Friday 7 April 2023

BIG BOYS - BFI Flare Film Festival review

Away for the weekend on a camping trip with his older cousin Allie, awkward teenager Jamie grows increasingly infatuated with Allie's cool boyfriend Dan. But dealing with peer pressure, body positivity issues and with his feelings towards Dan becoming more and more apparent, Jamie must hide his true self from the rest of the group.

For the benefit of UK readers, the big screen Big Boys has nothing to do with the identically named Channel 4 TV show from last year based on the life of writer Jack Rooke, despite them both sharing a queer rites of passage narrative. With their similarities not extending much further than that and skewing more much towards drama than comedy, writer/director Corey Sherman's Big Boys is instead a sweet coming of age story set over the course of a camping trip where 14 year old Jamie (Isaac Krasner) starts to understand more about his sexuality and how he's perceived by others. As a heavy-set kid obsessed with food and cooking for other people, he puts forward a friendly, jovial, dare I say it, "jolly" persona, despite his mind spinning with teenage angst and turmoil internally. He's polite and accommodating to a fault, even when pushed into awkward situations by obnoxious teenager Will (Taj Cross) who's joined them on their trip and dead set of using Jamie as a pawn in his pursuit of some local girls.

With his cousin Allie's (Dora Madison) boyfriend Dan (David Johnson III) also being a larger person, there's an instant unspoken bond between him and Jamie, with Allie pushing Dan forward as a positive male role model that may help Jamie overcome some of his confidence issues. What's not instantly clear is that as well as him idolising Dan for his more masculine traits, he's quickly developed a romantic crush on him too, with Jamie imagining through fantasy sequences how different things will be (might be/could be) for him when he's older. In the film's boldest move, these fantasies re-cast Jamie with grown-up actor Jack de Sanz, allowing Big Boys to deftly (and crucially, unproblematically) cross the boundary into the hazy, uncanny space where Jamie can process his feelings for Dan and imagine a possible future together.

In what could have easily been a crass, cringe inducing comedy of teenage awkwardness, writer/director Corey Sherman deserves praise for offering such a nuanced, warm account of teenage trials and tribulations. The film is never poking fun at Jamie when he does something to cause himself embarrassment, although there's undoubtedly moments that audiences may find relatable opportunities to laugh at their own stories and pasts, so universal is that feeling of unrequited love and social angst. Jamie may want to skip over his teenage years to be an adult, be seen as one of them and able to live his life as he wishes, but in truth he knows he's a long way away from that level of maturity, and that his crush is unlikely to lead to anything but heartache. We've all been there, right?

With his character being in almost every frame of the film, Isaac Krasner offers a truly relatable, compassionate performance as Jamie. For such a young actor, he nails the moments where nothing needs to be said in anything but a look, providing his character with a real depth that speaks volumes. Likewise, David Johnson III as Dan, ably walks that treacherous line of being caring and thoughtful towards the limpet-like Jamie, fully aware and accepting of his hero status in Jamie's eyes, but without understanding everything that's going on in his mind. However, it's when he's finally given a better understanding of Jamie's motivations that we get to see the full extent of Dan's positive character traits and Johnson's capability in the role.

Asking relevant questions about modern masculinity and teenage heartache through a queer lens, Big Boys is an occasionally painful but wholly relatable delight that's like being wrapped up in the warm hug of a sleeping bag after a long day camping.



Big Boys screened as part of this year's BFI Flare Film Festival. More information about the festival can be found here.

Tuesday 4 April 2023

EGGHEAD AND TWINKIE - BFI Flare Film Festival review

At the start of the summer before he heads off to college, lovestruck Egghead (Louis Tomeo) decides to tell his best friend Twinkie (Sabrina Jie-A-Fa) how he really feels about her. The only problem is the relationship is definitively platonic from her point of view, and she's not told Egghead that she's gay and in love with a DJ she met online. When animator Twinkie sees an opportunity to visit her wannabe lover in Texas under the ruse of visiting an animation studio, she steals her dad's car and ropes the unwitting Egghead into making the long journey with her.

Based on her 2019 short film of the same name and re-uniting all of the same key cast members, Sarah Kambe Holland's debut feature delivers a fun spin on some tried and tested teen movie staples. Sharing a basic plot outline with Rob Reiner's under-appreciated 1985 John Cusack-starring road trip comedy, The Sure Thing (an at odds pair head out on the road with one of them given the promise of romance and/or sex at the final destination; they encounter vehicular trouble and comedy ensues), Egghead and Twinkie find their friendship put to the test when things inevitably start to go awry for them on their journey, although at least here there's little chance of romance suddenly blossoming between them. Spoiler alert, there's no last minute changes of sexual preference from Twinkie.

Where the film does veer off course from the expected norm is in the consideration of Twinkie's status as a young Asian-American woman with no links to her heritage. Adopted by her ultra-conservative white parents with an unspoken pre-requisite to conform in every way she can, Vivian aka Twinkie (her nickname itself a co-opted racial insult implying she's "yellow on the outside, white on the inside") needs to explore her Asian identity as well as her sexuality, and neither her parents or her supportive best friend Egghead can offer help with either. She's not just running towards her potential future as an out and proud lesbian, but also away from the confines her home life have put on her. Enter sweet Japanese waitress Jess (Asahi Hirano) who finds herself thrown into the middle of Twinkie's quest, and is more than willing to help guide her to a place where she's more comfortable with herself.

Mixing animation with live action, Egghead and Twinkie offers some cute Scott Pilgrim-esque cutaways to brighten up what is already a very cheerful, teen-friendly rainbow-coloured palette. Its unavoidable sweetness means the story is barely stretched in dramatic terms, with Twinkie's potential paramour B.D. (social media star Ayden Lee) offering the only glimmer of a more complex view of modern relationships, rendering the film relatively chaste and more focussed on finding something deep and meaningful... love. Told partly through flashbacks (including Egghead's disastrous movie theatre declaration of his true feelings for Twinkie), it may be blindingly obvious as the story progresses where we're going to end up, but the cast are all extremely likeable, the dynamics between them (in particular Jie-A-Fa and Hirano) work very well, and the film's more farcical elements are delivered with good comedic effect.

A modern, queer addition to the teen comedy genre, Egghead and Twinkie might not win awards for originality, but it's colourful, vibrant and super sweet, with solid chemistry between the leads.



Egghead and Twinkie screened as part of this year's BFI Flare Film Festival. More information about the festival and its line-up can be found here.