Big Boys review – an achingly brilliant queer coming-of-age classic | Film


With its come-on of a title, its coming-of-age narrative and its teen hero on the verge of coming out, Big Boys sounds like the sort of LGBTQIA+ fare that grows on trees. In fact, this debut from the writer-director Corey Sherman is a real four-leaf clover: delicate, unique and subtly magical.

In its 16-year-old lead actor, Isaac Krasner, the film boasts a star and a breakthrough performance reminiscent of Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore. (No wonder he has just been snapped up to star with Nicole Kidman in the thriller Holland, Michigan.) His 14-year-old character, Jamie, also exudes the studied charm and comic fastidiousness of Rushmore’s hero Max Fischer. Preparing for a long weekend at Lake Arrowhead, California, with his loutish brother Will (Taj Cross) and their doting older cousin, Allie (Dora Madison), Jamie – whose hero is Anthony Bourdain – packs an array of spices to season the campfire meat.

He is chagrined to learn that Allie’s new boyfriend will be tagging along on what was intended as a cousins-only jaunt. That is, until he claps eyes on the interloper, Dan (David Johnson III), with his strong arms, backwards baseball cap and warmly blokey manner. Jamie blabbers nervously about the importance of guarding against wild animals in the woods but there is a different sort of bear on his mind right now.

One of the joys of Big Boys lies in the contrast between the film’s easy-going, unforced rhythm and Jamie’s mounting desire for Dan, whose large build and pillowy eyes make him seem like the boy’s older double. The kid is all fingers and thumbs around him, with Krasner’s highly expressive fidgeting betraying Jamie’s internal chaos. Sherman’s script refrains from any confrontation or crisis, allowing the emphasis to settle instead on the teenager’s tendency to read meaning into Dan’s every wink or smile.

That central tension dominates the picture but the other relationships have room to breathe. Allie and Jamie’s mutual protectiveness is conveyed in a handful of fond exchanges. A flame of fraternal camaraderie, left over from childhood and all but extinguished by adolescent hostility, flickers between Jamie and Will when they play sea-monster games in the lake. And a squirming encounter between Jamie and another shy teenager, Erica (the breathless Marion van Cuyck), spreads the romantic agony around and provides a mirror image of his yearning for Dan. The pseudo-drunken pantomime he affects simply to avoid Erica’s lips creates the closest thing here to a comic crescendo.

It is a mark of how well-judged the script and performances are that only one moment feels remotely false: Dan’s unprompted announcement, during a conversation about The Lord of the Rings, that he would “go gay for Viggo Mortensen”. Even that, though, could be a sign that he has subconsciously intuited Jamie’s longings and is doing his fumbling best to reassure him.

From Gus Bendinelli’s luminous cinematography to an ethereal score by Baths (aka Will Wiesenfeld) that is layered with surging voices, Big Boys is defiantly low-key, more reminiscent of the 1977 heartbreaker Blue Jeans – about a French exchange student pining for the boy who steals his girlfriend – than anything as forthright as Call Me By Your Name.

One of the film’s final cuts, which whisks us from the lake back to the suburbs in a single dissolve without so much as a goodbye, gives the sense of experiences melting away, and a summer gone too soon.

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