When it comes to films and TV shows about gay African-American men in
the new millennium, Patrik-Ian Polk has become the preeminent name. His
previous projects have mostly been Los Angeles-based, but The Skinny
is set in New York City and is about five young blacks over the course
of a four-day weekend culminating in their celebration of the annual gay
The Skinny was released independently in two cities on April 6, 2012. One of which was the Landmark Theater in Washington, DC, where I saw it. Reportedly, it was scheduled for only one week, but it did so well in its box office that its being held over in DC for a second week. At the theater, I only observed gay African-American men in attendance, so clearly the film hit its core demographic. Hopefully, the second week will allow a more diverse audience to see it.
The one thing about which I'm unsure is how accessible this movie will be to that more diverse audience, that audience outside the core demographic, an audience that isn't gay black men or women. Unlike Polk's previous projects, this movie ultimately isn't a love story at least not in the romantic sense of happily ever after. This movie seems almost exclusively about gay male sex, the particulars of how it's done as well as the perils of how it can be perpetrated.
Perhaps, this movie could be a primer for young gays who are just coming out. It could be used to show them or mainly tell them the details of anal sex and the dangers of drug use and unprotected intercourse. It could certainly stand as a PSA or a teachable moment about AIDS/HIV and its greater impact on the African-American community, but Polk doesn't tackle any other issues or themes as he has before.
Beyond the core demographic, a highly under-served demographic, delighting in seeing itself reflected on the silver screen, other demographics can delight in the fact that if nothing else, Polk is funny. His script here is infused with some good jokes. Showing or mainly telling the details of anal sex can be informative but as delivered here is actually quite hilarious, probably because it's delivered so matter-of-fact.
Polk has obvious punch-lines peppered nicely. Most of them work. Polk tries some visual gags that don't work as well. One scene where a character is alone, pacing back-and-forth in the bathroom after receiving shocking news garnered no laughs in the theater where I was. I understood the gag, but I don't think anyone else around me did. Polk is better at one-liners or jokes that come out of dialogue.
The opening of the movie features two characters getting frisky in a room that has the poster for Polk's first film Punks (2000). It's funny because the inciting incident in that movie is the same for this one. Jussie Smollett stars as Magnus, a recent college graduate who discovers that his boyfriend is cheating on him.
Blake Young-Fountain plays Sebastian, Magnus' younger friend who hopes to lose his virginity by the end of the four-day weekend. The Skinny opened the same day as American Reunion, the latest sequel to American Pie (1999), which also featured young boys trying to lose their virginity. I would argue that Paul Weitz's goal was no where near as heavy as Polk's.
Rounding out the absolutely gorgeous cast is dancer/choreographer Anthony Burrell who plays Kyle, the object of Sebastian's affections and the so-called slut of the movie, or if you're familiar with Polk's work. Kyle is the "Ricky" of the group. There's also Canadian model-turned-actor Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman who plays Joey who is using the weekend as a respite from a rather impoverished life down south in Atlanta. Finally, there's British actress Shanika Warren-Markland as Langston, a black lesbian who claims to have trouble getting laid but is wholly unbelievable because she looks like Melanie Fiona, only more stunningly beautiful.
She's ever more beautiful in her sex scene, which is inter-cut with another, and it's marked with a red-orange hue. In Punks, Polk did a similar thing, but the scene was marked with a blue hue. That scene over a decade ago, despite being blue in appearance, was brimming with a kind of steamy heat. This dual sex scene in The Skinny captures a heat all its own. While the scene given its context might seem dirty and sweaty, there is a coolness to it that's almost soothing.
The movie opens in Dallas on April 20th and in San Francisco, Oakland and Chicago on the 27th. It hits Boston, Philadelphia and Detroit on May 4th with Los Angeles and New York City on May 11th.
Go to http://www.skinnythemovie.com/home/ to learn more and to hear songs from the soundtrack.
Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But for Mature Audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.