Chris Mason Johnson’s feature debut The New Twenty made an impression last year on the GLBT film festival circuit. Happily, it is receiving a springtime theatrical release starting this Friday in NYC (the film is scheduled for a May 15 opening in LA). While it’s not a perfect movie, I am nonetheless always happy to see quality films receive wider distribution.
Playing not unlike an updated John Hughes movie from the mid-1980’s, The New Twenty largely fulfills co-writer (with Ishmael Chawla) and director Johnson’s stated intent to “depict gay/straight friendships that are free of the usual homosexual panic jokes and unrequited love conflicts that usually dominate the screen.” It focuses on a group of Manhattan-based friends reflecting on their lives’ accomplishments and failures as they near the age of 30, “the new 20” of the film’s title.
Two members of the group are gay men still searching for their ever-elusive Mr. Right. One of them, Ben (played by the endearing Colin Fickes), wears his heart on his sleeve and is prone to honesty even in Internet chat rooms. When a potential hook-up asks what he looks like, Ben accurately but hopefully replies, “Like Sam from Lord of the Rings.” Sadly, it doesn’t get him a positive reaction.
The other out member, Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), surprises even himself when he finds himself attracted to an older, HIV+ college professor (well-played by Bill Sage, who some will recognize from Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin). More accustomed to steam-room quickies, Tony starts to undergo a personal transformation that threatens to take him far from his longtime circle of friends.
While the film’s entire cast is good, Nicole Bilderback gives a breakout performance as Julie, Tony’s sister and fiancée to the aggressively upwardly-mobile Andrew (Ryan Locke). Bilderback won the Best Actress award at last summer’s Outfest in LA for The New Twenty. A veteran of such films as Clueless and Bring It On (in which she played the bitchy Whitney), Bilderback deserves a lead in a major studio film, and soon!
The most familiar and, subsequently, weakest character in The New Twenty is Felix, played by Thomas Sadoski. Felix is a heroin addict who brings to mind Robert Downey Jr.’s tragic junkie in the 1987 film Less Than Zero. It’s no fault of Sadoski’s that Felix is underdeveloped and comes across as hardly deserving of sympathy. Rather, we should blame either the screenplay or editors Todd Holmes and Adam Raponi.
This criticism aside, The New Twenty is the rare GLBT-themed film with truly universal appeal, especially among those who have reached or are about to reach the not-insignificant age of 30. I loved my 30’s, and I hope they do too!
UPDATE: The New Twenty is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.