It’s the love that dare not speak its name, dude, that’s featured in Jonah Markowitz’s Shelter, which posits a gay couple, Zach (Trevor Wright) and Shaun (Brad Rowe), who are no different from any other buff SoCal skateboarder or surfer, pursuits at which these two are fully adept. They dig beer, boards and all things butch, making those Brokeback Mountain boys look positively femme by comparison, and proving we’ve come a long way from mincing Franklin Pangborn/Paul Lynde stereotypes—or have we?
Throughout Shelter, I was constantly reminded of old films, particularly old women’s films. Zach’s dilemma is that, having just broken up with his blonde girl-next-door love, Tori (Katie Walder), he finds himself falling for older, wiser and unapologetically gay Shaun. Foregoing his own dreams of becoming a visual artist, he slaves at a greasy spoon and takes care of his little nephew, Cody (Jackson Wurth), the offspring of his sister, Jeanne (Tina Holmes), a selfish, drunken, pitiful excuse for a mother. Zach’s nobility reeks of any Irene Dunne/Greer Garson vehicle, filled as they were with dumbly unquestioning self-sacrifice, the only difference being that, unlike those ladies’ flowery speeches, Zach’s vocabulary consists mainly of “awesome,” “cool” and “whatever.”
When Jeanne discovers Zach’s clandestine relationship with Shaun, she hits the roof with the usual “How can you expose my child to this?” excoriations. At this point, I was reminded of Camille, Madame X, Stella Dallas, Waterloo Bridge and a host of other movies in which the heroine must give up what she loves because of her sordid past, except this time the protagonist is a queer, not a whore.
All the muted, oh-so-painful male bonding grows tiresome and predictable in the extreme, tricked out with lengthy surfing montages and two ubiquitous montage sequences depicting the start and finish of the love affair, set to droning Tracy Chapman-esque songs. The actors, while attractive enough, never rise above a serviceable competency, saddled as they are with banal names and such soap opera-like material, as well as the need for the men to be some particular antediluvian gay fantasy.