As GLBT-oriented movies proliferate, I am increasingly amused by how each new release seems to be termed "the gay (fill-in-the-blank) movie." For example, we've had "the gay slasher movie" (Hellbent), "the gay cowboy movie" (Brokeback Mountain), and "the gay soccer movie" (Eleven Men Out). While it can be edifying to hear of and watch gay takes on established genres, such terminology makes each film sound like not only the first but also the last of its kind!
Well, we can now add "the gay surfer movie," Shelter, to the list. It is being released on DVDthis week after a successful, if limited, theatrical run. The first project produced under here! Networks' Independent Film Initiative, Shelter has won numerous awards at various US film festivals.
Talented newcomer Trevor Wright plays Zach, a young aspiring artist living in San Pedro, California. As the responsible member of his dysfunctional family, he works in a local restaurant to support his ailing father and his young nephew. The latter is on the verge of being abandoned by Zach's older sister, Jeanne (a largely unsympathetic role well played by Tina Holmes), who is preparing to move to Oregon with her latest deadbeat boyfriend.
While taking an occasional, well-needed break from the pressures of his home life, Zach starts surfing with his best friend's older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe, who has become both better looking and a better actor since he played the object of Sean Hayes' desire in Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss). An openly gay writer, Shaun takes Zach under his wing in more ways than one, gradually helping Zach explore his budding sexuality.
Written and directed by Jonah Markowitz, Shelter is a better than average coming-of-age story. Though it is somewhat predictable and suffers at times from some rough editing transitions, likely due to budgetary constraints, it is honest and heartfelt. One can't help but be moved by the film's climax, wherein Zach, Shaun and Zach's nephew are realistically presented as a healthier and more loving family than most.
Rowe and Wright have a nice chemistry and laid-back rapport that makes Shelter perfect romantic viewing on a warm summer night. It may be the first "gay surfer movie" (no, Point Break doesn't count), but let's hope it isn't the last.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.