Writer/Director Douglas Langway’s Sex and the City style gay romp Bear City has three things going for it: 1.) the exceptionally pretty score by the incredibly talented composer Kerry Muzzey; 2.) the use of one of pop-singer Tiffany’s best songs right before the end credits; and, 3.) its heart is in the right place.
The overly earnest story introduces us to boy-twink Tyler (played by newcomer Joe Conti) with an embarrassing (to him) taste for the big and furry. In fact, the film opens with him dreaming of ramming an old bearded department store Santa from behind and waking up red-faced with shame.
Attempting to be more accepting of his preference, he enters the "bear world" by checking out a bar for bears and those that love them. He instantly encounters a roly-poly cameraman (Brian Keene) that he had coincidentally met earlier in the day at an audition. Within minutes, he has not only been indoctrinated into an already established cadre of bear friends, but is invited to live with one of the couples (Stephen Guarino and Keane), who are renting out their spare bedroom. Tyler even gets a job at a coffee house specifically for bears, if you can believe that. (Because I don’t.)
Fumbling with the espresso machine, Tyler meets local "muscle bear" Roger (Gerald McCullouch), a silver haired hunk that is no more bear than Brad Pitt is a screaming queen. But I quibble. Tyler likes Roger, and Roger likes Tyler. But just as Tyler is learning to come to terms with his love of the fuzzy belly, Roger is trying to accept he might like a slighter, smoother, younger kind of guy. This, funnily enough, is the exact opposite of the hot muscle bears he endlessly beds in a string of unnecessarily pornographic sex scenes.
Add into this mix the aforementioned couple who are toying with the idea of opening their relationship to others and a fey obese man (Gregory Gunter) whose unemployment is blamed on his weight, and whose sexy stud of a Latino boyfriend (James Martinez) is none to happy when he announces he wants the Lap Band surgery.
It’s all a big sweaty, furry mess.
The problem with this movie (and there are many) is that it is yet another gay film that falls victim to overacting (also known as non-acting), sit-com paced banter, and dialogue that is either an over-used cliché or a common phrase that has been sexualized into a pithy double-entendre. Bear City is mathematically constructed so that every other line is meant to be a gut-busting comeback. Sadly, there isn’t a laugh in the entire movie. And in reality, no one talks this way. To be fair, there are a few smiles to be had, but comedy this is not.
It pains me to negate a project that the filmmakers clearly put their heart and soul into, but it also angers me that as a community we don’t try harder to put out quality product. There is a plethora of good actors out there, yet only a handful of those onscreen make their dialogue palatable. Stephen Guarino (last seen significantly in Confessions of a Shopaholic) is the only actor who comes across as a real person. The rest try real hard, but the over-acting is dumbfounding. (With the exception of McCullouch who actually under acts so much, his every line is practically a whisper.) It’s not clear whether this is the fault of the actor, the director, or a script that doesn’t ring true, but it’s hard to miss.
The other big misstep? This is a movie mainly about a kid who likes bears. He even states he wants a guy with a big furry belly, and if he’s got a hairy back, so much the better. Yet the guy he "falls in love with" (over a few trite exchanges and some longing glances) is none of that. He’s a hairy guy, but more so in a Marlborough Man way. And his body is fairly rock hard. So what is the movie saying? Where was the bald-headed guy with the stomach hanging over his belt that Tyler so often fantasized about? Why is he coming to terms with accepting what he’s attracted to when the guy he falls for is a pretty standard hunk in the gay community?
Langway and co-writer Lawrence Ferber had the right idea: a movie about bears and the many men who love them is a great subject for a film. But the characters need to act like real people in order for us to care. When Tyler’s ex-roommate (Alex DiDio) flits around over-enunciating and yelling his lines like he’s speaking to a crowd of hearing impaired, we watch in amazement wondering: Who are these people? I guess they can only be found in Bear City.