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Geography Club

D: Gary Entin / 80m

Cast: Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley, Andrew Caldwell, Meaghan Martin, Allie Gonino, Ally Maki, Nikki Blonsky, Alex Newell, Teo Olivares, Ana Gasteyer, Marin Hinkle, Scott Bakula

It’s a sad fact that even today, with society supposedly more tolerant, and understanding, of different sexual orientations that a movie such as Geography Club can still be relevant in addressing the issue of homophobia.  Set in Goodkind High School – a misnomer if ever there was one – the movie begins with Russell arranging to meet a guy he’s met online.  He’s nervous, and unsure of his sexuality, but the meet is mainly a test of his feelings.  At the park he bumps into fellow high schooler Kevin (Deeley), and when Kevin walks away after an awkward conversation, Russell realises it was Kevin he was due to meet.

Later, on a school field trip, Russell and Kevin get to know each other better and one night they kiss.  The kiss is witnessed by Min (Maki), a fellow student.  Back at Goodkind, Min leaves Russell a message to meet her in one of the classrooms after school the next day.  Worried that she plans to blackmail him and Kevin, Russell goes to the classroom, and finds not only Min, but also Terese (Blonsky), Min’s partner, and Ike (Newell).  All three are gay and have formed the Geography Club in order to provide support for each other.  Min wants Russell to join them, but at first he refuses.  However, he goes back the next day, and in time becomes a member of the club.

Running parallel to all this are the efforts of his best friend Gunnar (Caldwell) to go out with Kimberly (Gonino), the object of Gunnar’s not inconsiderable lust.  While Russell tries to maintain a clandestine relationship with Kevin (who’s the star player on the school football team), his friendship with Gunnar threatens to fragment altogether, culminating in a disastrous weekend trip to Kimberly’s folks’ summer place.  With Gunnar counting on Russell’s support, his unwillingness to pair off with Kimberly’s friend Trish (Martin) leads to Russell being outed at school.  Determined not to let himself be categorised so unfairly, he feels it’s time for the Geography Club to go public.

Geography Club - scene

As an expose of what it’s like to be a teenager and either gay or lesbian, Geography Club falls a little short in its intentions, taking a serious subject – from the bestselling book by Brent Hartinger – and often undercutting that seriousness by placing the emphasis on humour, or by adopting a superficial approach to the material.  While the movie looks at ostracism, peer pressure, sexism, bullying, parental expectations, personal freedoms, teenage sexuality and its potential pitfalls, the perils of someone trying to find their place in the world, and the difficulty in being true to yourself (if you’re even sure what that means), this is all perhaps too much for Geography Club to address properly and with the right amount of attention for each issue.

Russell’s struggle is initially with his uncertainty about being gay, even after he and Kevin kiss.  But Min’s “intervention” has the effect of deciding the issue for him, and the rest of the movie settles for the inevitable how-long-will-it-be-before-the-main-character-is-honest-with-everyone? approach so prevalent in this type of movie.  As a result, Russell is forced to hide his true feelings for fear of being found out; he also takes part in bullying another student, Brian (Olivares), and with barely a moment’s hesitation (it’s a scene that involves Brian being humiliated in front of everyone in the school cafeteria, and yet Russell and his “friends” from the football team get away with it completely; there’s no punishment for their behaviour at all, one of the weirder instances that pop up throughout the movie).  And Russell would rather upset his best friend instead of trusting Gunnar with the knowledge that he’s gay.  With the movie changing focus so often, it’s hard to work out if there’s a main point trying to be made – be nice to gay people? bullying is an awful thing to do? friendships should be more important than emotional self-doubt?

The relationships in the movie range from the non-existent (Russell’s father is referred to but never seen, as if the family dynamic that would need to be addressed by his being gay was one issue too many for the filmmakers) to the predictable (Gunnar accepts Russell’s being gay without batting an eyelid).  Kevin is the jock who won’t commit to being homosexual because it would ruin his need to be “normal” (but he still wants to see Russell at the same time); Min and Terese appear more like lipstick lesbians than a real couple; Trish’s predatory attempts at making out with Russell are badly handled – and misconceived – considering her apparent experience with other guys; and Brian readily forgives Russell for his involvement in the cafeteria incident (but only after Russell is outed).

With the characters behaving either too predictably, or in ways that serve to advance the script rather than giving them some much-needed depth, the cast are constantly in danger of having their performances derailed by Edmund Entin’s lightweight script and Gary Entin’s overstretched direction.  Blonsky is wasted in a role that either has her playing the guitar or looking cynically at everyone else, while Martin is saddled with a one-note character and no chance of making Trish any or more interesting.  Deeley has less to do than most but what he does have to do is repetitive, and Kevin is so selfish and callow you hope he and Russell don’t end up together.  With a humorous turn from Gasteyer as an oddball teacher, and Caldwell stealing the movie as a desperate virgin (he’s like a young Jack Black at times), it’s left to Stewart to keep the audience’s attention and provide the sympathetic character the audience needs to make it through.  Fortunately he does just enough to engage our sympathies, but it’s a close run thing, and as expected, once Russell is outed, he becomes less annoying as well.

Rating: 6/10 – not quite as involving as was hoped for, perhaps, but still a pleasant enough way to spend eighty minutes, provided you have a tolerance for less than convincing character motivation; a decent enough effort, and a worthy subject matter, but too lacking in real drama to make much of an impact.

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