Bear City

Sweetness wins the day
Douglas Langway
Joe Conti, Brian Keane, Gerald McCullouch, Gregory Gunter
The Setup: 
Twink looks for love in the bear community.

I tend to avoid watching gay films, mostly because they are usually so awful (acknowledging that they have vastly improved in recent years), and because there is pressure to like them simply because they exist, irrespective of quality. Then if you don't like them, you're automatically a homophobe. In this case, additional pressure was added because this film was shot locally using a number of people from the bear community here in New York, many of which I know or at least recognize on sight, and many of whom already think I'm a stuck-up asshole, leading me to think, in the first few minutes here, that it might be better not to review this film at all and just pretend like I've never seen it. But quite to my surprise, I have to say this movie won me over, and I ended up on its side.

We open with a guy coming home to find a Santa suit strewn all over his apartment. He walks in to his roommate's room to find him fucking an older guy with a grey beard. Then he wakes: it was all a dream! His roommate, Simon, who is a young, hairless fashiony gay dude who speaks like a teenage girl, tells him he has an audition. He goes to the audition, where--OMG, that's TJ from work! I didn't know he was in this!--there's a hunky bear cameraman. Tyler, that's our hero, returns home, where he logs onto a bear chat site and is queried (haha, queried) by a hunky daddy who asks why he has no picture, then tells him to meet at the Ramrod that evening. Tyler has no picture, you see, because he is a hairless, pretty-boy twink, and thinks all the bears would reject him. He goes to the Ramrod that night, where he is instantly accosted by a hot bear, but is rescued by Fred, the cameraman from earlier, who warns him to stay away from predator bear because he is partnered.

Fred introduces Tyler to his group of friends, which includes quite overweight fellow Michael and his more buff Latino partner, Carlos. Someone grabs Michael's ass as he walks by and Carlos gets jealous. They mention friend Roger, who is supposed to be the ultimate in hot daddybear, and we suddenly cut to a rather explicit five-way with Roger at the center. Then we divert to join Michael and Carlos at home. They have a lot of heavy love talk about how Carlos sees into Michael's soul, then SUDDEN sex, then SUDDEN disruption by want ads (Michael has been unemployed), then SUDDEN fight, then SUDDEN break-up! Michael wants to get bariatric surgery, which Carlos doesn't approve of. Ummm, so I guess you don't really see much into each other's soul at all, do you? Or maybe they see it from a distance that precludes communication.

So I describe all that in detail to discuss that this movie is indeed rife with flaws, and many of the same flaws and assumptions that afflict most gay films. The characters are portrayed as unable to go a full 60 seconds without thinking about sex. They are portrayed as being attracted to virtually any male. You, the audience, are treated as though YOU cannot go a full 60 seconds without seeing sex. There's the expected element of wish-fulfillment, in which hot bears aggressively come on to hairless pretty boys, and in which the buff hottie is ignored in favor of the obese daddy. And there's the poor approximation of human relationships, which ricochets between over-the-top love to hot sex to distraction to fight to break-up within the course of two minutes. Really, this film is two ticks away from being Another Gay Movie, AKA the nadir of gay culture, which it resembles on several fronts. I'm saying all of this now to demonstrate how this movie escapes that fate and overcomes its flaws by simply being really sweet and genuinely good-hearted.

Okay, so Tyler is invited to move in with Fred, the cameraman, and his partner Brent, who is rather skinny and hairless but has a goatee--this works for what is to come. It also means that he quickly dumped his roommate Simon. He gets a job at Brent's coffeeshop, which is called "Sucre" on the outside, but everyone wears a shirt saying "Bear Cafe" inside, and the place is frequented exclusively by bears.

In the Bear café are a bunch of what Brent introduces as “Glam Bears,” which are now more commonly known as musclebears. In walks Roger, who greets the musclebears, then comes to order from and flirt with Tyler. You’ll just have to accept the conceit that Roger is being posited as the zenith of hot daddy bearitude, because the reality is that he’s not especially attractive, nor does he have that great a body. You’ll also just have to accept that he is somehow attracted to Tyler, even though he is otherwise cavorting only with musclebears, and as we know from reality, if a musclebear so much as says hello to someone who is not a musclebear, he will die. Anyway, Tyler makes a tray of drinks for Roger, Fred and others, which he spills all over his pants, as required by a film aspiring to be a romantic comedy. This causes him to suddenly doff his SHIRT, which is curious, given that he spilled all over his pants. Then he runs to the bathroom, where everyone whoops and one is ready with a dollar to stuff down his pants. Yeah, sometimes the distance between this and Another Gay Movie is not all that readily apparent.

Then Fred and Brent have a conversation at home about how their relationship is great, they’re soulmates… so should they invite third parties in for sex? Brent is not so into the idea, but we’ve been picking up hints all along that Fred likes Tyler. This is not so glaring in this case, since Brent and Tyler are similar types, so it doesn’t ring as jarring as it does that Roger inexplicably likes Tyler. Brian Keane as Fred, by the way, blows everyone else in the film away as the most assured, natural actor in this thing.

Meanwhile Roger accompanies Michael to his bariatric surgery appointment, where he tries to abandon him for a cutie waiting in the lobby. Then Tyler is hanging out in this bowling alley by himself, inexplicably [bowling in NYC is way too expensive to do casually], when Roger shows up. They have a little flirtation and daddy talk [“Yeah, I used to play with my Dad…” on a bowling league, that is!] and are getting physical, physical, when some big musclebear shows up and Roger drops Tyler like a hot potato, making condescending talk about him while in earshot. I didn’t catch the name of the recurring musclebear who keeps showing up. Let’s call him Konga.

This is followed by a scene in which they’re all at a backyard barbecue when Carlos shows up and starts throwing a scene, threatening to reveal to the crowd that Michael is considering bariatric surgery, which would constitute some sort of breach of the bear compact, and Tyler bravely throws himself between Carlos and Roger just before the bitch-slapping begins in earnest, earning Tyler the respect and admiration of Roger—until Konga shows up, whereupon Roger once again drops Tyler as though he’s a leper. You know what? This Roger fellow is a fucking asshole. It isn’t helped by the fact that the actor who plays Roger, Gerald McCollouch, the only touted actor on the back of the box [because he was on CSI once, or something] has a rather inexpressive face and manner, making him unconvincing as a sizzlin’ hot daddybear, but entirely convincing as a shitbag asshole fuckwad.

Then Tyler is out sulking in a park, where he suddenly runs into ex-roommate Simon, who we discover he has not so much as texted since bailing on their living arrangement. Wow, so Tyler is kind of an asshole, too. He starts to hang with Simon again and expresses that he likes bears now—his big secret from before. He confides his love for Roger, and they decide that he needs to realize that Roger is a loser who is pursuing some ephemeral ideal that doesn’t exist, and has already more than crossed the line of disrespect with Tyler, and that Tyler needs to gain some self-respect and realize that Roger is a lost cause. No, silly—this film takes place in the gay world! So obviously the solution to all of Tyler’s problems is to go SHOPPING!!! Thus follows a shopping montage in which Tyler gets some “bear uniform” garb [you know, sleeveless flannel shirts, etc.] so he can toss his self-respect to the wind and desperately flaunt himself in front of Roger yet again! Because even though Roger has proven himself as a shallow, despicable asshole, he’s HOT, and that really is the deepest basis you need for a relationship.

In here we have evidence that Roger is finding his lotsa-sex lifestyle of shower orgies not all that fun anymore, as he takes a break from one to spend some time staring at himself in the mirror and saying “Will you shut the fuck up!” to the guys grunting in the next room. He’s so deep! Oh, this tortured soul. Next, Roger goes to the Eagle, where there is a velvet-rope line to get in, one of those things where a guy in line is being kept out, but Roger gets let right in because he is supposedly “hot.” I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN in reality. Anyway, soon Tyler comes in all beared up, and Roger is interested, until some Latin hottie comes between them, and asshole Roger once again drops Tyler in favor of someone who is more of a prize. We see Roger in bed with Latin dude, Fernando, where they’re discussing life and shit when—suddenly they’re contemplating a life together? Man, Tyler needs to start thanking his stars he’s NOT with this shallow piece of shit.

Meanwhile, Fred and Brent have agreed to a threesome with this dude Mel—after we left them NOT wanting a three-way? I don’t get it—and this turns into a comic [make that “comic”] thing where all sorts of awful things happen, and Mel falls and konks his head.

So now it’s Bear City, posited as this weekend bear festival in New York, and all the guys are at the Eagle. They’re all hangin’, when Roger comes in and introduces Fernando, and says that they’re moving in together! One nice little detail is that the group has welcomed little Simon into their clique. Then Roger goes looking for Fernando and finds him in the back room, getting a blow job! Can you BELIEVE IT!?!?!? And poor Roger is so hurt! So BETRAYED! WHO could have seen this coming!? I mean sure, they met in the same bar just days before and made plans to live together after having sex once, but other than that, Fernando seemed like HUSBAND MATERIAL! Then Simon urges Tyler to RUN TO HIM, and Tyler goes into the bathroom and they have some talk, then start making out, and LOVE IS IN BLOOM! On his way out, Fernando suddenly appears, saying he couldn’t find Roger, and Roger retorts: “Keep looking, back there!” Yeah that’s it Roger, you can now take the MORAL HIGH GROUND! Shower orgies were YESTERDAY, monogamy is TODAY!

Now it’s conflict resolution time, so Carlos comes back and makes up with Michael! And Michael decides not to get the surgery! And Mel, who lost his memory of the three-way when he konked his head, re-comes on to Fred and Brent, which is funny. Fred and Brent have taken ecstasy to hang out at the bar [seems kind of a waste of good dopamine to just use it to hang out at the fucking bar listening to shitty bar disco]. Then finally we have a bit where Konga shows up and Roger tells him he’d better stop throwing attitude at Tyler, because now they’re together. Everyone feels good, the end.

So hmmmm, as I've been writing this review, a lot of this movie's flaws have become more apparent. Still, once it was over, I was left with a generally good feeling and affection toward the movie. This is because, ultimately, the movie is generally good-hearted, which can paper over a lot of flaws. The bears are very welcoming to Tyler, even though he doesn't strictly fit into their group. It's a sweet touch toward the end when they also welcome Simon, and Tyler is able to join all of his friends together instead of having to make choices between them. And though the script may be fairly clumsy in its handling of Roger, it does acknowledge the aspect of hook-up culture that has one pursuing an ephemeral dream of perfection in the short-term, but leaving one without much of lasting value. So it does at least flirt with having some depth. And finally the amateur nature of the whole thing works to make you root for it, because everyone is really trying. So where Another Gay Movie kind of leaves you feeling degraded and like it would probably be best to enter some sort of anti-gay conversion program, this one leaves you feeling like there's a welcoming world out there full of pretty good guys. That also may not quite be the reality, but at least it's an amiable thought.

Should you watch it: 

If you're a bear, and like to follow gay movies, perhaps. Especially if you live in New York, since you can see a lot of familiar faces and places.