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One of the world premieres at this year’s Outfest is a small but well-observed character drama, Tiger Orange, that makes the most of a modest budget. The film introduces a promising directing talent, Wade Gasque, but it may be best remembered for demonstrating the acting chops of onetime porn star Johnny Hazzard, who aims to re-invent himself using his real name, Frankie Valenti, and pulls off the feat with considerable charm and skill. Although the film may not have much theatrical life beyond the gay festival circuit, it’s a high-quality offering.
Tiger Orange joins a memorable group of films about the conflict between two brothers. In a few of these cases, we’ve seen the story of one straight and one gay brother, but the novel variation here is that both brothers are gay. Yet Chet (Mark Strano) and younger brother Todd (Valenti) are polar opposites. They grew up in a small central California town with a single father after their mother left, but Todd has always been wilder and more rebellious, while Chet has been more repressed and responsible. Todd ran off to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, while Chet stayed on to take care of their ailing father and run the family business. After their father’s death, Todd, whose career is faltering, returns home. But the tensions between the brothers continue to run deep. When a secret adolescent flame of Chet’s also returns to town, Todd makes a move on him, reviving the jealousies that have always infected the siblings’ relationship.
The story itself is simple enough, but the richness of the film comes in the themes, the characterizations, and the performances. In today’s climate, one might think that coming out is no longer an issue, and that is certainly Todd’s credo. But in small towns across America, there can still be risks, and a series of strongly sketched scenes show the sense of community that Chet values and that he fears he may lose if he follows his brother’s example of being out and proud. During the course of the story, Chet digs up some of Todd’s courage, while Todd comes to appreciate the traditions that he rejected.
Strano, who also co-wrote the film with Gasque, gives a subtle performance that demonstrates the costs but also some of the rewards of belonging to a community. Still, there’s no question that Valenti walks away with the film. Energetic and effortlessly charismatic, he epitomizes a spirit of defiance that can be seductive but also maddening. (For the record, Gasque draws a stronger performance from him than Steven Soderbergh drew from adult film actress Sasha Grey in her first “straight” film, The Girlfriend Experience).
While it’s questionable whether the childhood flashbacks are absolutely necessary, Ty Parker and Adrian Delcan give appealing performances as the younger Chet and Todd. All of the actors who portray the townspeople are well cast and add to the sense of a vibrant, believable community.
Visually, Tiger is also exceptionally strong. Cinematographer Lila Javan makes a major contribution, bringing a sense of unforced lyricism to the pastoral images of this California town. The picture is also tightly edited by Morgan R. Stiff, without a single scene going on longer than necessary. The resolution of the conflict between the brothers may never be in serious doubt, but this unpretentious, smoothly crafted film makes us deeply invested in the outcome.
Cast: Mark Strano, Frankie Valenti, Gregory Marcel, Ty Parker, Adrian Delcan, Vince Duvall, Tara Samuel.
Director: Wade Gasque.
Screenwriters: Wade Gasque, Mark Strano.
Producers: Wade Gasque, Mark Strano, Paul Della Pelle, Adonis Cruz.
Executive producer: Randleson Floyd.
Director of photography: Lila Javan.
Production designer: Mark Strano.
Editor: Morgan R. Stiff.
Music: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch.
No rating, 76 minutes.
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