Turning the drama of coming out into high comedy, G.B.F., opening January 24, is a bright—and brightly colored—high-energy romp. Tanner (Michael J. Willett) is a high school senior who is inadvertently outed. Rather than becoming a social pariah, he is wooed by the school’s three teen queens who want him as their “sexless accessory,” even though he wants to maintain a low profile. His newfound status as the Gay Best Friend (G.B.F.) happens at the same time he has a fight with his BFF Brent (Paul Iacono). Yet bigger problems occur when Tanner is denied the right to take a dude as his date to his prom. Hijinks ensue when Tanner gets involved with an alternative prom and Brent butches it up to put an end to Tanner’s popularity.
Director Darren Stein ably provides the laughs as the characters each get their share of smart and funny jokes. G.B.F. is full of teen-speak, pop culture references, and queer/bitchy flamboyance. The film’s costumes are fierce, but the most fabulous part of G.B.F. is how the film spins some stereotypes on its head—but also shrewdly equates being in the closet with being in high school.
I recently chatted with Stein about making his feel-good film.
GMK: In high school, were you more like Tanner, Brent or the clique queens?
DS: [Laughs] In high school, I was an outsider. I was a combination of Tanner, Brent and a clique queen. I had a bit of Brent’s queeny-ness, Tanner’s introverted qualities and the aspirations of a clique queen [laughs]. I went to an all boys’ school. It was a harder experience if, like me, you didn’t fly under the radar, and play sports and blend in. I escaped through movies. The teen movies of John Hughes presented a high school experience that could have happened—a fantasy world I preferred.
GMK: What similarities do you see between being in high school and being in the closet?
DS: That’s one of the big themes in the movie. Everyone is in the closet in high school about their insecurity. By exploring the gay closet, we use it as a metaphor for every closet—the science nerd’s, the Mormon slut’s or the kinky girl’s. You live in fear in high school. Everything seems so insurmountable. Once you get out, you can make your own decisions.
GMK: The film turns stereotypes on their heads, from Tanner’s coming out being celebrated to queeny Brent butching it up in one sequence.
DS: Paul came out two years ago, so it was fun for him to play Brent, who was closer to his truth—especially after he played a straight boy on MTV’s The Hard Times of RJ Berger. You have to skewer every stereotype to make it universal. We want teenagers to see G.B.F. It is a gateway movie—one where being gay is not an issue.
GMK: Tanner fights to go to his prom. Did you go to your prom?
DS: I went with this cherubic redheaded girl who flew in from Gainsville, Florida. It was me and a fellow closeted gay kid and his equally clueless date. My mom did my date’s turquoise eye shadow to go with her frilly dress. The evening was pretty much as tragic as the make-up. I really don’t know why I bothered going, but I guess in high school, you want to affect some semblance of fitting in.
GMK: What can you say about all the teen-speak and pop culture references in the film?
DS: That was the charm of the script. The language was current and funny and out there and absurd. It was like Heathers and Clueless, where they invent language and words, and those terms sink into pop culture. We live in a culture where kids text and tweet, so we riffed on acronyms throughout G.B.F. Language is metamorphosing.
GMK: G.B.F. also looks fabulous, with bright colors and flamboyant costumes. How did you create the film’s look?
DS: G.B.F. was similar to Jawbreaker (Stein’s last feature) in that it’s contemporary, but you don’t have to give it a time or place. You create a style that goes with the language. I like movies where you are immersed in a world, or on another planet. Teen films are a great place to explore fashion. Our fashion designer was from Project Runway. She really brought a massive amount of style to the film. The characters had to wear the most outrageous fashions because we were skewering trends, such as a G.B.F. being the must-have accessory.
© 2014 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.