Starring: Brad Rowe, Trevor Wright, Tina Holmes
Director: John Markowitz
ML's Rating: 5 stars out of 5
After giving up his dreams of art school to take care of his family, Zach (Trevor Wright), finds himself caught in an endless cycle of having to look out for everyone but himself. He works dead-end jobs to help support his flaky and irresponsible sister Jeanne (Tina Holmes) and her young son Cody, and takes care of the boy while Jeanne routinely puts her needs before her child's. Zach and his friend/girlfriend Tori have an on-again/off-again relationship, mostly off, as Zach struggles with his feelings for her. And his best friend Gabe left Zach behind to go off to college, as did most of Zach's other friends, intensifying his feelings of isolation. In his free time he tries to find solace in surfing, drawing, and doing street art in the form of tagging.
When Gabe's older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe) returns home to recover from a broken love affair and try to get past a case of writer's block while he works on his next novel, he is captivated by Zach. The two have known each other for years--Shaun taught Zach and Gabe, who were much younger, to surf--but he's been away for a long time and is struck by how the kid he knew only as his brother's best friend has grown into such a selfless and talented young man.
Zach is equally intrigued by Shaun and finds himself drawn into a relationship he didn't expect. As his friendship with Shaun turns into something much more intimate, for the first time in longer than he can remember, Zach finds himself happy and hopeful that there's more out there in the world for him than the existence he's been living. With Shaun's encouragement, he begins to think about art school again. And Cody, who spends more time with his Uncle Zach than his mother, adores Shaun, and vice-versa.
But real change means tough decisions. Zach's sister is supportive of neither his desire to move on with his life, nor his relationship with Shaun ("Zach...you're not a fag, are you?" and "...are you trying to fuck up our family?"). She plays the guilt card with him on a regular basis, because she needs him to "be there" for her and Cody. Struggling to come to terms with his own desires--both as a young gay man coming out of the closet and falling in love, and the need to seek his own path in life while honoring his deeply felt responsibility to his sister and especially his nephew--ultimately Zach realizes he can only find peace if he's true to himself. He discovers the power of love, both for his nephew and for Shaun, gives him the strength he's always needed to follow his heart and find a future filled with promise.
The thing that always strikes me about this movie when I watch it is that it's not so much a gay story as a story about real people struggling with heartfelt issues. It's a situation anyone can relate to, about finding balance between self and the needs of others, following one's heart and dreams amidst adversity, and creating family and finding love in unexpected ways. Shelter is a testament to how family isn't just limited to the people to whom one is born, but extends in a much wider arc to include any and all who love each other. Zach is a far better parent to Cody than Jeanne could ever hope to be, and once Shaun enters their lives, he, too, becomes a key player in offering security and a sense of family to the little boy. Shaun also gives Zach the love and support and encouragement he needs to seek his own dreams. In return, I think Zach does much the same for Shaun, shining a new light into his life, and giving him a new family anchor.
The romance between Shaun and Zach is sweet, but also seductively intense at times. And very intimate on an emotional level, which is a beautiful thing to watch. The scene where Zach finally gives in to his desire to be with Shaun, goes to his house, and the moment Shaun opens the door, kisses him and they can't keep their hands off each other as they go upstairs is one of the hottest things I've ever seen. And it's not just because they start to strip on screen so much as from the way they look at each other and the powerful chemistry between them. Brad Rowe and Trevor Wright, both straight actors, do an amazing job in their respective roles, and there's never a moment I don't believe they're completely into each other and perfect together.
Honestly, there's just nothing about this movie I don't like. The acting is excellent, it's beautifully edited, all the characters are well-developed--even the ones who are sometimes hard to like, like Jeanne, are still sympathetic and utterly believable. I like the soundtrack, which adds just the right amount of angst and feel-good without turning cheesy. Some might find the movie's pace a bit slow, especially early on, but even that worked for me because it so perfectly set the atmosphere for Zach's despondent state, making me really feel his isolation and lack of hope.
Set in southern California, it's a delicious piece to watch all the way around, from the surfing scenes, to the love-making, and everything in between. It's a movie with a ton of heart, and is a keeper for me.