Frank (Layke Anderson) is a high school kid in 1984 with a passion for sex and music that comes alive in the colorful and vibrant film from Jean-Claude Schlim, a film that starts off as a rather sweet and inspired coming-of-age story but also a film that takes an abrupt, perhaps too abrupt, shift about halfway through and becomes a rather dramatic story set against the backdrop of the early years of what was then known as the "gay cancer."
Frank is a gay teen who runs off to Amsterdam to experience the alternative life with some friends, only to find himself abandoned by said friends and without a place to stay. He lands upon a place called House of Boys, a gay club where he's taken in and quickly becomes a performer and, for the first time in his life, he feels like he has a home. While Frank takes a shine to all the boys in the club, he takes a special shine to Jake (Benn Northover), a young man who initially insists that he's straight because he has a boyfriend but who eventually finds himself involved with Frank.
Then, the shift happens. HIV/AIDS begins impacting the lives of those around Frank and, quite suddenly, we have an entirely different film that never shifts back to its previous tone. It's not that the new tone is bad exactly, just that it's so abrupt and so different from how we start out that it often feels as if we're watching two short films rather than one full-length feature.
Anderson, however, is a delight to watch throughout the film. He's energetic, inspired, passionate, sexy, fun and just plain has a wonderful screen presence that manages to hold up even against the weaker performance by Benn Northover as Jake. Northover isn't bad, but Anderson's performance is so emotionally resonant that Northover's can't help but suffer by comparison.
I couldn't help but on occasion wonder if I'd stumbled upon a gay version of Channing Tatum's upcoming Magic Mike,
but House of Boys
tackles far meatier subjects (no pun intended!) and reaches far deeper. The dance/music scenes are likely the film's highlight, though the film's DVD cover seems a tad deceptive and implies a much stronger campfest than actually exists here. While the film's more dramatic scenes occasionally feel forced and histrionic, one simply must give Schlim and co-writer Christian Thiry credit for crafting a film that remains honest and authentic throughout.
Somewhat surprisingly, Udo Kier shows up in a supporting role and gives everything a spirited turn. Gast Waltzing's original music is at its best in the film's earlier scenes, though it still manages to companion everything quite nicely throughout. The camera work from Jean-Louis Schuller and Carlo Thiel is inventive and unique and never lets the film be less than visually compelling.
House of Boys
was released just this week on home video by QC Cinema, the gay/lesbian distribution arm for Breaking Glass Pictures. The well developed dvd packaging includes a behind-the-scenes look, interviews and the film's trailer. For more information, visit the QC Cinema website for the page.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic