G.B.F.: Tribeca Review

GBF - P - 2013
Occasional laughs don't outweigh an incoherent tone in gay-forward teen comedy.

Popular girls compete to befriend their high school's newly-out gay kid in Darren Stein's comedy.

Aiming to drag homosexuality out of the margins of teen comedy and into the spotlight, Darren Stein's G.B.F. imagines a high school whose trend-following mean girls vie for the right to call the only (openly) gay kid around their "gay best friend." Despite a premise with broad appeal and a script boasting plenty of laughs among its misfires, the high school fable falters, its many loving nods to classics from John Hughes through Clueless only inviting unflattering comparisons.

To get the most hard-to-swallow bit out of the way: The script, set in the present day, imagines a reasonably large urban high school at which no student is openly gay. Closeted Brent (Paul Iacono), convinced that gay best friends are a cutting-edge fashion accessory for popular girls (again: this is not a period piece) hopes to make himself known to Clique Queens Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse), Caprice (Xosha Roquemore), and 'Shley (Andrea Bowen) in time to have them clawing each other's eyes out by prom.

But a snafu involving a hookup app called Guydar gets Brent's own gay best friend -- Tanner (Michael J. Willett), a sweet kid who'd happily stay in the closet until college -- outed, putting him in the crosshairs of those high-maintenance straight girls. To his surprise and no one else's, Tanner enjoys the attention, getting drunk enough on popularity to neglect his real friends and alienate the true love (Brent, natch) who has Been There All Along.

Forsaking the realism of John Hughes, Stein and his design team go for a heightened aesthetic most evident in the work of costume designer Kit Scarbo -- clothes that draw so heavily on '80s and '90s fashion it is difficult to believe the story's set in the age of texting and iPhone apps. But while a film like Heathers successfully meshed over-the-top style with exaggerated performances, Stein's directing leaves his actors adrift in a half-camp world that never feels real; the acting is wildly uneven, with only Megan Mullally (as Brent's mom, bending backwards to make it clear she's ready for him to come out to her) truly secure in her footing.

George Northy's dialogue has rough patches, but keeps the action moving admirably as a controversy over same-sex couples leads to plans for rival proms, complicating the heated contest to be named prom queen. Willett gives a generally winning performance, most sympathetic when Tanner is recoiling against adapting his real personality to the catty, stylish persona his new BFFs expect. (Of his interest in comic books, one declares, "that's not gay, that's just lame.") But G.B.F.'s faults outweigh its virtues, making it unlikely to attain even sleeper status on video, much less a spot on the honor roll of coming-of-age teen comedies.

Production Companies: School Pictures, Parting Shots Media

Cast: Michael J. Willett, Paul Iacono, Sasha Pieterse, Andrea Bowen, Xosha Roquemore, Molly Tarlov, Evanna Lynch, Joanna Levesque, Derek Mio, Mia Rose Frampton, Taylor Frey, Megan Mullally, Natasha Lyonne, Jonathan Silverman, Rebecca Gayheart, Horatio Sanz

Director: Darren Stein

Screenwriter: George Northy

Producers: Stephen Israel, Richard Bever, Darren Stein, George Northy

Executive producers: Jennifer Levine, David

Skinner, Tom Gorai, Theodore S. Gildred III, Patricks Loftus-Hills, Charlie Finnegan, Michelle Pollino, Matthew Spain, William Q. Derrough

Director of photography: Jonathan Hall

Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald

Music: Brian H. Kim

Costume designer: Kit Scarbo

Editor: Phillip J. Bartell

Sales: Kevin Iwashina, Preferred Content

No rating, 92 minutes