Friday April 30, 1999
It's safe to say that almost every gay teen fantasizes having a romance with the campus hero, inevitably a handsome star athlete and student leader, unattainable to all but the most beautiful and popular girls and surely the individual most out of bounds for a homosexual kid. But writer Patrick Wilde, in adapting his play "What's Wrong With Angry?" to the screen as "Get Real," asks what if that hero just happens to be gay himself?
"Get Real" illuminates with humor and compassion the plight of being 16, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, along with the added challenge of being gay. The setting is the attractive upper-middle-class suburb of Basingstoke, which is 40 miles southwest of London and virtually identical to America's pricier neighborhoods. It is a conservative, utterly conventional community--"a dull commuter hub" is one description--that prefers not to acknowledge that gay people even exist, and when forced to, views them with reflexive disdain and disgust.
No wonder Steven (Ben Silverstone), a gangly youth who unfortunately for his circumstances combines a high IQ with an absolute lack of interest in sports, feels he must keep his homosexual feelings to himself, confiding only in his best friend, the girl next door, Linda (Charlotte Brittain), a beauty with a sharp wit and a plump figure, a combination that makes her an outsider as well.
Of course, Steven is a target for bullies, who taunt him as a sissy but don't seriously consider the unthinkable possibility that he may actually be gay. At home he's subject to constant pressure from his well-meaning father (David Lumsden) to be more like the other guys.
In short, everything that happens to Steven in his everyday existence conspires to reinforce his belief in his absolute necessity to stay in the closet in the interest of sheer survival, yet within him grow feelings of resentment and rebellion. He's taken to cruising the local park restroom, an activity Linda finds abhorrent and dangerous, while Steven points out that in their community there is no other place where he could hope to make contact with other gays. Apparently, his high school's track star John Dixon (Brad Gorton), the campus god, feels the same way, for that is where, much to Steven's understandable shock and John's initial deep chagrin, they meet.
Whereas Steven has never kidded himself that he is anything but gay, John strives mightily to deny he has homosexual feelings; the best he can muster is to admit to being "intrigued" on the basis of a single thwarted encounter he can't keep out of his mind. In short order the same young man who is loathe to acknowledge Steven's existence at school soon lunges at him with a passionate kiss, leaving Steven more startled than ever. He is also thrilled, excited and swiftly in love with John.
Soon, Steven and John are adding to the burden of keeping secret their sexual orientation the hiding of their blossoming romance. John is so happy yet so uptight in being with Steven that it is no small accomplishment that Steven finally succeeds in persuading John that it's only right that he publicly acknowledge Steven as a friend.
Blake and his astute director, Simon Shore, have set up an increasingly tense predicament that is at once engaging and revealing. John, whose family lives in a mansion with a huge swimming pool, is in the tougher position; as the school's most envied student, he has much more to lose than Steven, for he confounds gay stereotypes. When he says to Steven, "You don't know what it's like being me," you can imagine Rock Hudson having said much the same thing.
Many people, including young inexperienced gays like Steven, can have a hard time comprehending that a man can be totally masculine, as Hudson was, and also be homosexual. Revelation of the truth about John would be considerably more earth-shaking than it would be for Steven.
Yet everything in "Get Real" builds to the point that coming out is the only course, no matter what the consequences. But will either Steven or John or both come out before they're found out? It's to the credit of the filmmakers, and to their talented young stars, that it is possible to care equally about what will happen to Steven and John.
Even when John's actions are far from admirable you feel his conflict, guilt and appreciation of the difference between right and wrong, although he may not always be able to live up to his best instincts. Silverstone, who made a memorable screen debut in Mike Figgis' "The Browning Version," and newcomers Gorton and Brittain set a solid standard of acting that the supporting players, which include Jacquetta May as Steven's staunch mother and Stacy A. Hart as a pretty student who comes to prefer the understanding Steven over her macho boyfriend (Tim Harris) and is hurt and puzzled when Steven doesn't respond to her romantic overtures.
Shore and Wilde have done an admirable job in re-imagining Wilde's play as a movie, and they've created a wrenching, thoughtful entertainment that incorporates considerable comic relief. But this enlightened--and enlightening--film absolutely lives up to its title, for "Get Real" is serious about getting real in the way we live our lives.
Get Real, 1999. R, for language and sexual content. A Paramount Classics presentation of a Graphite Films production in association with British Screen and the Arts Council of England. Director Simon Shore. Producer Steven Taylor. Executive producers Anant Singh, Helena Spring. Screenplay by Patrick Wilde; based on his play "What's Wrong With Angry?" Cinematographer Alan Almond. Editor Barrie Vince. Music John Lunn. Production and costume designer Bernd Lepel. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Ben Silverstone as Steven Carter. Brad Gorton as John Dixon. Charlotte Brittain as Linda. Stacy A. Hart as Jessica.