‘bwoy’: Film Review
Anthony Rapp stars as a closeted gay man whose first experience with online dating spins into obsession.
Writer-director John G. Young’s fourth microbudgeted feature, taking its title from Jamaican patois for “boy,” uses the seemingly simplest of setups, an online hookup, to explore a rich complex of identity, sex, race and class. Centered on absorbing performances by Anthony Rapp and Jimmy Brooks as intimate strangers, bwoy plays out in large part on smartphone and computer screens. But circumstances that might have been static in less skilled hands are given tantalizing life by Young, the actors and the deft camerawork of cinematographer Ryan Balas. The drama, which opens theatrically in Los Angeles after festival and special series screenings, is a discerning, provocative dissection of personal connections in the so-called connected age.
As Schenectady, N.Y., suburbanite Brad, Rapp (an original castmember of Rent, and of the upcoming series Star Trek: Discovery) is all coiled misery and repression. Returning home from his soul-crushing call-center job, he barely acknowledges the presence of his wary but patient wife, Marcia (De’Adre Aziza), and certainly allows no space for them to help each other grieve for the son who died in a backyard accident. Having shut out his African-American spouse, the only person Brad wants to reach out to is someone he’s never met in person.
In a quick matter of days, he and Yenny (Brooks), a handsome 23-year-old Jamaican, have escalated their flirtation from dating-site messages to texts to video chats and online sex — apparently Brad’s first sexual experience with another man. They speak tenderly to each other as well as talking dirty. Soon Brad is sending Yenny money to help him settle small bills, but not without questioning whether he’s being played by the playfully earnest young man.
The audience will wonder the same thing. Young’s story poses another complex question, and one that grows more urgent as Brad grows obsessed with Yenny: Can a not-quite-real relationship, and one in which we know at least one party is lying, be a source of personal truth and self-realization?
Locked away from Marcia in a room with his computer, Brad begins his lies with his dating profile — shaving a few years off his age, implying experience by changing “sensitive male” (no takers) to “daddy top” (many). But then, looking the open-faced Yenny in the eye, the blushingly awkward office drone transforms himself into a hotshot New Yorker who works in “finance.” In a sense he’s been lying for much of his 42 years. As the taut drama unfolds, Young (Rivers Wash Over Me, The Reception) asks whether a new set of lies is necessary to set Brad free.
Running through Brad and Yenny’s charged interactions, along with loneliness and grief, is the troubling matter of paternalism. With blinders on to everything but the dark-skinned virtual lover who calls him Daddy, Brad pushes away the painful, guilt-ridden memories of the dark-skinned child who was his son.
It’s deeply tangled stuff, expressed with a powerful simplicity that turns the dual-screen connection into a world, hyperfocused and deceptively whole.
Production company: Novo Novus Productions
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Anthony Rapp, De’Adre Aziza, Jimmy Brooks, Jermaine Rowe
Director-screenwriter: John G. Young
Producers: Anthony Rapp, John G. Young
Executive producers: Howard Bernstein, Dane Joseph, Daniel Armando
Director of photography: Ryan Balas
Production designer-costume designer: Zulema Griffin
Editor: Jason Wood
Composers: Kenneth Lampl, Darren Tate