Film Review: BearCity

There’s probably an audience for this literally fuzzy slice of gay life, but as Sam Goldwyn was wont to say, include me out.

Well, someone had to make a film focusing on bears, that gay subculture which sprang up in the last decade or so and given hope and a viable sexual identity to hitherto supposedly overlooked men of a certain age, girth and hirsuteness. With BearCity, director Douglas Langway and co-writer Lawrence Ferber have met the challenge.

Actually, Spain’s Miguel Albaladejo beat these Americans to the punch with 2004’s Bear Cub (Cachorro), one of the most truly moving gay films ever made. For sheer perception, wit and sexiness, Bear Cub has it all over this later effort.

Touting itself as something of Sex and the City for the fat, queer and hairy, BearCity focuses on a group of friends and their romantic quandaries. Young “cub” novice Tyler (Joe Conti), with his steamy Santa Claus fantasies, serves as our expositionally useful guide to this growling community as he moves in with Brent (Stephen Guarino) and Fred (Brian Keane), a couple in the throes of opening up their relationship to new comers.

There’s also Michael (Gregory Gunter), obsessed with finding employment in a fat-phobic job market, who’s bent on having his avoirdupois surgically removed over the objections of his lover Carlos (James Martinez) and “glam bear” Roger (Gerald McCullouch), the elusive, strutting Casanova with whom Tyler has tragically fallen in love.

The filmmakers go for predictably bitchy quips (“It's okay to say you’re hot for Brad Pitt, but what you really want is a mouthful of John Goodman”), alternating with intimate pillow talk (“We are impenetrable”) that sounds like no conversation ever uttered between actual human beings. Tyler and Roger first come together in a protracted scene set in a bowling alley, a kind of test of masculinity, of all things, which strains for romantic sensitivity but settles for excruciating impausibility, in no small part due to the trite notion that Tyler might actually impress his callous, unworthy beloved by dressing in true bear (butch dyke?) gear.

Intermittent sex scenes of grinding, furry bodies punctuate the proceedings but have a decidedly more buffa than sensual tone to them. One wishes the film had gone more seriously into the alternative lifestyle bears offer in this Metrosexual Age but, as stated by one of its characters, it mostly only proves that “bears can be just as gossipy and superficial as circuit queens.”

The whole hermetically sealed nature of that line is, incidentally, endemic of so many American indie gay films, populated by characters wholly existing in a queer fishbowl with no resonating relation to any real world. Also sadly typical is the abysmal soundtrack, ranging from droning folk-rock to inappropriately poignant violins while Tyler trawls internet chat rooms. (Do gay filmmakers learn nothing from the mistakes of others?)

The cast mostly does okay with the material, with Alex Di Dio a bright scene stealer as Tyler’s queeny twink friend Simon, whose voice is even more highly pitched than his plucked eyebrows. These inevitably swishy characters usually set my teeth on edge, but Di Dio won me over, especially with his line, “Hello, ursine creatures, I come in peace!”