Cross to Bear

Washington City Paper | August 25, 2006
Poster Boy tells the story of the semicloseted gay son of a conservative senator, but its audience will be put to the tolerance test more so than its characters. Zak Tucker’s directorial debut, co-written by freshman Lecia Rosenthal and Ryan Shiraki (scribe of 2004’s superior Home of Phobia), may have Quinceañera’s good intentions regarding unconditional love. But combined with its facile attempt at political indictment and across-the-board caricature, Poster Boy is less thought-provoking than just plain irritating.

Its very structure is off-putting: Framed as an obnoxiously gruff reporter’s interview with Henry (Matt Newton), his clash with his campaigning father, Sen. Jack Kray (Michael Lerner), is recounted in flashbacks. A college student who’s open about his sexuality on campus but not at home, Henry is combative when Dad demands that he introduce him at a rally to demonstrate his strong family values. Henry tries to get out of it but is blackmailed by a fellow student who’s assisting Kray. Meanwhile, other students are organizing a protest, and we’re introduced in a roundabout way to Izzie (Valerie Geffner), a sullen, ratty-haired woman who is HIV-positive, and her gay roommate, Anthony (Jack Noseworthy).

Poster Boy is so sloppy that it uses the same extra to walk by two main characters twice in a handful of seconds. In an attempt to be edgy—or something—Tucker uses a hand-held camera to nauseating effect, bobbing around even during the most mundane conversations. (As well as during the ridiculous ones: “The fact is that for me, the flesh, the body, the whole materiality of being, is not something one controls!” spews Izzie at a party.) The main story, clearly based on Dick Cheney’s hypocrisy regarding his administration’s policies and his lesbian daughter, Mary, is muddled by its confusing, undeveloped subplots. Maybe that’s why it’s so over-the-top: Kray is too hateful to be believed, slapping Henry—whom he calls only “son”—as he insists upon his participation at the rally, “even if it means cutting a smile across your face with a knife.” (However, he’s assigned a bizarre bit of dialogue for such a career-driven person when he tells Henry that he needs to “get his priorities straight” and find a girl.) Lerner, who also played Angry Dad in last year’s equally terrible When Do We Eat?, certainly knows how to growl and threaten, yet he can’t help but look ridiculous in the role.

There are exactly two compelling moments in the movie. One involves a monologue by Henry’s smarter-than-she-lets-on mother (Karen Allen), who takes her husband down a peg for mistreating their son. The other is Henry’s rant to his interviewer that pretty much summarizes Poster Boy’s message, in case you missed it: that politicians push “issues” such as homosexuality in voters’ faces to force them to take sides in the hope of gaining an edge, even if it’s at the expense of their personal integrity. By this point, however, the film’s integrity is long gone.

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