The puck starts here

EVER since Gov. Sarah Palin burst on to the national scene, I’ve heard more than I ever wanted to hear about hockey moms. Are they that different from soccer moms? Do they really wear lipstick? Or can they get away with lip balm or Blistex?

I’ve never seen a hockey-mom movie, however. Though last week I did see my first hockey-dad movie. Actually, “Breakfast With Scot” is about two hockey dads, and the only one wearing lipstick is their flamboyant 11-year-old ward, Scot, who winds up living with this comely, strait-laced gay couple after his mom dies.

Welcome to the gay family film, as mild and sweet as anything out of the Disney empire. It stars “Ed’s” Tom Cavanagh and “Angels in America’s” Ben Shenkman as the gay couple, who aren’t technically married but might as well be, and Noah Bernett as their new child. The movie is certainly topical, given the newfound media prominence of hockey parenting and, of course, the recent legalization of gay marriage in California and the resulting battle with Proposition 8, this year’s ballot proposal that would ban same-sex marriage in the state.


“Breakfast With Scot” represents the new maturation of gay cinema, says Paul Colichman, president of Regent Media, whose firm is distributing the film. “Right now, gay cinema is being redefined. It used to be that gay cinema was coming-out stories. Basically now people want imagery that is different than just coming out. They want imagery of themselves as individuals. For many people in our community, that means imagery of gay families. Gay traditional families are becoming an important piece of the market.”

Admittedly, “Breakfast With Scot,” which hits theaters in Los Angeles on Friday, is technically from Canada (although it’s based on an American novel by Michael Downing). In Canada, gay marriage has been legal for three years, and as director Laurie Lynd notes, “ ‘Liberal’ is not a dirty word up here.”

Yet even the National Hockey League, that bastion of athletic testosterone, has given its blessing to “Breakfast With Scot,” allowing the filmmakers to use all its official Toronto Maple Leafs logos, which was important, since Cavanagh’s character is a former Maple Leaf star player turned sportscaster.

In fact, by giving the go-ahead (first made public in 2006), the NHL and the Maple Leafs became the first major pro league and team known to lend their imprimatur to a movie with a homosexual theme. And while that may make the rink a more progressive place, it should be noted that no athlete from the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB has ever admitted to being gay while still playing professional sports.

“They liked its message. They too really like that it was about loving your child for whoever he or she is,” says Lynd. “They also loved Tom Cavanagh; he’s a big hockey guy.”

What’s not to like? “Breakfast With Scot” is like Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy” with gay people, or “Two Men and a Tween.” There’s practically a film subgenre involving grown-ups who end up unexpectedly caring for children (from “The Kid” to “Kolya”), and most of the fare, including “Breakfast With Scot,” runs the gamut from heartwarming to schmaltzy, as cinema grown-ups inevitably learn to love their little rascals.

“I wanted something that was a mainstream gay movie, something that tonally was like ‘Father of the Bride’ or ‘The Family Man,’ ” says producer Howard Rosenman, who actually produced those family films as well as such prominent gay-themed documentaries as “The Celluloid Closet” and “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt.” “There’s no big deal that the guys are gay.”

Shenkman and Cavanagh’s characters just happen to be kind of uptight, albeit kind, gay men. Part of the tension of the movie comes from the fact that Scot’s two new dads, particularly Cavanagh’s macho character, are uncomfortable with Scot, who’s identified in the production notes as a “total sissy.” Scot loves wearing jewelry, makeup and pink belts and sings Christmas carols at the top of his lungs. This inverts the setup for a film like “The Birdcage,” in which the gay parents (played by Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) are freewheeling and open, and their son is more conservative. As Lynd notes, Cavanagh’s character must come to grips with his own “internalized homophobia. Coming out is a lifelong journey. There are many stages of it.”

Ironically, releasing a $7-million, gay-themed family film has proved more challenging than getting the NHL to lend its imprimatur. “Breakfast With Scot” played in Toronto in 2007 and was ultimately acquired by Regent Releasing, the film distribution wing of a gay media empire, which includes Advocate and Out magazines and Here! networks, a cable network aimed at gay consumers.

Producer Rosenman says the film’s main audience is women older than 25 and gays, but there are portions of both groups who might not find the family theme appealing. “It’s hard,” he says about marketing the movie.

This said, the film received mostly positive reviews in Canada, where it has already seen a theatrical release, and Regent’s Colichman is more sanguine about the commercial prospects of “Breakfast With Scot,” which is opening in 12 U.S. cities.

Colichman has been barnstorming America trying to spread his cable network to smaller and smaller cities and has been happily surprised to find out that “Americans are by and large incredibly more advanced than our media and politicians would have you believe.” According to Colichman, there are a lot of Americans who believe in “ ‘Let’s live and let live. We’re not worried about what people do in their bedrooms as long as they’re good citizens.’ ”

Only a small percentage of the religious right is anti-gay, Colichman contends. “They’re a loud minority but a small one. Politicians and the media are taking this small minority and acting like that’s what mainstream America believes.”

In last week’s vice presidential debate, even the conservative Republican vice president nominee Palin seemed to endorse this “live and let live” philosophy. She wouldn’t go so far as to endorse gay marriage, but she appeared to concede that even gay couples deserve civil rights under the U.S. Constitution.

So who knows? Perhaps hockey moms and dads across America are finally ready for “Breakfast With Scot.”