Zach (Trevor Wright) is a put upon young man whose dreams of art school have been sidelined for family responsibilities while his best friend Gabe (Ross Thomas) lives the high life at college. Juggling caring for his ailing father, parenting his irresponsible sister Jeanne’s (Tina Holmes) son, a low paid job in a diner and a rocky relationship with girlfriend Tori, Zach’s only escape is surfing. When openly gay Shaun (Brad Rowe) returns to town to get over a messy break up, the two bond over surfing and develop an unexpected romantic relationship.

As the first offering from the American gay network’s independent film initiative, Shelter is by no means a brilliant film, but even the cynic in you will find it difficult to dislike. For a start, it looks so lovely that you could watch it with the sound off and not help but smile. The story is equally as pleasing, a reminder that love (and coming out) doesn’t always have to be difficult. Of course, not all is rosy for Zach. He does have certain obstacles to overcome, but the heart of the film is how establishing a loving and intimate relationship allows him to come to terms with his own identity and take control of his life.

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The lead actors have genuine chemistry and the awkward tension and tentative flirting in the initial stages is spot on and quite endearing, even the clichéd friendly tussle leading to their first kiss seems natural and genuine. You can’t help but root for such likeable characters and it’s easy to see why these two (very attractive) men fall for each other. Unusually for any romance, we actually get to see real affection on screen. Unfortunately, weaknesses in the writing become apparent when the focus shifts from the love interest to its obstacles. Zach and Shaun’s problems are pretty contrived and the climatic resolution is a letdown that doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Also, there are a few strange and unrealistic elements to the storyline; bizarrely the possibility of being gay doesn’t seem to have occurred to Zach and Shaun’s willingness to give up his usual life so quickly fails to ring true for someone so self assured.

Despite being predictable and uneventful, it is refreshing to see a film about gay men where nothing horrible happens to them and which focuses on their character rather than their homosexuality. In an odd way, the lack of dramatic intensity makes the important point that there is nothing unusual, or different, about gay relationships.

Shelter is an enjoyable film, with a couple of truly memorable moments - Zach’s delighted smile the morning after the night before and the scene in the diner with Shaun’s brother Gabe - that is rewarding to watch, both as a “gay film” and a love story.

It won’t change your life, but it will make you smile.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2008
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Love is all you need for troubled surfer who didn't know he was gay.
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Director: Jonah Markowitz

Writer: Jonah Markowitz

Starring: Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, Ross Thomas, Tina Holmes

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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