In Guidance, writer-director Pat Mills stars as David, a closeted gay actor and former child star doing “shitty non-union work” until he gets fired for showing up repetitively drunk to read his lines. His bills are late, his eviction imminent, his self-Googling out of control—and he just found out he has melanoma. So he goes straight to the tanning salon, as one would, and hatches out a financial, if not sobriety, recovery plan. Since he can’t seem to help himself, he’ll help others, he decides, by impersonating a high school student counselor. David, who takes Mr. Brown as his nom de guerre, puts his acting skills to good use by memorizing hackneyed self-help drivel from YouTube and repeating it verbatim to a desperate principal who hires him on the spot. Mr. Brown’s approach to counseling includes encouraging shy girls to be sluttier, doing shots with his pupils, and trading his vodka bottle for their pot: “Everybody knows that teenagers are going to drink and smoke drugs. If you do it with them, everybody has fun.”
Guidance flirts with the nonsensical panache of Bruce LaBruce or John Waters’s early films, particularly when Mr. Brown and one of his students go on a tanning-salon robbing spree. But the film quietly settles away from the balls-out attitude that made Waters a visionary, choosing the hygienized slickness of his more recent work, such as Pecker and A Dirty Shame. Here the subversions are cosmetic. The unapologetic lack of political correctness never goes beyond a one-dimensional and tentative provocation. Although most of the characters are played like caricatures and the narrative is painfully predictable, albeit in tongue-in-cheek fashion, Mills’s infectious performance isn’t without its pleasures; his character suggests a gene splice of Jerry Lewis and Doug Savant made in a meth lab. To watch a dysfunctional flaming queen pretend to be a well-put-together human being who used to be married “to a woman, I can show you her picture” is mesmerizing. But the film’s persistent need to provide narrative twists only distracts from, and spoils the fun of, his one-man-show of a face.