Coming-out films are not uncommon but rare are the ones directed by straight dudes and cut from such an abnormal mold as Dorian Blues. Like the bastard child of Edge of Seventeen and Napoleon Dynamite, Tennyson Bardwell’s film doesn’t quite work as comedy (too snarky) or drama (too screechy), but it’s difficult to dismiss its occasional flashes of comedic wit and tender insight. A slave to his anxiety, Dorian Lagatos (Michael McMillian), a gangly Topher Grace type, comes out to himself and later to his younger brother, Nicky (Lea Coco), an understanding jock who Dorian loves but resents in silence for hoarding their lunatic dad’s affections. Dorian speaks only in barbs, but Bardwell seems to understand how this behavior stems from the boy’s frustrations with his sexuality—it’s a cover for the raw, unadulterated honesty that eludes him. Something Bardwell also understands is the multi-staged process many gay men go through on their road to self-acceptance: keeping the door to the closet locked until they’re safe and sound from the horrors of high school, the desperate and pathetic loss of their virginity (Dorian refers to his as a “sci-fi” moment), and the rapture and subsequent crushing disintegration of their first love. Bardwell plays this entire evolution for laughs, and though it’s not always credible (Nicky’s progressivism and know-how, especially when it comes to how long his brother should stay in the closet, is a scenario many gay boys probably wish was less of a fantasy), it’s still very funny. McMillian’s reaction shots, especially during scenes when Dorian comes on to his psychologist and Nicky is brownnosing his father at the dinner table, are priceless (see also the guidance counselor’s reaction to Dorian’s coming out), as is an encounter between Dorian at a hooker’s house. The lead-up to this moment, like Dorian’s scenes with a local priest, is a contrived approximation of a queer man’s make-me-straight shame, but the scene itself is a howler, with Dorian asking the hooker if he has to pay extra for a soda he’s been offered, stroking the side of his face against a stuffed animal (she thinks he’s “getting in the mood”), and declaring that “melancholy” is the only thing he’s particularly good at. Dorian Blues doesn’t steadily walk that fine line between drama and comedy, but it’s not stupid—at least in the sense that it doesn’t end with Dorian walking through the pearly gates of New York University, as if moving to a big liberal city was enough to solve every queer boy’s existential anxieties. Once in New York, Dorian still has considerable work to do, namely dispelling that crippling snark that disguises his true feelings. One hopes it’s an aura Bardwell himself will learn to shed with his second feature.
- TLA Releasing
- 88 min
- Tennyson Bardwell
- Tennyson Bardwell
- Michael McMillian, Lea Coco, Steven C. Fletcher, Mo Quigley, John Abele, Austin Basis, Ryan K. Berkowitz, Richard Burke, Chris Dallman, Carl Dana, Leslie Elliard, Ryan Garrett, Sian Heder, Portia Kamons, Cody Nickell, Jeff Paul, Michelle Summerlin
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: