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Friday Film Review: Shelter

Shelter (2007)

Genre: GLBT Romance

Grade: B

This movie had been mentioned so many times on other movie reviews here and at Netflix that I knew I needed to see it. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of people with my grade but while I liked it, it ultimately comes across to me as a candy fluff film. Sweet, likeable, nice while it lasts but not something that will stick with me very long.

“Forced to give up his dreams of art school, Zach (Trevor Wright) spends his days working a dead-end job and helping his needy sister (Tina Holmes) care for her son (Jackson Wurth). In his free time he surfs, draws and hangs out with his best friend, Gabe (Ross Thomas), who lives on the wealthy side of town. When Gabe’s older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), returns home, he is drawn to Zach’s selflessness and talent. Zach falls in love with Shaun while struggling to reconcile his own desires with the needs of his family.”

This is an indie movie that doesn’t look like one. I’ve watched a lot of Indie films and usually end up accepting the shortcuts the directors are forced to deal with. From what the director and two main actors say in the commentary, the film was shot in three weeks, mostly on location with certain scenes being grabbed and filmed when the opportunity was there. Honestly, except for the subject matter, it’s not obvious. Or not *that* obvious. Some scenes – like Zach and his girlfriend Tori on a bluff at the beach or Zach and Shaun talking in the garden at Shaun’s parents’ house – were shot racing for the last bit of sun and are absolutely beautiful. The montage shots of the ocean are lovely too – even if I’m not sure why those shots are there beyond showing that Zach loves to surf. Some directors actually thrive under tight shooting conditions and – at least in this case – Jonah Markowitz is one of them.

“Shelter” has a great sense of place and culture. These are surfers living in SoCal. Gabe is almost a stereotype of it and I could easily see him calling everyone “Duuuuude” and actually meaning it. He, Zach and Shaun come across as natural young men – interested in surfing, drinking beer, telling jokes and getting laid. Zach and his sister Jeanne ooze a working class vibe. Life has obviously not been as easy for them as for Shaun and Gabe and it shows – from the slightly run down SUV Zach drives to the ratty house with a concrete back yard to Jeanne’s hard edge desperation to get out of there, whatever the cost.

The film doesn’t deal in obvious gay stereotypes. There are no drag queens, no queer best friends, decorating is never mentioned and the fashion sense is young male grab-whatever-shirt-doesn’t-smell-the-most. There is no sashaying, no limp wrists, no clubbing – in fact there is no camp at all. Zach and Shaun could be any sexual orientation males. It’s obviously a gay themed movie but it doesn’t come across to me as one that is being strictly marketed to the GLBT community – it’s very open to anyone and a film that I think anyone can enjoy.

So, what could I possibly find to harsh about and call fluff? Shaun is out and comfortable about his sexuality. Zach has had a long term girlfriend even if hints are dropped that their relationship isn’t rosy – tepid and more like friends is a good way to describe it – but has he ever thought about being attracted to men? I didn’t get that feeling and his acceptance of his new sexual reality seems too easy. Yeah, he wavers a touch and push-pulls a tiny bit but those scenes seem more obligatory than visceral. Shaun is also extremely accommodating of Zach’s am I/aren’t I? moments – perhaps because he’s older and already been through it. Still he’s waiting with open arms and a lack of “are you sure *this* time as opposed to the others.” Were I he, I’d be a little wary for a bit longer.

The movie also avoids getting too deeply into conflicts. Zach is afraid of what others will say if his new relationship becomes known. He’s f*cking his best friend’s older brother and that best friend is obviously into p*ssy. But when Gabe and Zach finally talk, Gabe is all “fine, it’s cool, I’m the one you used to come talk to, is it true guys give the best head, are you attracted to that guy walking down the street?” easy with it. Even the whole “you’re involved with my sibling” aspect of it is glossed over. Jeanne seems like she’s going to be the major sticking point after she says things like she doesn’t want her son around Shaun or “why are you spending all this time with Shaun/you’re not a fag, are you?” to Zach. But in the major, final scene of the film, she caves and says almost nothing. Even Tori, Zach’s girlfriend, seems hardly to care. And we never see any scenes of these people finding out for sure about Zach’s new reality. Each of them somehow seems to already know what’s going on when they finally have these conversations with Zach. That’s some gossip grapevine going on in this town.

One thing I do like is how what turns out to be the main source of conflict isn’t the typical gay movie one. Zach’s character toys with the dreaded martyr syndrome. He puts off his dreams of going to art school in order to work a lousy, low paying job. His older sister plays on his sense of responsibility to pawn off the care of her 5 year old son while she goes out and parties all night. I like the relationship between Zach and his nephew Cody – who is an incredibly unselfconscious young actor – and the final resolution of who keeps Cody and what his future might be is positive. What makes this whole subplot a win for me is that this could happen to anyone, anywhere. It says that not every crisis in a GLBT life revolves around AIDS/coming out/discrimination.

This is a positive take on coming out movies. It’s got characters to care about, is lovely to look at with swirling ocean waves and gorgeous sunsets, offers some humor and laughs, ends on a positive note and no one dies. But it also skims over a lot of conflict potential like a stone skipping across water and all the characters seem way too accepting of gays. Sure this would be great if this was always how it happens in real life but as portrayed, it’s like a gay friendly AU. It’s head and shoulders above lots of other gay movies I’ve seen, yet I can’t help but say if I were watching the same movie only with hetero characters, I’d have been left feeling ultimately let down with the fluff factor.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

6 Comments

  1. Suleikha Snyder
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 06:14:45

    if I were watching the same movie only with hetero characters, I’d have been left feeling ultimately let down with the fluff factor.

    It’s funny, because I love Shelter precisely because it’s a sweet film. It’s one of my go-tos when I need a pick-me-up.

    I think we’ve almost come to expect LGBT cinema to be deeper, harder (heh, heh) than straight cinema, but there is just as much of a need for films that are the gay rom-com, the popcorn movie that makes you check your brain at the door, the rainy afternoon smilefest. The first time I saw Shelter, I had actually braced myself for Zach’s sister to accuse Shaun of molesting Cody. Because, as a soap fan, I am just that primed for angst and Big Conflict. So I was really taken aback and relieved to be wrong. It was like…”Oh. Art school and his family’s the conflict. Whew!”

    I’d slot this with films like Catch and Release (which I find myself watching whenever it’s on TV!), where it’s no great shakes but so completely watchable because it’s a simple story with relatable characters who have a ton of chemistry. Plus Brad Rowe is pretty frickin’ charming as Shaun.

  2. Jayne
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 06:42:56

    @Suleikha Snyder: Yes, I agree it’s very watchable but…why bring up all these potential issues if you’re not going to explore or, in some cases, even talk about them at all?

  3. Ladyage
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 10:01:38

    What @Suleikha said: I love “Shelter” not despite, but because of its fluffy nature. For me it is also one of my favourite pick-me-ups (and forget Brad Rowe, Trevor Wright is such a hottie ;-)

  4. Luce
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 11:32:09

    I’m gonna begin by saying that I can be objecting about Shelter up to a point. In truth, it’s one of my favourite movies (LGTB or no) and one that I’ve watched many times.

    I first heard about this movie when it was supposed to premiere at a local indie theater. For one reason or another, it didn’t and I forgot about it. Until Netflix suggested it and I remembered mentally tagging it as “the gay surfer movie”. So I rented it and was absolutely charmed by the story (both the romantic one between Zack and Shaun as well as seeing Zack reconnecting to his own dreams and aspirations.) The chemistry between Trevor and Brad was hot. I loved their scenes together and read Shaun’s patience with Zack’s confusion as coming from someone who’s older.

    I liked the character of Jeanne; the actress did a fantastic job of mirroring Zack’s anxieties about taking a risk (even though I fear that she’ll have a less happy ending.) Cody was wonderful (and I’m not a kid’s person at all) and I also enjoyed seeing Zack and Gabe’s friendship. To me, Gabe sort of glossing over the whole thing of his BFF and his brother being an item made sense. He seemed like the dude who would handwave anything that doesn’t affect him directly.

    Can’t say I cared much for Tori. She seemed mostly resigned (possibly bored?) to see Zack move on. That said, her scene with Zack by the bluffs was sweet.

    One of the reasons why I like it so much is because it’s so unexpected. As much as I love camp (and, trust me, I totes do!), I really dig that this movie has no camp at all. It’s very refreshing because it brings the LGTB experience into something that’s universal without being preachy about it.

    Is it fluffy? Sure it is. But that, to me, is part of what makes watching this movie such a lovely experience. :)

  5. Luce
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 11:33:24

    @Luce:

    Drat! I meant to say that I’ll begin by saying that I can be objective about this movie up to a point. *shakes tiny!fist of fury at being unable to edit comment above*

  6. Suleikha Snyder
    Oct 12, 2012 @ 20:54:00

    @Jayne: I think bringing up the subjects but not exploring them in too much depth is more indicative of the slice-of-life nature of the piece. i.e. That we’re looking at this particular moment in Zach’s life, when his status quo changes forever. If it was a longer, more overarching, narrative about his coming out and point A to point B, they could’ve gotten into more complex issues, but it would also be a very different film.

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