allows some of the bears to refuse marriage, that refusal isn’t out of principle, but a mere deferral of matrimony as the unavoidable seal for legitimate happiness.
BearCity 2 is often too cheesy to, well, bear. It’s also stuck in an outdated version of what it means to be “different” (hence the Barbra Streisand references and the exchanging of coming-out stories around the dinner table), as it desperately tries to reiterate the dull liberal idea that in the end “we are all just the same.” This is a homogenizing kind of difference, of course, and an exclusionary one at that. In fact, the gays in the film are clones of whichever niche they find for themselves, based not on affinity, but the literality of their bodies. Despite their unconventional looks, these bears seem invested in the same to-do list of the slimmest and smoothest of West Hollywood queens. It’s all about drinks with the buddies, pool parties, foam parties, cruising apps, ranking people’s looks, and white people dancing to really bad dance music. Whether this is a realistic or fantastic portrayal of a certain kind of gayness, it’s certainly a celebratory one, and we’ve seen it all before.