Tonight PJ and I watched Jonah Markowitz’s 2007 film Shelter, a movie about Zach, a young guy who has given up his dream of going to art school to help his sister raise her son, Cody. While hanging out with his best friend’s older brother, Shaun, Zach discovers that he’s attracted to Shaun and the two begin “seeing” one another. Ultimately, Zach has to decide whether to come out and how to deal with his sister’s inability to raise Cody. Here’s the trailer:

I love this movie. Apparently, I love movies about gay skateboarders/graffiti artists! First there was The Graffiti Artist. Then there was “Cabalerno” from Boys Briefs 3. And now there’s Shelter. What I like about this movie is its pacing. It doesn’t try to squeeze too much into one film. Instead, it focuses on just a few central themes and then slowly, carefully unfolds its story.

At the center of the film is Trevor Wright, who stars as Zach. He carries the film. On the one hand, Zach is a confused young man coming to terms with his sexuality for the first time. Wright does a great job showing the frustrations and confusions that Zach feels in dealing with a deadbeat sister, a nephew he loves more than anything else, and a new lover who is opening up a whole new world to him. On the other hand, Zach is very much a working class kid struggling to do what’s right. Rather than making Zach a cliche, Wright manages to make his coming out journey believable.

Brad Rowe plays Shaun, the older man who is bouncing back from a failed relationship and rediscovering love with this younger man he’s known for years. Rowe plays this part well too. I like that he manages to embody the wiser, older man role without making him a perv or deadbeat. He too is surprised to discover this attraction, but unlike Zach he’s in a position to follow his heart without any other strings or concerns.

I also like these two actors together. Their scenes together are convincing. In part, this is because they both throw themselves into the scenes and I never got the sense that they were turning away quickly from one another during a kiss just because they weren’t comfortable playing gay. I also liked the elliptical direction of these scenes. Markowitz cuts away and splices together shots meant to show the quick passing of time in their love scenes. I thought this worked really well.

Likewise, the shots of the ocean throughout the movie also add the right mood. These characters are surfers, but the shots of the ocean also serve to represent the passing of time in both a literal sense — as in the day is passing — and in a more metaphorical sense, reminding us that Zach could spend the rest of his life tied down in this family situation and never really living his own life.

This raises the most important theme of the movie, that of family. Zach feels guilty for not doing everything possible to help his deadbeat sister raise her son. But as her inability to raise him becomes more horrifying, Zach simultaneously realizes that he has to live his own life and come out, something his sister, wonderfully played by Tina Holmes, absolutely opposes. Holmes is great in her ability to horrify us with Jeanne’s routine abandonment of her son while also making us see Jeanne’s loneliness and desperate fear that her brother will abandon her. Ultimately, Zach has to choose which family he values most — his biological one or the new one he might make with Shaun.

Overall, I thought this was a great movie. It’s part coming out story, part love story, and part family drama. I like that these issues are balanced and the story is interestingly told. It’s fun, touching, and sexy. I really enjoyed it.

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