Reflecting on the theme of struggling to fit in from his last feature film, the dark high school comedy Jawbreakers, director Darren Stein once again explored the heightened adolescent need to be accepted in his new movie, G.B.F. The contemporary teen comedy had its world premiere during the Tribeca Film Festival on April 19 at New York City’s Clearview Cinemas Chelsea. The filmmaker and several of G.B.F.‘s stars attended the red carpet before the screening to discuss the process of filming the comedy.
G.B.F. tells the story of two closeted best friends, Tanner (Michael J. Willett) and Brent (Paul Iacono), as they try to navigate high school. Brent longs to be the G.B.F, or gay best friend, of the popular girls in school, so that he can finally have the spotlight. Tanner, meanwhile, would rather make it to graduation without ever being noticed.
But the lead popular girls in school-the glamorous, clothes obsessed Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse); the leader of the religious Mormon students, ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen); and drama queen Caprice (Xosha Roquemore)-all want to accessorize with the new must-have teen girl “accessory,” the G.B.F. Soledad (Joanna ‘JoJo’ Levesque), meanwhile, wants to find the first gay student in order to launch a Gay Straight Alliance in their school.
Things don’t go according to Brent’s plan, and Tanner is instead revealed to be gay, leading the popular girls to have a social war to win his status-enhancing friendship. In the process, Tanner and Brent’s friendship is strained, leading the two to question their priorities and true loyalties.
The lightness of G.B.F.‘s script, and the fact that screenwriter George Northy wrote the story of two gay teenagers “in teen movie language that felt very mainstream and universa,l” convinced Stein to take on the film’s directorial duties. “The intentions in the screenplay were so pure,” the director added, and pointed to the fact that the story’s fun nature could make it a hit in theaters.
Stein added that in some respects, he could relate to Tanner and Brent’s feelings of isolation from their classmates. “I was definitely an outsider. I didn’t have many friends…I used to make movies with the kids who were younger than me, so I was able to be in charge in that world,” he said.
One of the actresses in the teen comedy, Jessie Ennis, wanted to play Viola, who she described as being “an awkward lackey of the Gay Straight Alliance,” because she loves Stein’s other films. She added that she was excited about the clothing designed by Kit Scarbo. “I didn’t get to wear any cool clothes, but I got to be around cool clothes all the time, so that was fun,” Ennis said.
While ‘G.B.F.’ did feature numerous detailed costumes, Stein said the greatest challenge of the shoot “was making a big scale teen comedy on a small indie budget.” Ennis added the shoot only lasted a few weeks, and they filmed at a high school. “We could only be there on the days that school wasn’t in session, so it felt really like that scene from The O.C., where they break into that mall late at night,” she said.
Pieterse also expressed her admiration for Stein’s directorial style. “I’ve never done comedy before, as I’ve always done serious characters,” the Pretty Little Liars star said. “So I was very intimated by this, but it was amazing. He walked me through everything, and I got to add my own stuff to it…He’s got a good mix of letting you do your own thing, but at the same time giving you such great direction…He’s a friend and family, so we’re very honored to be a part of this.”
Anthony Garland, who made his feature film acting debut in the role of Christian, a potential love interest for Tanner, also echoed his admiration for Stein’s directorial efforts. “Darren creates these multi-color fantastic universes and at the center we have these really beautiful stories…Darren makes you feel so safe on set and just lets you create and he talks you through everything,” the actor said.
Garland added that he thinks G.B.F. features the important message of looking “past social boundaries and barriers and just really love people for who they are, not what their label is. A label is just that, a label.”
Natasha Lyonne, who played Ms. Hoegel, the teacher who runs the Gay Straight Alliance, also emphasized the importance of accepting everyone for their personalities and actions, and not judging them on their dating preferences. Ms. Hoegel “just wants the kids to not be so narrow-minded, not conduct a witch hunt. She had a gay best friend in her past who left her-pretty sure she was in love with him. In his place she has a cat, named Anderson Coopurr.”
Lyonne also expressed happiness over working with her young co-stars. “I feel significantly more adult…they make me feel like Phyllis Diller,” the actress enthusiastically gestured to her fellow actors. The actress, who rose to fame with another teen comedy, American Pie, also echoed her co-stars’ sentiments-not only did they have a great time working together to showcase the importance of acceptance among teens and their peers, but that Stein perfectly highlighted adolescent motivations in his latest teen comedy.