TLA Releasing,

Juan Flahn

Felix Sabroso, Dunia Ayaso, Juan Flahn
Based on the comic book by Rafael Martinez Castellano

Pepon Nieto,
Carlos Fuentes, Pablo Puyol, Concha Velasco, Rosa Maria Sarda, Eduard Soto, Pedro Veral, Mariola Fuentes, Joan Crosas

Unrated, 100 minutes

Bears, Blood And
Real Estate
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, October, 2008

Where are all the bears in queer cinema? Tired of gay protagonists that look like they came off a Madison Avenue assembly line? Have I got a film for you. I can't remember the last time I had this much fun watching a new queer film release. This one celebrates the grand tradition of early Pedro Almodovar movies and justifies my belief that gay comedies can tackle subjects besides fabulous makeovers and dancing club kids. Boystown (Chuecatown), the new Spanish film from director Juan Flahn, is a farcical black comedy that serves up a tasty and wicked stew of hunky bears, doomed old ladies and a murderous real estate agent.

Boystown opens with a promotional video for Chueca, "a modern, tolerant, fun neighborhood" offering sophistication and "ideal beauty." Chueca has art, culture, trendy shops and restaurants, and buffed beefcake strolling its sidewalks. Victor (Pablo Puyol) is a handsome, and nefarious, metrosexual broker who is making a killing in Chueca in more ways than one; he murders old women who refuse to sell their apartments, and then flips the remodeled flats to unsuspecting and affluent gay couples.

Leo and Rey (Pepon Nieto and Carlos Fuentes) are working-class bears who live in one of the older apartment buildings. Leo is a driving school instructor, Rey works at odd jobs, and they are barely making ends meet. When we first meet them, Leo is bickering with Rey for being a bit too flirtatious with a former lover. They might occasionally be a pair of testosterone drama queens but their earthy passion still burns for one another. We can see this during the whimsical scene where Rey pretends that he is Wolverine from The X-Men, with ballpoint pens taped to his fingers, and jumps into bed with Leo.

While they are playfully wrestling in bed, the old woman in the flat next door is being murdered. The next morning, while being questioned by the police, they learn that Rey is the only beneficiary in the deceased's will and that she left her apartment to him. Rey often helped her and fixed things in her flat, and she was showing her gratitude for "the son she never had." But Mila, an eccentric phobia-ridden police detective and her closeted son, Luis, view this as a motive for murder and consider the two bears to be their prime suspects.
Victor meets up with them and offers a handsome sum of money for the dead woman's apartment. Strapped for cash, Leo wants to sell but Rey has other ideas - he wants to rescue his sister from their irascible mother, Antonia (Concha Velasco) and let her move in next door. This is not good news for Leo because Antonia is losing her marbles and, to make matters worse, she detests him and has made it her crusade to break the two of them up.
Mommy Dearest is difficult, to say the least, Upon arrival, her cabfare is $10 Euros "plus $100 for the upholstery." She has a mouth like a sailor and drops crude remarks about their sex life at every opportunity. She refuses, at first, to stay in her new apartment by herself, imposing on her son and his increasingly impatient lover, even following them to gay bars where she can mock Leo in front of their friends. Upon learning that the two men met at an orgy, she looks at Leo and gasps, "And he picked you? Were the others lepers? Ministers?"
Leo and Antonia expend no effort to disguise their mutual contempt, Rey is caught in the middle, and the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf-styled barbs they all hurl at each other are deliciously comic. Meanwhile, Victor is stalking them in the shadows. He wants mother's apartment and makes his move by attempting to seduce the exasperated and vulnerable Leo as part of a plan to frame him for her impending murder.
I love a good black comedy, like Arsenic and Old Lace or Harold and Maude, and this one has all the right ingredients. Like the two classic films just cited, the situation is absolutely outrageous - and really not in the least bit funny - yet you laugh all the same at its sheer absurdity. The timing of the actors in such endeavors is crucial and the rapid-fire delivery and overlapping dialogue (despite being in Spanish) is reminiscent of an old 1930s Cary Grant - Katherine Hepburn flick. At times, you almost have to speed-read the subtitles. Some of the humor is a little-over-the top but the farcical events justify this approach. The director also knows when to slow down the action and let the audience take a breath while keeping all this nuttiness under control.
The murders are actually rather gruesome but they are filmed in such a way that they become a parody of Hitchcock. Puyol, as Victor, resembles a metrosexual version of Chris Meloni on HBO's Oz. He is a great comic villain who manages to be sinister, artificially handsome, and a dork at the same time. He's dangerous, but you can't take him completely seriously. His attempts to be hip with his gay clients are laughable, and his obsession with beauty extends to wanting to rid the neighborhood of men like Leo and Rey whose physiques are less than gym perfect. While seducing Leo, he even talks his hapless prey into getting his chest hair waxed. Victor symbolizes everything that bear culture rejects.
As Victor dangles "la dolce vita" in Leo's face, tensions reach a breaking point with Rey's mother. This isn't a good thing, especially when the mother and son police team question Antonia about suspicious activity in the apartment building and she is only too happy to provide incriminating anecdotes about poor Leo. Mila and Luis also provide much of the film's mirth, especially as the son's baby steps out of the closet add to her parade of phobias. "We both bear the same cross," Antonia comically confides to Mila, referring to their mutual gay sons. "At one time a queer son looked after you," Antonia laments, "but now they can marry and they leave you when they find a whore who can give good cock."

It all eventually culminates in a life-and-death chase through a bathhouse that provides suspense, thrills, and abundant eye candy at the same time. This isn't a tragedy and so it goes without saying that it will end happily. But the writers have one last trick up their sleeves so don't expect the requisite warm & fuzzy reconciliation scene between Leo and Antonia to conclude the way you think it will.

Through it all, Leo and Rey are two adorable and cuddly men with real issues who, nevertheless, obviously love each other. The chemistry between the actors is very real. So many queer (and straight) films feature leads who are impossibly good looking and it was refreshing, for a change, to watch one in which our heroes are burly bears. They're a great antidote to the plastic mannequin looks of their nemesis; both men (especially Rey) are attractive and masculine, and who cares if they are a little pudgy. The entire cast is terrific, the writing is sharp and funny, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Boystown is wickedly funny and it also has a big heart. This is one of the best comedies, gay or straight, that I have seen in a long time.