No matter who you are attracted to, it is apparently a common universal truth that the fear of rejection or failure can be an enormously overpowering roadblock to true love. I remember watching the television sitcom “Happy Days” as a child, not understanding why on earth Richie Cunningham had so much hand-wringing when asking a girl out. It was so frustrating. I had no concept of fear of rejection at the tender age of 9 (or no concept of the birds and the bees either, come to think of it.) Fast forward thirty-one years, and a much wiser me has a finely-tuned second-guessing brain that has had years of calibration to finely analyze the thinnest slice of human behavior in order to gauge risk of failure. Aren’t most of us, gay or straight, alike in this regard? All people want to love and be loved. Rejection on that level is frightening enough. Furthermore, if you’re gay, you’ve probably either been told directly or indirectly that you do not deserve this whole “falling in love” experience because of who you are or what you might have chosen to express. Has anyone ever fully documented how thoroughly homophobia can shred the gay man’s confidence in finding love?? In each of these two films, the main character, a gay visual artist, wrestles with these very issues.
In the movie “Big Eden” (2000, written and directed by Thomas Bezucha) we follow successful New York painter Henry Hart (Arye Gross) as he receives bad news from home (small-town Montana) and rushes back to attend to his only living relative, his grandfather. Small-town living not only grates on the New Yorker, but distills his memories as he confronts old classmates, childhood friends, a horrible crush, and unexpected revelations about life and love. This wonderful, uplifting romance not only has some excellent comedic moments, but a heartbreaking, bittersweet twist as Henry confronts his own double-whammy fears of rejection: rejected for love and rejected for being gay. A talented and well-teamed cast actually transports you to Montana with them, and you feel like you’re on vacation while you learn about these fascinating people. Henry, the artist who had to leave Manhattan on the eve of his gallery exhibit opening, learns about expression from the quirky wilderness townies. Ultimately they show him that he is loved for who he is, and that he is a lovable human being who is cherished and worthy. Who doesn’t want to finish a movie feeling like that?
Our second movie, “Shelter” (2007, written and directed by Jonah Markowitz) takes us to another location entirely: the surfer paradise of Southern California. However, it’s not really paradise for Zach (Trevor Wright), an aspiring teenage artist who gives up art school to work in a dead-end job helping support his sister and her son. Zach has no money or hope, just an adoring nephew and a good surf buddy friend from the rich side of town, Gabe (Ross Thomas) who one day leaves for a few months for a summer job. His friend Zach prepares for a long, dull summer. Gabe’s older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe), however, comes to stay in his brother’s house and meets Zach one day. They quickly become friends and Zach soon has to make big decisions about who he really is, and who he can afford to be, taking the welfare of all his loved ones into consideration. This wonderful love story actually involves Zach’s pen-and-ink and airbrushed artwork in the plot line, as a mechanism to show not only how he feels, but how his inability to express manifests itself in his own artistic expression. Zach finds redemption from those who love him, and courage to listen to the positive voices inside and rise above his past negativity. Again, this film too inspires and leaves you totally reinvigorated, and you feel so much more optimistic about the power of love to not only deal with…but to heal from.
So, pull out that Netflix list or that Blockbuster card and give one or both of these wonderful films a whirl…and let us know what you thought!