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L.A.’s Outfest drew its curtain to laughter and applause Sunday at Hollywood’s John Anson Ford Theatre. The LGBT film festival wrapped up its 31st year with a special screening of indie teen comedy G.B.F., the latest from director Darren Stein (Jawbreaker).
Much of the feature film’s young Hollywood cast was in attendance, including stars Michael J. Willett (United States of Tara), Andrea Bowen (Desperate Housewives), Evanna Lynch (Harry Potter), Xosha Roquemore (Precious) and Molly Tarlov (Awkward). The youthful lot, dressed to impress, beamed in the spotlight while taking the stage with Stein, writer George Northy and producer Stephen Israel.
The film, an acronym for “Gay Best Friend,” takes the how-to roadmap of yesteryear’s teen comedies and blazes a trail all its own. Willett plays Tanner, the gay best friend in question and the film’s central protagonist. After being forced to come out prematurely by his high school’s fledgling Gay Straight Alliance, Tanner is scooped up by the school’s three leading ladies — a G.B.F. is the season’s latest accessory, after all. Resident “it” girl Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse, Pretty Little Liars), sassy drama queen Caprice (Roquemore) and purer-than-thou Mormon ringleader ‘Shley (Bowen) all vie for prom queen; thinking Tanner can give an edge to their campaign, they fight for his attention as intently as the crown. All this to the dismay of Tanner’s true best friends: the self-described “moral compass” Sophie (Tarlov) and the closeted — but still fabulous — Brent (Paul Iacono,The Hard Times of RJ Berger).
A barrage of millennial wit, quippy one-liners and scathing takedowns, Northy’s script is a modern mirror of popular culture, paying homage to new-age teen classics like Clueless, Mean Girls, and even Easy A. To that, Stein matches his vintage ’80s aesthetic: both colors and costumes jump off the screen.
“I wrote it to be a tribute to teen movies, but to switch it up by having the gay best friend be the star of it for the first time,” says Northy. “The movie is almost like an Easter egg hunt where you can literally watch it and find little visual references to all these different teen movies, which is really fun. And then hopefully it stands as its own story.”
On taking the traditionally sidelined gay archetype and putting him front-and-center, Northy says he aspired to explore the intricacies and potential complications of too much LGBT acceptance in today’s high school arena. “Gays are getting a lot of acceptance now, and it’s coming at a rapid pace,” he said. “What is the flipside of that? Can there be too much acceptance? Is there a darkness to when people are overly accepting to the point of making it more tokenism and objectification? We really wanted to explore that world.”
Stein shared the sentiment, saying that G.B.F. tackles subjects that have been on the tips of teens’ tongues and at the forefront of youth culture for years.
“It felt like a teen movie I had never seen before about something that was very important in our culture right now. I think teen films are a sort of commentary on the culture-at-large — everyone is a teenager at some point in their life. I’m happy to know that G.B.F. is sort of taking its place in that pantheon of movies.”
G.B.F.’s L.A. premiere marked a poignant full circle for the feature and first-time writer Northy; it was just two years ago that his script was a winning recipient at Outfest’s Screenwriting Lab. Israel, one of the lab’s judges, has also been attached to the project since its conception.
Save a light sprinkle of rain on the outdoor amphitheater, closing night went off without a hitch. Festivalgoers then gathered for drinks and dancing at Avalon in Hollywood, bringing Outfest celebrations into the early morning.
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