Geography Club might just be this generation's The Breakfast Club. Geography Club is a perfect film for teenagers, and is many ways on the same level as movies like American Pie or Mean Girls.
It's sweet and romantic and funny and serious and everything a good
movie should be. It's based on Brent Hartinger's novel. Screenwriter
Edmund Entin and his twin brother and director Gary Entin perfectly
translate the need for young people to find a path to follow but also
sometimes blaze a path of their own. Yet, it's the level of compassion
here that is the most pronounced.
Cameron Deane Stewart stars as Russell Middlebrook, a 16-year-old virgin who is exploring his sexuality but at the outset it seems that Russell is gay, but he simply can't admit it, either to himself or to anyone in his conservative community. Instead of seeing a handsome boy like Kevin Land, the football jock and high school stud, played by Justin Deeley (90210 and Drop Dead Diva), and approaching him in the middle of school to ask him on a date, Russell has to use the Internet and secret text messages.
Russell isn't like his best friend Gunnar, played by Andrew Caldwell. Gunnar can just talk to girls and try to date them out in the open in front of a crowd of people. He's not always lucky in his attempts to get girls but at least he doesn't have to hide his attraction to women, whereas Russell does have to hide his attraction to Kevin.
Gunnar is the comic relief in many ways. Caldwell is a mop-headed, curly-haired blonde who is slightly overweight. He could be a young Chris Farley. He could also be an older, hornier version of the best friend in ParaNorman (2012). Still, Russell can't tell Gunnar the truth. Russell has no one with whom to talk until he accidentally comes across a group of kids who are also hiding their sexual orientations.
The club includes the Asian ringleader Min, played by Ally Maki, her girlfriend and tough musician Terese, played by Nikki Blonsky, and the shy but straight, geeky cellist Brian, played by Teo Olivares. The surprising and perhaps most intriguing group member is Ike, played by Alex Newell who only started acting two years ago when the producers of the TV series Glee discovered him. Newell as Ike is such a boldly, flamboyant personality, but he has a great running gag of his percentage of straight.
Last year, Newell's co-star on Glee, Chris Colfer wrote and directed an independent film called Struck By Lightning, which similarly was about a high school club that nobody wanted to join. The difference is that Colfer's movie did not have the level of compassion that this one does. Nor did it have as charming and as winsome a central figure as you find in Cameron Deane Stewart.
In Glee or even other Ryan Murphy TV shows like Popular, football culture is very much a large presence, and football, as depicted here, is dominated by boys who are tough and who treat any one else as lesser. Anyone who isn't as tough as them is either girly or ripe for ridicule. Yet, there's a scene in this movie where one of those tough, football players bullies a kid from Min's group and the next day that bullied kid forgives the person who bullied him. It is an act of compassion so great and profound I nearly shed a tear and my heart certainly warmed.
Entin's screenplay as probably Hartinger's book doesn't go for the obvious parental pressures or religious scripture as the source of the homophobia. A lot of it has to be assumed, but there is simply a general institutionalized resistance that the teens recognize. The presence of adults is very limited to practically being non-existent. There are so little adults that Cameron Deane Stewart might as well be playing a gay Charlie Brown in this live-action Peanuts gang adaptation.
Ana Gasteyer (The Good Wife and Saturday Night Live) plays the barefoot, Earthy, health teacher Mrs. Toles and Scott Bakula (Star Trek: Enterprise and Quantum Leap) plays the football-loving, proud father of Kevin. Each only have one or two scenes. Gasteyer is given more room to create a character, whereas Bakula seems there to reinforce this idea of compassion and that the adults are not the true source of the homophobia. It helped that Bakula has come from recent and iconic films with gay themes like the Emmy-winning Behind the Candelabra and the Oscar-winning American Beauty.
Director Entin and his screenwriting twin brother seem completely aware of what genre they're working inside. Both make good use of it and both do a good job of subverting expectations. A kiss in the rain and two young people driving in a car to a place to have sex are perfect examples. The kiss in the rain has happened in so many movies from Breakfast at Tiffany's to The Notebook, so the Entins don't allow it to play out in the typical cliché way. Two young people driving in a car and parking in a place to make out or have sex has again happened in so many movies from American Graffiti (1973) to Back to the Future (1985). When those scenes happen in romantic comedies, it's typically the guy driving the car. The Entins subvert that here. When those scenes happen in horror films, it typically ends in a terrible scare. The Entins play with that trope for instead a good gag.
For those who haven't seen Stewart Wade's Tru Loved (2008) or who don't know what a Gay-Straight Alliance or GSA is, this movie could act as a template or an inspiration to young people looking for a way to come together. If you read Outsports.com, you'll find that there are still young people in high school who still struggle with being gay in many towns across the USA. One recent example was Jesse Allard, an athlete from Minnesota who in many ways is a real-life example of Russell Middlebrook or Kevin Land. Let this movie be a guidepost to lead us to better relations among teenagers.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and bullying, language, and teen drinking.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 20 mins.
To learn more about the GSA network, go to: http://gsanetwork.org/
For more information about the movie, go to its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/geographyclubmovie