Is there anything better than a really good, really indulgent teen film? The shiny exteriors coupled with quippy, questioning interior thoughts: when it's done well, there's not a more fun genre out there. The stereotypes lambasted, the know-it-alls taken down a peg. Teen films are all about leveling the playing field — and making fun of everyone in the process — and no film has done it so well in recent memory than G.B.F. (a.k.a. Gay Best Friend), your new favorite teen movie.
It's an endearing and sweet take on the high school experience, played out with laugh-out-loud aplomb. Popular girls like Caprice (Xosha Roquemore), 'Shley (Andrea Bowen), and Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse) latch onto Tanner (Michael Willett) after a Grindr-esque public outing ostracizes him as the school's first openly gay teen (which: really? It's 2014). Tanner accepts the queens' friendship as a means of protection from the homophobes and other bullies, following a temporarily friendship-ending beef with his BFF Brent (Paul Iacono). By leaping head-first into the madness, though, Tanner finds the girls' motives have less to do with his well-being and more to do with image-bolstering and championing the latest trendy labels.
Distillation and cultural co-opting is nothing new — in fact we talked about it a lot in 2013. A lot — but G.B.F. makes it light, fresh, frothed-up and funny by injecting the scenario into the sparkly and sheened-out world of high school. Speaking to Bustle, the brilliantly scene-steal-y Roquemore explained the appeal: "I like the sheen of a teen movie, visually. The girls are dressed cute, everyone’s kinda hot. There’s always a huge social war: I love the drama and the gossip."
Tanner gets lost in that glitz and glamour, making it harder for him to see the proverbial forest from the trees. By doing so, it reflexively mirrors the way in which certain groups in society attempt to appropriate homosexuality — be it out of faux-concern (alá Joanna — yes: that JoJo — Levesque's character Soledad, president of the on-campus Gay-Straight Alliance), or a need to fashion Tanner's existence into a commodity that bestows upon them compassion-or-coolness, depending on the girl.
"It is founded in reality," explained Willett. "The film was created based on an article about the newest accessory, a gay best friend [yep, really], so it’s definitely not far from reality." Too bad the girls aren't so quick to realize that tone-deafness is not the hottest way to accessorize.
Three vastly different girls with varying motives aggressively embrace Tanner for his gayness in order to rise above the rest of the cliques as the ultimate trendsetter: the drama queen, the mean girl, and the misguided-but-sweet religious nutter all have their mostly selfish reasons. It's a move that represents how far we've come — 10 years ago this scenario would've been wholly unrealistic — while simultaneously needling the me-first-gimmie-gimmie way in which others try to align themselves with a cause for self-satisfaction rather than actual compassion.
And because, let's be real, whether they realize it or not, trivializing the gay experience makes it palatable for a lot of folks. "I think Americans in general are uncomfortable with sexuality, so to view it in any way is sort of jarring," Willett explained. "But ... everyone will relate to this kid because everyone felt different and confused in high school. That’s the common thread in the whole film. There’s lots of repercussions to feeling so uncomfortable and that’s what people can relate to."
What makes G.B.F. so fun — outside of the camped up performances and at times audacious-in-the-best-way script — is the way it dismantles the machinations behind such behavior and shows them for what they are: immature identity-grabbers. It highlights the not-rightness of a misguided outlook and makes you laugh at the absurdity of it all. It's not just another teen movie. It's a Mean Girls follow-up with that 90s teen movie era edge. It would've been a perfect film to release 5 years ago, but still plays out with a subversive salute to the time where it's OK to be a little bit mixed up: high school.
G.B.F. is in theaters Friday, Jan. 17.
Image: School Pictures