Sunday, September 24, 2023

Reverend's Reviews: Sharks, Imelda Marcos and More Currently on NYC Stages

It's probably needless to say, but Steven Spielberg's breakout, 1975 movie Jaws became the template of the modern movie blockbuster. Adapted from Peter Benchley's novel about a massive Great White shark terrorizing a seaside New England community, the film has grossed more than $2 billion (adjusted for inflation) over the years off a production cost of approximately $40 million (also adjusted for inflation). It also famously made a generation of beach-goers, myself included, think twice before going into the water. As a kid, I was even afraid of going into my apartment complex's swimming pool for a while after watching Jaws.

The film notoriously went over budget during production due to inclement weather and the continuous malfunctioning of several mechanical sharks created for it. The Shark is Broken, an aptly-titled new play written by and starring the son of one of the movie's stars, is currently serving as a Broadway exposé of behind-the-scenes Hollywood mayhem. I attended a recent performance expecting it to be a comedic, potentially campy rehash of film-industry mythology, but was pleasantly surprised to instead find a heartfelt exploration of often tempestuous relationships between actors as well as between fathers and sons.

Spielberg teamed veteran actors Robert Shaw (his son Ian wrote the play, largely drawn from Robert's journals) and Roy Scheider with relative newcomer Richard Dreyfuss. Ian Shaw gives an uncanny performance as his father, honestly yet sympathetically depicting the senior Shaw's alcoholism as well as his hope to outlive his own, suicidal father (sadly, Robert was unsuccessful in this regard). Two-time Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman entertainingly plays Dreyfuss as a then-insecure wannabe movie star desperate for his co-stars' validation. The lesser-known Colin Donnell gives the play's most centered, Zen-like performance as Scheider, who just wants a free, solitary afternoon to work on his tan... yummily stripped down to a Speedo bikini in one scene. Donnell also has what is arguably the play's funniest line, when he vows as Scheider to never be part of a potential sequel. (Scheider headlined 1978's Jaws 2.)

Directed by Guy Masterson, The Shark is Broken is set solely on the Orca, the famed shark-hunting boat in the film. Some impressive projections are employed to make it look like the boat and the waters surrounding it are moving. It becomes an amusing guessing game for audience members to try to determine the various hiding places on the set where Robert has hidden his booze, which not even the actor/character himself can remember.

As a cinephile, I enjoyed this play's depiction of the tortured process that went into making the classic Jaws. But I also appreciated The Shark is Broken on its own theatrical yet deeply personal terms. I recommend as many people as possible see it during its current limited run at Broadway's Golden Theater through November 19th, 2023.

If they can mount a Broadway musical about the life of Argentinian first lady Eva Peron (Evita), then why not one about Imelda Marcos, notorious shoe-loving first lady of the Philippines from 1965-1986? Thanks to Talking Heads auteur David Byrne and master DJ-musician Fatboy Slim, Imelda is now a singing & dancing sensation in the pair's fantastic Here Lies Love.

First produced off-Broadway 10 years ago, it took heartfelt dedication to mount the version now playing at the Broadway Theater. Though one of NYC's oldest and largest theaters, director Alex Timbers and scenic designer David Korins removed most of the venue's orchestra seats to reconfigure the floor level into an interactive discotheque environment. Attendees can buy tickets to either stand on the floor and be part of the action or to be seated in the more traditional mezzanine section. I sat in the mezz and appreciated having a bird's eye view of the floor, including a central stage/platform that rotates 360 degrees. Dancers and even some of the lead actors still made their way up to the mezzanine, and the show's DJ got all of us up on our feet twice to teach us choreography for two standout numbers.

Here Lies Love is a sung-through, necessarily abbreviated account (100 minutes without an intermission) of Imelda's life. Continuous video projections courtesy of Peter Nigrini fill in some of the details but, for better and worse, the show leaves one wanting more from a historical perspective. Still, it is effective at showing how easily political popularity can turn to tyranny, definitely a timely lesson here in the good ol' Trump-infected US of A. It is also the first Broadway musical to feature an all-Filipino cast, which is its own historic achievement.

Many musicals send audiences out singing or humming some of their tunes. In my experience, though, Here Lies Love is the first to send audience members out literally dancing in the street! One must see/experience it, and I sincerely hope the show enjoys a well-deserved long life.

In light of the ongoing strike by Writers Guild of America (WGA) members, Pay the Writer is certainly an appropriate title for a new play. Written by Tawni O'Dell and directed by Karen Carpenter (no relation to myself), it is now having its world premiere through the end of this month at the Pershing Square Signature Center in NYC.

A starry cast headed by out actor Bryan Batt (Mad Men), Ron Canada (The West Wing) and Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives) definitely commands attention. The plot actually doesn't involve the current WGA strike, but it instead relates a decades-long relationship between (fictional) acclaimed author Cyrus Holt and his gay literary agent, Bruston Fischer. Cyrus (played by Canada) has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and is trying to mend fences with Bruston (Batt) as well as his ex-wife Lana (Cross) and two adult children during his remaining time.

O'Dell's script entails many important topics including racism, homophobia, personal and professional legacies, the Vietnam War and its after-effects, and mortality. It's ultimately a bit too much content for a 2-hour play performed without an intermission, and could be improved with some further development and fleshing out of its characters. For example, we have no idea what Cross's character, Lana, does for a living or really anything else about her personal/professional life. Similarly, we don't know how Bruston spends his personal time aside from hanging out on the front stoop of Cyrus's apartment building. There is also mention of a horrible gay bashing/attempted murder incident Bruston endured that is too quickly brushed aside.

Still, Pay the Writer is worth seeing for its fine cast and their performances. In addition to the three leads, Garrett Turner is excellent as both young Cyrus and his son Leo, and Stephen Payne makes a memorable impression in his one scene as a nameless, homeless Vietnam vet with whom adult Cyrus crosses paths.

20 Seconds, a powerful one-man show, just opened on September 21st and is also playing at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Reverend was privileged to attend a preview performance on September 16th. Powerful might not be a strong enough word to describe Tom Sweitzer's autobiographical saga: I highly recommend the producers post a currently absent "trigger warning" on the play's website for its graphic descriptions of child abuse, spousal abuse and animal abuse, plus attempted murder and suicide.

This isn't to scare audiences away from the production. Sweitzer bravely, cathartically recreates his often-horrific upbringing by his physically abusive father and emotionally abusive mother. The actor-writer-music therapist plays all the parts in 20 Seconds. These include himself as a boy, his parents, the kindly church minister who takes him under her wing, and numerous other male and female characters. Sweitzer is openly gay and the play also addresses his coming of age in this regard.

He is impressive in many of these dramatic moments, but both the friend who attended with me and I came away feeling Sweitzer has taken on too much. 20 Seconds could potentially benefit from a more objective approach, employing multiple actors to portray Sweitzer and the other roles. There are moments in the current production when one fears Sweitzer is risking re-traumatizing himself... and traumatizing unsuspecting audience members along with him. That being said, I applaud Sweitzer for his courageous, ultimately hopeful work. One can catch it now through October 21st.

Last but certainly not least among NYC productions Reverend has attended recently is the off-Broadway sensation Titanique! I streamed an early, online version of this hilarious spoof during the COVID shutdown and loved it. But I finally decided to see the fully-staged production at the Daryl Roth Theatre after learning the fantastique Drew Droege was joining the cast. Droege — who has an extensive resumé that includes The Groundlings comedy troupe, numerous sitcom appearances and indie films, plus roles in acclaimed plays (several of which he wrote himself)— has been a friend since we crossed paths at Outfest Los Angeles approximately a decade ago. He is also well known for his sublime YouTube videos in which he portrays actress Chloë Sevigny, pontificating on various mundane topics.

In brief, Titanique recreates James Cameron's 1997 Oscar-winning film for which French-Canadian singer Celine Dion immortalized the song "My Heart Will Go On." But in this off-kilter rendition, Dion inserts herself into the film and even claims to have been physically present on the ill-fated luxury liner when it collided with an iceberg and sank in 1912. The very funny Jackie Burns has assumed the role of Dion from original star and book co-writer Marla Mindelle. I was especially amused by the multiple ways Burns intentionally mispronounces her diva character's name, including what sounds like "So-long" instead of "Celine." Though some die-hard fans might consider the show's depiction of Dion as disrespectful, it is actually quite loving even as it highlights some of the real-life singer's quirkier behaviors.

Droege is a hoot in the role of Ruth, Rose's bitchy mother (played by Frances Fisher in the movie). Also new to the cast is RuPaul's Drag Race alum Willam, although he was out the evening I attended. Now extended through January 7th, be sure to book passage on Titanique when in NYC!

Reverend's Ratings:
The Shark is Broken: B+
Here Lies Love: A-
Pay the Writer: B
20 Seconds: B-
Titanique: A-

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Reverend's Interview: Dressed for Success in Bottoms

Many of us have been captivated this past month by season 2 of Heartstopper, the acclaimed Netflix series about a group of nice, largely well-behaved LGBTQ teens. Well, get ready for Bottoms, a raunchy, politically-incorrect new movie that serves as the virtual antithesis of Heartstopper but I still recommend. It is now playing in select theaters.

This comedy directed by Emma Seligman (Shiva Baby) focuses on two queer girls, PJ and Josie, who start a high school fight club in an effort to lose their virginities to cheerleaders. Their bizarre plan works. The fight club gains traction and soon the most popular girls in school are beating each other up in the name of self-defense, with some self-discovery worked in. But PJ and Josie soon find themselves in over their heads and in need of a way out before their plan is exposed.

Rachel Sennott, who previously starred in the similarly provocative Shiva Baby, headlines the cast as PJ and co-wrote the screenplay with Seligman. Ayo Edebira (also currently seen in Hulu’s The Bear) plays Josie, and British actor Nicholas Galitzine co-stars as a charmingly narcissistic football player. Galitzine is currently making viewers swoon as Prince Henry in Amazon Prime’s hit gay-themed romance Red, White & Royal Blue. Bottoms also boasts a music score co-composed by pop singer-songwriter Charli XCX.

There are an abundance of LGBTQ teen characters in Bottoms, which was actually titled Gay High School Fight Club while Seligman and Sennott were writing it. As Sennott recalls in the film’s press notes: “Emma had this idea to do a queer teen high school story, and I wanted to do a comedy where the women behave badly and the main characters are sort of unlikeable. We connected over that and spent the next few weeks outlining and brainstorming.”

Seligman described the inspiration behind the script. “Our initial references were Superbad or American Pie or the many other teen movies with male leads trying to lose their virginity,” she said. “Rachel and I felt that there are just as many flawed, superficial, horny teenage girls as there are flawed, superficial, horny teenage boys. Those were the initial references, then Wet Hot American Summer, Bring It On, Sugar & Spice and Drop Dead Gorgeous, and all these Y2K teen movies helped shape the tone of the movie.” While they aimed to have positive representations of queer teen sexuality, Seligman and Sennott really wanted to show just how messy women can be.

1999’s homoerotic drama Fight Club, which co-starred Brad Pitt and Edward Norton and was directed by David Fincher, is another inspiration referenced multiple times in the film. Ultimately, Bottoms has abundant heart as well as moments of bad taste plus a great montage set to Bonnie Tyler’s classic song "Total Eclipse of the Heart", an awesome finale, and some hilarious bloopers during its end credits.

Eunice Lee

Another standout element of the movie are its character’s costumes, drawn from influences spanning different time periods, film genres and dramatic tones by designer Eunice Lee. Lee began her career as a high-fashion stylist and a fashion journalist before entering the film industry. She is currently designing costumes for the upcoming Twisters, a big-budget sequel to/reboot of the 1996 tornado thriller Twister.

Lee recently took time out of her busy schedule to speak with me via Zoom:

CC: Hi Eunice! I’m really excited because in my 25-plus years of interviewing filmmakers and other talent, I’ve never interviewed a costume designer! Maybe for myself and the less familiar, can you kind of explain what exactly a costume designer does or how do you approach your work?
EL: Oh wow, sure! Costume designers are responsible for designing the overall look and every outfit for every character that you see on set or in the film.

CC: Where does the design process typically start for you? I know some directors will read scripts and they’re picturing certain actors in certain roles. When you’re reading a script, are you picturing the costumes or the fashions the characters might be wearing that immediately or does that come later on?
EL: Well, the first time I read the script I read it in totality so I don’t really think about the fashion. I think about who these characters might be. My process is really to create backstories for characters, like what makes each character a whole person and not just a character. We see them for an hour and a half to two hours and that’s not their full story, and to create something, or a person or a character, that doesn’t feel shallow you kind of have to understand what got this person or this character to this place to begin with. And so I just start creating these backstories for everyone.

CC: That’s cool, that’s interesting. And you got your start in fashion journalism, is that right?
EL: That’s correct, actually. I went to Parsons School of Design (in New York City) and while I was there getting my BBA I interned my way through Conde Nast. Then I moved to London and got my Masters at another fashion school in fashion journalism, and I kind of stayed in that high luxury fashion space for a very long time (laugh).

CC: So, what inspired you or led you into costume design?
EL: It’s more serendipity than anything else. Long story short, I suppose: After London and being in this very competitive space as a stylist, I went to Seoul for a holiday and I was introduced to this Italian filmmaker who felt very passionate about setting me up with this Korean-American director because he was in town prepping for his next indie film. I had never done a film before, I had never even considered it. But this director asked me to go to LA and meet with this designer that he had hired, and he let her know that he wanted me to be a part of this project. And so, a few months later, I was in Seoul and traveling around South Korea on that film and that’s where I met (actor-producer-director) Justin Chon, who I’ve collaborated on multiple films with including Blue Bayou and Jamojaya, which premiered at Sundance this year.

CC: That’s awesome. Yeah, serendipitous is definitely the appropriate word there. So, talk to me about Bottoms. How did this film or project find its way to you?
EL: It’s not very exciting. I got sent the script through my agents and I’d heard of Emma Seligman because she had just done this great film called Shiva Baby. I love dark comedies and I just felt like, “here’s this really young girl who just graduated NYU doing something.” I mean, she really had her finger on the pulse in terms of comedy and I thought she would just be really fun to collaborate with. So I really fought to be a part of this film and I really wanted to work on something that really highlighted the LGBTQIA community.

CC: Bottoms is a very funny movie and your designs for the women in the cast are certainly noteworthy, but one of the funniest things about the movie for me was the football players and how they’re in their uniforms the entire film. Was that how it was written or was that the director’s choice or your choice, or was there consultation about that?
EL: (Laughs) For sure. That was an Emma idea. We had multiple conversations about this but I really used Fight Club as an example for this film, not just for the obvious but because I love the way that Michael Kaplan, who designed Fight Club, utilizes the use of gender to signify or kind of juxtapose these really masculine, macho acts of fighting and beating each other up. But then you have Brad Pitt wearing women’s robes and these tight floral shirts and, like, these really camp glasses. It just kind of normalizes it as a masculine thing, and I loved the idea of making the silhouettes for these football players as feminine as it can get within the parameters of it still being a uniform. So, we used smaller padding. We used very, VERY tight uniforms. I mean, I sized down for everyone and it was a nightmare! (Laughs) Most days, we thought the seams were going to rip. The boys could hardly get themselves inside the uniforms. It took two costumers to help every football player.

CC: That is too funny! You mentioned Michael Kaplan and that raised a question for me: Are there other costume designers, either living or deceased, who have really inspired you or you really kind of admire?
EL: Oh, I mean I don’t want to leave anyone out but I love Sandy Powell (a 15-time Oscar nominee and 3-time Oscar winner). I think Heidi Bivens (Euphoria, Reservation Dogs) is very exciting; I think that she is just a phenomenal designer who really has her finger on the pulse. And Jenny Beavan (an Oscar winner for Cruella and Mad Max: Fury Road). There are so many, honestly, I just don’t even know how to answer that question. I think the one thing about choosing designers, for directors, is that everyone will bring a different perspective. You’re never going to have two separate designers who bring the same thing to the table.

CC: Hmm, that’s interesting to think about. In the film’s press notes, it mentions that you “connect with characters from diverse and LGBTQ communities.” Can you talk a little bit about that connection or attraction?
EL: Sure. I mean, I’m gay and I’m a Korean-American who grew up in Orange County in a very Christian, Korean bubble (laughs). It was suffocating for me but I luckily escaped. I moved to New York and, you know, just seeing different representation of our community there and then, furthermore, moving to London and getting to see the variety of style and types of people in our community just really opened my eyes to the diversity and the individuality of each person.

I also think the way that gay people are portrayed to mainstream media is so different from how we see ourselves and, sure, in the gay culture there’s going to be super-camp men or there’s going to be women who present themselves as super-butch. But the reality is that’s not the entirety of our community, and I really wanted to do a film where I could show that there’s this ultra-feminine character who you don’t know if she’s gay or not. And there’s another character who’s still trying to figure out who she is and her place in the gay community and how she wants to express herself to the world. I thought that it was really important to bring these different types of style and show each character as a full human as opposed to just a caricature or stereotype.

CC: Are there any other big-name or known filmmakers who you really hope to work with sometime?
EL: Yeah, I’ve always wanted to work with Wes Anderson (Asteroid City, Moonrise Kingdom, et al), which kind of feeds the stylized side of my brain, but there are other really exciting people. I think Jonah Hill is an incredible filmmaker. I loved what he did on Mid90s and that version of storytelling is really exciting as well. There are so many people I want to work with!

CC: I can see you working with Wes Anderson. I think your sensibilities and style would line up really well.
EL: Thank you! We’ll see, but I do think that things that are meant for you do come and things that don’t just aren’t meant for you. But it’s been exciting so far!

Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Reverend's Preview: FIlmOut San Diego - Glitter and Doom and Big Boys, oh my!

Summer may be winding down but it will hardly mark the end of big LGBTQ events. FilmOut San Diego’s 23rd Annual LGBTQ Film Festival is just around the corner. It will take place from September 7th–10th, 2023, at various locations including the San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT) and the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA). Both venues are located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park.

Award-winning films from the Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals along with independent features and a variety of short films, will be featured. FilmOut San Diego “annually affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. The Board of Directors believes its work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBTQ community in San Diego County.”

FilmOut SD 2023 will kick off at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 7th with the gay-themed musical romance Glitter & Doom. It was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tom Gustafson, who previously helmed fellow musicals Were the World Mine, Hello Again and Mariachi Gringo. His latest is set to songs by the iconic Indigo Girls and follows two guys who fall in love while trying to make it in the music biz. The star-studded supporting cast includes Ming-Na Wen, Missi Pyle, Lea DeLaria, Tig Notaro, Drag Race alum Peppermint, Broadway star Beth Malone, and the Indigo Girls themselves! The Opening Night screening will be followed by a fabulous party at THE NAT.

Other major screenings confirmed for the fest are:

Men’s Centerpiece: Shoulder Dance
Best friends Ira and Roger haven't seen each other in 24 years. When Roger arrives unexpectedly for the weekend, long-suppressed desires dangerously resurface. As the boundaries of friendship, love, and sex collide, the strength of Ira's long-term relationship with Josh is tested as never before. This sexy, provocative film stars TV alums Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) and Rick Cosnett (the conflicted Eddie Thawne on The Flash).

Women’s Centerpiece: Silver Haze
Fifteen years after she got burned when the pub she slept in as a child caught fire, Franky (now 23 and a nurse) seeks revenge because she still hasn't found any answers. Things get more complicated when she falls in love with one of her patients. Of note, Vicky Knight, who plays Franky, is a nurse in real life and this is her second film. The scars on her body are real, the result of a fire in her home when she was 8 years old. A powerful, potent tale by Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak.

Festival Spotlight: The Mattachine Family
A timely and moving film by Andy and Danny Vallentine. Longtime couple Thomas and Oscar are very much in love. However, after their first foster child returns to his birth mother, they find that they have different ideas about what making a family actually means.

International Spotlight: Three Nights a Week
Baptiste is in a relationship with cisgender female Samia when he first meets Cookie Kunty, a young drag queen from the Parisian scene who immediately mesmerizes him. This French drama is a must-see in light of all the current anti-drag sentiment in our good ol’ US of A.

Closing Night Film: Golden Delicious
When gay, basketball-obsessed Aleks moves in across the street, straight-seeming Asian-Canadian teen Jake finds himself trying out for the basketball team to get his attention. An enjoyable coming-of-age story for the iPhone/TikTok age by director Jason Karman.

A Closing Night Dessert Reception will be held at MOPA on September 10th from 7:15 pm to 10:30 pm. Throughout the festival, several filmmakers and other talent plan to attend the festival and participate in audience Q&A’s after their respective films’ screenings.

I want to recommend at least two other movies I’ve seen that will be screened during the FilmOut SD weekend. One is the lovely Lie With Me, adapted from the award-winning French novel by Philippe Besson. (Incidentally but interestingly, the English-language version of the book was translated by none other than beloved 1980’s “Brat Pack” actress Molly Ringwald!) Upon agreeing to be the brand ambassador for a famous cognac celebrating their bicentennial, gay novelist Stéphane returns to his hometown for the first time in many years. Once there, he meets young Lucas, who turns out to be his first love's son. Memories come rushing back to Stéphane: irrepressible attraction, bodies becoming one in the heat of desire, a passion that can never be revealed...until now.

Another standout is Big Boys, which relates the story of a precocious, 14-year old aspiring chef named Jamie (a terrific performance by relative newcomer Isaac Krasner). His dream camping trip is ruined before it even begins when he finds out that his beloved cousin Allie is bringing her new boyfriend, Dan. However, Jamie’s initial jealousy of the competent and confident Dan quickly turns into a “bromance” as they bond over cooking, games and both being “big boys.” As the weekend progresses, despite Jamie’s brother’s attempts to set him up with a girl staying at the campsite, all Jamie wants to do is hang out with Dan. As his burgeoning crush gets him into awkward scrapes and arguments, Jamie begins to come to terms with who he is… and who he desires.

Big Boys was written and directed by Corey Sherman, a 29-year old filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Riverdale, a neighborhood in the north Bronx, just within New York City limits. Sherman later majored in Film & Television Production at the University of Southern California. He started making comedy short films when he was eight years old, and continues making them to this day. A long-time lover of animation, Sherman branched out from live action in college and created an animated web series titled Billiams, which was well-received online and led to a partnership with Matt Maiellaro, the creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. He achieved a life-long dream when he wrote, directed, edited, and voiced a character on several episodes of Maiellaro's animated Adult Swim show, 12 Oz. Mouse. Sherman is also passionate about non-fiction filmmaking and recently edited Lawrence Kasdan’s documentary short, Last Week at Ed’s, which won the Audience Award for Best Marquee Feature at the 2019 Austin Film Festival.

Corey Sherman

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the talented young Sherman via Zoom:

CC: Big Boys is such a sensitive, unique coming of age story. What was its genesis?
CS: It was an idea that had been playing around in my head, to center a story on an unrequited crush. Those were really formative for me when I was growing up and coming to terms with my sexuality. There were a lot of guys I liked but none of them were interested in me because they were straight, they were older, they were just inaccessible in some ways. But they still had an impact on me because they taught me about what I liked, and they taught me the courage to be honest about how I was feeling. They were also my first experiences of letting myself get really excited about another guy, and going to that place emotionally — which was a really big step for me, to even allow myself to entertain the idea — so there was all this change happening internally. I wanted to make a movie that centered around that sort of turning point for someone like me.

CC: Wow, that’s really powerful. So what led you to decide on casting a larger-than-usual body type or protagonist?
CS: We were specifically looking for kids of that size because that’s who I was when I was a kid and it’s still who I am now. It’s something that we haven’t seen a lot of in movies before, where a character like that is allowed to take center stage and have a romantic plot. For them to be these three-dimensional characters that aren’t just like the friend or the total butt of a joke, and for the movie to respect their size and also respect that they have a personality that exists totally outside of their size. It was also important for him to be attracted to a bigger guy and not some thinner or more attractive twink, which is often the case in movies.

CC: Isaac Krasner gives a very impressive performance for a teenager! How did you cast him?
CS: Working with a really great casting director, Kristi Lugo. We put out a national casting call and Isaac was the first person we saw. He was remarkable. We wanted to showcase the experience of a chubby teen going through this life-altering experience and allow him to be a fully-developed, nuanced character instead of a stereotype. Isaac totally invested himself in the process and he brought really good ideas and perspective as a 14-year old. Lugo also helped us bring on top talent like Emily Deschanel (who plays Jamie’s mother), in addition to many other incredible actors who gave the performances in the film a lived-in specificity and authenticity.

CC: And how about the casting process for Dan, played by hunky David Johnson III?
CS: That took a lot longer (than casting Jamie/Isaac). Dan was the last role we cast. It took time to find the right combination of warmth and strength, but David really embodied both better than anyone else we saw. Dan is large but confident in his body, and over the course of the film teaches Jamie that there is nothing to be ashamed of about being a big guy. Even though it is often presented as solely a women’s issue, body shaming affects everyone. Young people of all genders are susceptible to body image issues, particularly now when there is an endless well of images to compare ourselves to online. We need more male role models of body positivity like Dan and Jamie to encourage viewers to stop comparing themselves to others and embrace their bodies no matter the size.

CC: What have been some of the responses to your film? Have any of them particularly surprised or moved you?
CS: I’ve been really touched by people, all kinds of people, telling me how personal the movie is to them. It’s clearly gotten an emotional reaction from people and they’re really moved. The story is accessible and universal. We made a film about a young man’s unrequited crush to shed light on this extremely common yet under-examined aspect of queer life. In most romantic stories, the object of the protagonist’s love eventually returns their affection. However, for many queer people like myself, growing up was full of unrequited crushes on straight or closeted peers. Yearning for someone we couldn’t have was frustrating enough, but not seeing any exploration of that experience in the media made it feel like a lonely failure. However, these experiences are extremely common and can be profoundly impactful. We figure out how to make peace with not getting everything we want. We learn to put ourselves out there and be honest even in the face of imminent rejection. Fortunately, these experiences aren’t always complete downers. Like any other love story, they are full of funny, thrilling, and tender moments. We hope that all viewers who can relate but have never seen their story on screen before Big Boys may feel more celebrated and understood.

Sherman will be in attendance at the Big Boys screening. For complete festival ticket info, screening updates, sponsorships and volunteer information, please visit One can also follow the event on Facebook at FilmOut San Diego or on Instagram/Twitter at @FilmOutSD.

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.