Title: Boy Culture
Starring: Derek Magyar, Patrick Bauchau, Darryl Stephens, Jonathan Trent
Director: Q. Allan Brocka
ML’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Boy Culture is the story of a high-priced male hustler named X (played by the talented Derek Magyar). He's sexy as hell and downright charming when need be, and his clients--which he limits to an exclusive twelve regulars--adore him, judging by the exorbitant price they're willing to pay for his services. But he never lets any of his "business" relationships go beyond the professional, nor does he allow anyone in his personal life to lure him into anything emotional either. He likes to keep things simple and clean.
X earns so much money his accountant recommends he find some roommates to keep the IRS off his back. So the quiet, hunky Andrew (Darryl Stephens of Noah's Ark fame) and promiscuous eighteen-year-old Joey (Jonathan Trent) move in with him rent free, creating a new and complicated facet in X's life as the three of them dance around their attraction to one another. Things become even messier for X when one of his clients dies, leaving an opening in his roster. He takes on a new regular, an older, reclusive gentleman named Gregory (Patrick Bauchau). But before Gregory will be intimate with X, he insists they get to know one another. Over the course of several months, he tells an unsettling love story spanning fifty years, and challenges X to invest in something he hasn't allowed himself to experience in a very long time...emotion.
The first time I watched this movie I was expecting a sexy, humorous flick with lots of eye candy but little substance. I mean, the DVD cover alone is enough to make any boy lover drool. :) Within the first few minutes, however, I found myself inescapably lured into X's life, into his fears and secrets longings, even into his sarcastic humor which seems heartless at times, but hints at the true vulnerability X hides beneath his tough guy outer shell. X uses the film as a vehicle to "confess" about his life, narrating it with both biting humor and touching honesty, allowing the viewer to see a side of him he keeps hidden from his clients and friends. And thanks to Derek Magyar's terrific performance, I not only couldn't stop watching, I was enthralled. He paints a picture of a cocky but secretly damaged man who wants to be loved, desperately wants it, in fact, but who can't quite convince himself he's worthy of it. In spite of his profession, in his personal life he doesn't sleep around at all because he's saving himself for someone he's truly in love with and who loves him back. And that one special person, he believes, is his roommate Andrew. He doesn't know how to get past his own fears and insecurities to admit as much to Andrew, though. So each time they start to get close, X falls back on his arrogant hustler persona and wields his sexy confidence and dry humor like a shield, to push Andrew away.
Andrew wants to be with X as well, if only X would let him get to know the "real" him. He's not crazy about the fact X is a hustler, but he can deal with it. What he can't deal with is X's inability to open up or admit he cares--not just about Andrew, but about anyone or anything. Andrew tries numerous times to breach X's walls, and always gets rejected. He tells X that one of these days, if X keeps pushing him away, he's going to give up on him and stop trying. Which only makes X more defensive and causes him to build his walls higher, even though it secretly breaks his heart to think of losing Andrew. The scenes with X and Andrew are full of wonderful conflict because they both want each other so badly--you can feel it, see it, hear it--yet they can't find a way to overcome their issues. The emotional push-pull between them is both well written and well acted.
But the tricky relationship between X and Andrew isn't the only romantic entanglement in the story. X and Andrew's other roommate, Joey, who, in spite of the constant string of cute, horny young men who come and go from his room each night, is convinced he's in love with X. He tries at every opportunity to come on to X and get him in bed. It's almost a case of hero worship, and the character of Joey, while damaged in his own ways, is endearing and funny, even if a little tragic at times. He, like X and Andrew, is starving for love, but has no idea how to go about getting it. So he tries to make up for it by sleeping with everyone he meets, while his true goal is to be with X. X cares deeply for Joey (though he tries his damnedest not to let it show), but not in the way Joey would like. X treats him like he would a younger brother, urging him to go to college, and wanting to keep him safe in the crazy world of clubs and drugs and sex. His attitude crushes Joey, however, who wants so much more than to be X's little brother.
When X's new client, Gregory, enters the picture, we begin to see X slowly letting down his defenses. As Gregory tells him the story of his own life-long love affair and loss, X finds himself more and more able to talk to Gregory about things he's never talked to anyone else about. He tells Gregory of the first time he was with a boy and the crushing pain of rejection that came afterward, which gives a ton of insight into why X has become the person he has. He also shares with Gregory the ups and downs of his life with Andrew and Joey. X and Gregory's relationship, which is almost entirely spent talking, becomes an extended therapy session for both of them. At one point, after they'd been meeting for months, you even see X lying on the couch telling Gregory, who's seated in a chair nearby, of his latest impasse with Andrew and how he's afraid he might really have lost Andrew this time. The irony of the scene is that Gregory is paying X for their hour together, not the other way around.
In his relationship with Gregory, there's a sense that X is finally growing and allowing himself to trust in someone besides himself. Eventually, however, he discovers Gregory's tale of love isn't all it seemed to be, and he's misled X. Angry that he allowed himself to believe in the older man's sincerity, X goes home to find Andrew moving out of their loft. Devastated at the losses piling up, X is finally forced to examine himself and his life. He realizes the story Gregory has told him--or rather the true story Gregory didn't tell him--is a message about what his own lonely life might be like in fifty years if he can't find the strength to speak up for what he really wants. If he can't admit his love to the one man he wants to be with.
Boy Culture (based on the book of the same title by Matthew Rettenmund) was much more of a romance than I ever imagined it would be. It's in turns funny, sexy, and heart-tugging. While the characters are all flawed, they're also wholly sympathetic. I think the script, the acting, and the director did an excellent job making the characters real enough without going too over the top that most any viewer can relate to them in some way and can embrace them. I felt for X with all his fears and foibles, and wanted him to find love as much as he did. X and Andrew are totally delicious together. I won't spoil the end, but I'm a sap and I cried. *g* I highly recommend this one. It's become a surprising keeper on my video shelf.