Cameron Deane Stewart and Justin Deeley star as Russell and Kevin, two teenagers at the rather oddly named Goodkind High School who are gay and closeted – as are virtually all of the LGBT teens at the school. But one night Russell and Kevin are spotted kissing by Min (Ally Maki), who is part of the “Geography Club,” a group where LGBT teens can get together without the worry of arousing suspicion thanks to the name of the group. Russell joins, but getting Kevin, a star football player, to join is altogether more difficult.
It is easy to dismiss Geography Club, a relatively family-friendly film (only minor swearing and no nudity or sex) about LGBT teenagers (and others who view themselves as outcasts) at a high school in America. It is bland, even twee in places, and yet it is remarkably charming for the most part, even if there is something of a sting in the tale’s conclusion.
The film is refreshing in a number of ways. Firstly, it’s a gay-themed film without sex and nudity at every opportunity. Anyone who watches gay-themed indie movies regularly might be surprised to even know they exist at all.
Secondly, this isn’t really aimed at gay adults, but gay teens – arguably younger teens at that – and that separates this from the crowd. The artwork for the UK edition of the DVD compares it to Glee, and the comparison isn’t totally unwarranted, but it also does the film something of a disservice. Glee, even at its best, was never really believable in any way. This, of course, was intended for the most part. People don’t break out into song at every opportunity in real life, and the often-surreal nature of the show didn’t really place it in the real world, despite it’s attempts (both successful and unsuccessful) to cover virtually every topic important to teenagers – with the strange exception of drug abuse. But my point is that the target audiences for Glee and Geography Club are the same, although they approach things is a very different way.
Thirdly (and this ties in with my first point), the film is well-acted, well-directed, and clearly has a higher budget than most indie gay-themed films from America. This looks like a real movie rather than a student piece put together by eighteen-year-olds.
However, there are some issues. Cameron Deane Stewart is superb as Russell – likeable and charismatic, and, ultimately, believable. However, Justin Deeley was twenty-seven at the time the movie was made. And he’s playing a sixteen year old. No matter how fine an actor he might be (and he plays the part well), it’s obvious that the guy is not sixteen. Quite why filmmakers insist on using men in their mid-to-late twenties to play teenagers is a mystery to me. A few years older isn’t a problem, but ten year older is, and even more so when major films are now using kids/teens who are the actual ages of their characters (or thereabouts). This is a relatively new phenomenon – Tobey Maguire was twenty-seven when he played high school student Peter Parker in Spiderman (2002). Tom Holland was twenty when he played the role for the first time. The difference is startling. The same is true of the young cast of It (2017) who were, for the most part, roughly the same age as their characters. It isn’t just a case of whether someone’s face looks sixteen or twenty-six – the believeability comes about by how they walk, how they talk, their build, etc. This is not to criticise Deeley’s performance, which is fine, but it does rob the film of some realism.
That issue aside, Geography Club works rather well, and is worth revisiting, especially with the release this year of Love, Simon. I haven’t seen that movie (it’s not out in the UK for another week), but it is a mainstream movie aimed a gay teen audience in the same way Geography Club is. It will be interesting to see how the two movies compare, not just in plot and budget, but how they address their intended audiences. Either way, Geography Club is well worth a watch, and is an important movie in its own right. No, it’s not a gay teen movie made by a major studio, but it is still a gay-themed movie aimed at teens and, despite the plethora of gay-themed movies over the last fifteen years or so, that is still a rarity – which is rather surprising given the popularity, and almost classic status, of UK gay-themed movies such as Beautiful Thing and Get Real, made in 1996 and 1998 respectively. In 2013, Geography Club managed to fill a void in the market – or, at least, provided a stop-gap until Love, Simon came along.