Bear City

*

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Meet Tyler (Joe Conti). "You look like a Tyler," says one of the other characters, and it's true - he's young, polished, middle class, every inch the conventional romantic comedy star, and every inch the respectable young gay man. Except that Tyler has a secret. There's a reason why he never goes out on the town with his flatmates to pick up hip young models in tight fitting clothes. Tyler is attracted to bears. For those not in the know, this means big, hairy, older men. It's personal, it's genuine, but it's desperately unfashionable. "Admitting you like bears is like coming out twice," he says. And so begins a film which is part coming out story, part romcom, and utterly uninspired throughout.

This doesn't mean there's nothing to enjoy about it. A current of good humour runs throughout, meaning that it's hard to feel antagonistic toward what is, ultimately, meant as nothing more than light entertainment. Parts of it are so bad that the unintentional humour makes a perfectly pleasant substitute for the real thing. Being such a cliché in every other way (which is undoubtedly an intentional joke), Tyler is, of course, an actor by trade. This is the kind of stereotype many gay people worry is damaging, but if one spends time in media circles one quickly discovers that it's true. The question then is, with so many gay actors around, why couldn't they find any for this film who actually had acting talent?

To be fair, Conti doesn't get a lot of chance to act. The plot basically requires him to recite one set of flimsy lines and move on to the next. He's passably pretty for those who like that sort of thing and bland enough to identify with for those who pick this up because they share his attraction to bears. To an extent, the film's raison d'être is as soft porn for those too shy to buy the real thing, and there are plenty of scenes of hot, sweaty sex, though all of them remarkably chastely shot and mostly too short to, um, serve a practical purpose. Couples may find this works as light titillation. It may well be a good date movie because it doesn't offer much by way of distraction.

The real irony here is that bear culture is one of those areas of gay life which has traditionally been full of challenges to the mainstream, asking us to rethink what makes a man attractive, what makes an encounter appealing, and what matters in a relationship. It's strange, then, to see it used as window dressing for an utterly conventional Hollywood love story that runs through every cliché from denial to clothes shopping to inadvertent betrayal to that 'Hollywood kiss', a promise of happy ever after that seems unlikely, to say the least. Pairing a die-hard romantic with a commitment-phobe doesn't give us a pay-off at the point of the kiss because we have absolutely no reason to believe that the former's dreams will last.

In accordance with the rules of such comedy, there are also romantic subplots, principally one about a man contemplating liposuction (terrifyingly mis-sold) and the partner who wishes he would think again. It's a sweet story but has absolutely no substance; the characters are desperately short of personality. Bear City may have been intended to be lightweight, but it's in serious danger of blowing away if the viewer exhales.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2010
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A conventional young gay man struggles to come to terms with his attraction to bears and inadvertently falls in love in the process.
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Director: Douglas Langway

Writer: Douglas Langway, Lawrence Ferber

Starring: Joe Conti, Gerald McCullouch, Brian Keane, Stephen Guarino, Alex Di Dio, Sebastian La Cause

Year: 2010

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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