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m/m. coming out

Friday Film Review: Shelter

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.


REVIEW:  Out in the Field by Kate McMurray

REVIEW: Out in the Field by Kate McMurray

Dear Ms. McMurray.

I picked up your book because of a recommendation by someone whose taste I trust and because I liked the excerpt. The story was cute, but the flaws outweighed the cuteness for me.

OutintheFieldCoverThis is a book about Being a Gay Athlete. This was NOT a romance. Oh, it had a love story in it and the love story had an HEA, but that HEA was never threatened. There was no barrier, no conflict, no tension integral TO the love story. The barrier/conflict/tension was all located in the Being a Gay Athlete story.

First up: I know nothing about baseball. Nothing. I actively dislike baseball, in fact. So I mostly skimmed details about the games. I’ve invited Sunita to comment on those aspects of the story in particular (but also on whatever else she wants to say).

The story is thus: Matt Blanco is a Hall-of-Fame worthy first baseman with the Brooklyn Eagles in his fourteenth season. His knee hurts, a lot. And he’s very very closeted. Ignacio Rodriguez is the Hot New Thing who has just been traded to the Eagles as their new third baseman. Matt might be fifteen years older than Iggy, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t appreciate precisely how hot Iggy actually is. There’s a little bit of lust for a chapter, then they both figure out the other’s gay in chapter 2. Which seemed a bit quick to me. Then they quickly get together.

The book takes place over four years and includes Matt’s coming out post-retirement and Iggy’s while still playing. Like Sunita (see below), I thought both of those were well done (except in that Matt wrote a book and the day before the book released in stores was when he came out for the first time. I just don’t believe that the secret would have been kept to that point). I like that the book doesn’t try to schmoosh everything into one season. I like that a lot.

However, I was frustrated by many things in this book. The “gee, shucks, little ole me?” stuff from both men got old pretty quickly. Both of them have obscene amounts of money and obscene endorsement contracts, and they just “want to play ball”:

Iggy rubbed his head. “This was easier when the hardest decision I had to make was whether or not I’d pose holding a bat in my baseball card photo.”

“I know, but these are all excellent opportunities. You’ll gain more visibility with fans, which puts more of those fans in the stadium, which gets you more favorable treatment from the Eagles front office. Everything is linked.”

“With money.”

Chris scoffed. “Don’t be like that. It’s part of the game, Ig. You signed your name on that contract knowing that.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m really grateful for all this. It’s just completely overwhelming.” Although, now that he’d said it, he wasn’t sure “grateful” was really the right word. He supposed he was happy enough that people wanted to give him money. And really, if having too much money was his only problem, he was happy to take it.

“You’re kind of a sex symbol, you know,” Chris said. “You could be cultivating your female fans.”

Iggy sighed. “Is it a cliché to say I just want to play baseball?”

Yes, in fact, it really really is. And just seemed utterly disingenuous to me, on the writer’s part, not on Iggy’s. The character has to be sympathetic, so god forbid he actually be money-aware. Just easier to make his aw-shucks-y instead.

The telling, not showing was most frustrating for me, though. At one point, Matt’s knee gives out on him during sex. The next day, he’s thinking about it:

 Matt still regretted having to put the brakes on their session the night before, but it couldn’t have been helped. He was embarrassed, too, that Iggy now knew about the knee. He hadn’t wanted Iggy to know, hadn’t wanted to lose face in front of him. He’d wanted to be a whole man for Iggy, a strong man. He wanted to live up to the image Iggy had worshipped for years. But now Iggy had seen his weakness. [ . . . ] Matt dug his sneakers out of his locker and eavesdropped on the conversations around him. A few more players trickled in and roamed around, some idly talking about plans for the evening. Matt mostly wanted to go home and ice his knee. And, he found, he wanted Iggy to come with him. Not even for sex—Matt didn’t think he could make his knee work well enough for that anyway—but just to hang out and talk with. The cat was really out of the bag now. It was kind of a relief not to have to pretend with Iggy that everything was hunky-dory.

Really? This could have been…so much better done. This was rarely hinted at in the lead-up to the scene, and it could have been a site for serious tension between Iggy and Matt until Iggy assured Matt that of course he cared that Matt was injured, but only in so far as he wanted to be able to help and support him…or something similar. Instead, it’s a throwaway couple of paragraphs and then ignored.

And then there’s the fact that the whole thing was about Being a Gay Athlete. EVERYTHING had to do with this. Every scene, every tension, every decision, every discussion, every plot point, almost every sex scene, it seemed. It got tiring and a bit boring. But if readers like that sort of this, then this is the book for them.

If I were to compare this book to anything, it’d be Amy Lane’s The Locker Room (basketball, not baseball), but I think that book did a much better job of making the tension of being closeted into something that almost tears the heroes apart. This book tries to, but doesn’t quite get there.

One thing I will say, boy, you can write great sex scenes. The writing soared during the sex:

Iggy dug his fingers into Matt’s back. Matt thrust his hips forward, and their cocks rubbed together. God. God. Goose bumps broke out everywhere, and Matt groaned, his heart rate and anticipation mounting. He knew sweet release would come disastrously fast, but he didn’t care much. This was so damn good, and Iggy seemed to be right there with him, grunting and biting now.

Except for the unnecessary “sweet” here, I loved this scene. Most of the sex was very well done.

Overall, this book could have been so much better. The characters themselves were great. I really enjoyed watching them have dates together, to be honest, when they were just talking. But the book as a whole never really gelled for me, mainly because I could see the potential there and was frustrated with what was should have been there, rather than with what existed.

Grade: C


Sunita: This book is a great example of how two readers can see entirely different things in a story. My grade is not that different from Sarah’s, but for very different reasons, and I would recommend this book for certain readers.

First, the baseball. I know the author is a big baseball fan (she talks about it in the front matter of this book, among other places), and so I was looking forward to a romance that got the sports right. In some parts she succeeds, but in others, not so much. The camaraderie of professional athletes is really well done. I enjoyed the locker room scenes with the other members of the team, and a later scene in the hospital was just terrific, in part because the author took it in a totally different direction than I expected. But I had two gripes about other aspects, as well as a third I share with Sarah. The shared gripe is that their salaries are barely mentioned. These dudes are really rich. We all know what star athletes get paid, and even the MLB minimum is nothing to sneeze at. So can we please not pretend that they’re anything other than totally loaded? Make it something Iggy is getting used to, but don’t treat it as unimportant.

My big complaint is that the protagonists don’t seem to concentrate very much when they’re in a game, or in the late season and playoffs. They wind up in the ALCS, but they’re thinking about their romance. When they walk up to the plate, they’re thinking about each other or something related. When they’re in the field, they’re making eyes at each other. Really? Once in a while, okay. But it happens over and over again. It really detracted from the verisimilitude of some of the scenes. Pro athletes spend their entire lives preparing to get to the top. That takes a very high level of focus and compartmentalization (for most of them).

My small complaint is that the strategy within the games, which is sometimes important for the plot, sometimes doesn’t make sense. When Matt hurts his knee, it’s when he breaks from third to home. On an infield popup with one out. That kind of boneheaded running play would get you chewed out in Little League, let alone MLB. And there are other descriptions of play that had me shaking my head. It’s tough to satisfy both baseball aficionados and those who don’t care, and mostly the author does a good job. Perhaps because of that, the little things stood out.

OK, the romance. Unlike Sarah, I definitely thought this was a genre romance. Maybe it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been, but I saw both internal and external conflicts. The problems of being a gay athlete are analogous to external conflicts in historical romances, e.g., class, race, religion, and another similarity is the way in which external issues create internal conflicts to be resolved.

One of the reasons sports settings work so well in m/m is that the closet is a requirement, not an option, in most (male) professional team sports. The fear of being discovered, the fear of your teammates turning on you, all that is very real and ever-present. And I thought the age difference and the fact that they were at opposite ends of their careers made for an interesting internal conflict, giving it a Star Is Born quality. The internal conflict wasn’t as well developed as it could have been, and I would have liked to see more of Matt’s post-baseball issues and how they affected the couple. I did think the two big coming-out scenes were really well done. I’ve read two earlier books by this author, I felt these scenes were far better integrated here.

Matt and Iggy were thoroughly appealing characters, which again is a feature of this author’s books (I have liked every one of her main characters). They could have been a little less loveable, to be honest. And a couple of the supporting characters verged on stereotypes (please, authors, middle-aged mothers do not have to be From Hell or From Heaven).

I can see why so many readers loved this book. Once I got over my baseball-related niggles and there were more interactions with the other baseball team members, I quite enjoyed the story.

Grade: B-