G.B.F., a cunning new comedy from Jawbreaker director Darren Stein, is a minor high-school flick, but also an inherently modern one. It is bolstered by a refreshing premise and a sharp cast who overcome some of the absurdity and clutter in George Northy’s debut script. The acronym of the title stands for “gay best friend,” which leads the viewer to expect a depiction of contemporary high-school drama that could be too hip or condescending. As it turns out though, G.B.F. is neither, instead, it’s merely happy to embrace its gay-positive values and is just smart enough to make us laugh at some of the stereotypes it skewers.
The film’s plot, if anything, depends on the trendsetters. As gay protagonist Tanner (Michael J. Willett) tells the audience, there is something about being first in high school. It turns out that Tanner’s first is, to him, an embarrassing one: he was the first student ousted as a homosexual.
While in a more traditional teen-centric soap opera, this news would lead to alienation, G.B.F.’s North Gateway High is a chipper, colourful, very different microcosm. The three most popular girls at in senior year – ultra-conservative Mormon ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen), drama queen Caprice (Xosha Roquemore) and luscious blonde Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse) – decide to befriend Tanner. Why? Well, the “gay best friend” is a hot trend, according to the magazines they skim through. However, Tanner’s surprising, newfound social ascent does not sit well with lifelong friend Brent (Paul Iacono, a scene-stealer). Brent and Tanner were good friends and closeted teens that were comfortable just hanging out together, but leaning on different curves of popularity, they grow farther apart.
As a high-school comedy, G.B.F. is fun if unfocused. Northy is not afraid to mock the silliness of vapid high-school stereotypes – among them, an ultra-conservative offended by the sudden influx of gay students played by Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter films). Besides poking fun at these zany types, his script also looks at the humanity of closeted teens trying to navigate through high school and their home life without arousing suspicion.
His writing moves on a spectrum from snarky to sweet; however, by aiming for both absurd comedy and painful drama, the film’s tone often wavers. Although it’s filled with a humanity that evokes John Hughes and a mean-spirited pointedness that brings to mind the sharpest episodes of Glee, the comic and serious tones of the story often clash.
Even when the film’s humorous and heartfelt moments don’t gel, there is a lot of bracing honesty. North Gateway is a school trying to evolve a gay-straight student alliance, although the students have a limited understanding of the nuances of homosexuality. When Caprice, Fawcett and ‘Shley try to get to know Tanner, they are upset that the soft-spoken comic-book lover does not resemble the flamboyant queers on Bravo. “You’re the secret gay? But you’re not even that fabulous,” one character puffs to an awkward, sullen Tanner.
Northy’s script is also filled with interesting characters, many of which evade normal stereotypes, although the colourful student body is too plentiful. There are about a dozen supporting characters who populate the subplots, but are around a handful too many. Meanwhile, the stylized dialogue is hit-and-miss, some of it too witty for the mouths of the vain, vapid types that populate North Gateway High.
Under Stein’s direction, who fills the soundtrack with pop music and the school with popping neon colours, North Gateway High is itself emblematic of the (mostly) rainbow-friendly story and setting. However, more moments of Tanner and Brent reflecting on their own sexual inexperience and fewer, genre-centric montages of shopping and slow motion walks through brightly lit school hallways would have been even more refreshing.
What elevates G.B.F. above some of its teen-centric clichés is the ace cast, both young and old. The fresh-faced Willett and the droll Iacono share a sparkling chemistry. Meanwhile, the actors portraying their parents get terrific material to work with, notably Megan Mullally as Brent’s mom, who embarrasses him into watching a marathon of gay/lesbian-themed films on Netflix in the film’s funniest scene.
Also, a late confrontation between Tanner and his sharp parents (Rebecca Gayheart and Jonathan Silverman) about their son’s homosexuality is also revealing. The moments where the teens reflect on their sexuality with their peers and their parents have a refreshing honesty that some of the scenes of sniping and put-downs between the supporting characters on the school grounds do not.
G.B.F. is not as cutting or cunning as Mean Girls or the best episodes of MTV’s Awkward, although it is up with the trends and there is a positive, progressive attitude in Northy’s screenplay that is easy to appreciate. While the film is too cluttered to really get to the heart of the gay protagonists at its centre, that it comes close to being an honest and humorous look at peer pressure, high-school social warfare and sexual discovery is still admirable.
A refreshing, colourfully acted, rainbow-friendly look at modern high-school life, G.B.F. unfortunately wavers too much between the humanity and the hilarity to be a great film.