The Houseboy

TLA Releasing,

Spencer Schilly

Nick May, Blake Young-Fountain, Tom Merlino, Brian Patacca, Damián Fuentes, Matthew Sandager

Unrated, 81 minutes

I'll Be Dead For Christmas
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, August 2008


Before we even see the title, the first shot of The Houseboy - the new film by writer/director Spencer Schilly - is extremely provocative. Simon, 30-something and ruggedly handsome, is snuggling with Ricky (Nick May), a much younger man. A third fellow, Simon's equally attractive partner of 10 years, also slides into the bed and embraces Ricky from the other side. Both Simon and his mate, DJ, sport groomed stubble beards while Ricky's boyish face is fringed with soft down, nicely conveying visually the difference in their ages. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, we learn immediately that Ricky is 20 and that his two lovers aren't chicken hawks. The image of Ricky sandwiched between them, besides being very sexy, is idyllic and serene.

Simon and DJ are about to leave for a Christmas holiday with relatives. Though out to their families, Ricky would be a little difficult to explain and so he is left behind to house-sit the apartment. The idyll established in the opening shot is quickly burst when Ricky overhears DJ telling Simon that he wants "a new toy" for Christmas and he presumes that his days with the two men are over.

A longtime threeway relationship is an uncommon theme in queer films and one that is certainly worthy of consideration. The possibilities for drama are infinite. Unfortunately, this is not that film as the triad is barely examined in The Houseboy and we never even know for sure if Simon and DJ are going to dump the kid. Instead, the rest of the film is about Ricky's string of internet hookups, pick-ups and drug binges as he wallows in self pity. In-between these empty trysts, Ricky has a chance to find love when he strikes up a friendship with a young African American named Blake (Blake Young Fountain). Meanwhile, he tells each of his nightly tricks that he plans to kill himself on Christmas Eve to get back at his sugar daddies when they find his body on their return. Most are indifferent, even hostile, to Ricky's revelation. One callously remarks "I said no strings attached."

I wanted to like The Houseboy but its promising premise soon fizzles out. Part of the problem is that the lead actor is too slight a presence to carry the entire film and, after awhile, you begin to wish that this annoying kid would just kill himself and put the audience out of its misery. It's not that the filmmakers don't attempt to imbue Ricky with emotional depth. We learn that he was disowned by his mother when he came out. There is a quiet power to the phone conversation where his sister tells him that she is "sad for him" because he will never have a family and that she doesn't hate him, she just hates his lifestyle. We realize that the kid is in a bad way because he has been rejected by both his biological and surrogate familes. My sympathies were briefly rekindled during the very dramatic moment when one of his tricks reveals that he had a threeway with Simon and DJ last week and "You weren't there."

A good chunk of the film's running time consists of Ricky wandering around the apartment, feeding Simon's menagerie of pets, and staring at a clown ornament on the Christmas tree. At first, these often lengthy interludes were admirable bits of pure cinema in which the young man's boredom and inner pain is conveyed wordlessly, but this device really gets tiresome when he models his benefactors' clothes and then makes a "grass skirt" out of neckties and dances the hula in front of a mirror.

Ditto for the parade of men Ricky brings home to the apartment. The realism was at first quite striking. For example, his initial trick was a straight boy who is starting to "dig guys" because they give better head than girls. During one drug-fueled bacchanal, there is a truly creepy scene where Ricky discusses suicide with a stoned party boy who has just written his mother's phone number on his foot in case he dies of a meth overdose. He meets all types during the week leading up to Christmas Eve but after awhile it becomes repetitive. And you begin to question Ricky's death wish when he flees the apartment of a much older man because he is HIV positive.

While there are great confessional moments sprinkled throughout, the parts do not add up to a satisfying whole. The Houseboy seems, at times, like two different films cut together; one of them is filled with lots of explicit sex and the other, involving the budding love story between Ricky and Blake, at times resembles an ABC Afterschool Special - especially the ending. It gets a few points though for making the one romance an inter-racial one. More information regarding the dynamics of the kid's relationship with Simon and DJ (a few flashbacks, maybe?) would have gone a long way towards making this film more interesting than it is. I've often written that life is messy and movies shouldn't tie up everything with a neat bow at the end but this one leaves way too many loose strands. This wasn't the film that I wanted it to be but, then again, it is called The Houseboy (and not The Trio or The Threeway) and so at least it lives up to its title.