Here! Films

Jonah Markowitz

Trevor Wright, Brad Rowe, Tina Holmes, Jackson Wurth, Katie Walder, Matt Bushell, Ross Thomas

Rated R, 97 Minutes

Wipe Out
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, November, 2008

Shelter is a rather sweet romance that could have been so much better. It follows the typical love story formula; boy meets boy (since this is a gay film), boy gets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back. Because this is also a coming out tale, we can also include: sexually confused boy freaks out, comes to grips with his true self, and then gets boy.

Writer and director Jonah Markowitz gives the familiar plot a bit of a new spin by making our young lovers surfer dudes. Zach (Trevor Wright) is a budding painter and graffiti artist who lives with his ailing father, his sister Jeannie (Tina Holmes, the girlfriend in Edge of Seventeen) and her young son, Cody. Jeannie was abandoned by Cody's father and she frequently imposes on her brother to babysit the kid whenever she enjoys a night out or a weekend with her latest boyfriend du jour. Cody likes to think of Zach as his father and Zach has a great rapport with the boy. I especially liked the scenes where Zach teaches him how to draw.

Despite dating a girl named Tori for several years, Zach is realizing that there is no connection between them and he is about to discover the reason why when his best friend Gabe's gay older brother, Shaun (Brad Rowe), comes to town. Regular queer filmgoers will recognize Rowe as Sean Hayes' love interest from Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss. Zach and Shaun bond over a love of surfing and they spend many afternoons riding the waves. Zach also begins to realize that his attraction to Shaun goes way beyond simple friendship.

Their romance is rather touching in an "aww, isn't that sweet" sort of way without being nauseating. Our lads share one of the cutest first kisses I've ever seen in a movie. Markowitz seems more interested in exploring their emotions than emphasizing extensive sexual interludes between them. This isn't a bad thing though male viewers might be disappointed by the overall lack of gratuitous sex. For a film about surfing, there is also very little beefcake. Lots of wetsuits though.
Third act drama is supplied when the sexually loose Jeannie finds out about her brother's relationship with Shaun and sanctimoniously, not to mention hypocritically, calls him a bad influence on her son. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, especially when a later development qualifies her for the "Worst Mom Of The Year" award. Zach is more of a parent to the boy than she is and, together with Shaun, provide an alternate family. She is almost successful in her bid to break them up but, as to be expected, everything works out in the end. The saccharine final sequence of Zach, Shaun and Cody happily playing on the beach will be pleasing to some audience members but I caution diabetics to have their insulin handy in case of an attack.
There is much to commend in this film, but its execution unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. There are problems in the script. The ailing father completely disappears from the film (did he die and they forgot to tell us?) and the "boy loses boy" section was not only unnecessary but also dragged out until it became intolerable. I can find no fault with the acting, or the characters themselves, but Shelter suffers from a malaise common to more gay independent films than I can count - namely way too many pointless scene transitions and montages set to sappy music that makes you want to drive sharpened pencils into your ears.

I lost track of how many surfing and skateboarding scenes there were in this movie, not to mention shots of sitting on the beach and long meaningful glances, scored to annoyingly banal new-age guitar music and trite pop songs that added at least 15 minutes to the film's running time. If film schools don't teach their students not to do this, it's about time they start. The best scenes in Shelter are character-driven with silence in the background. This could have been a great film but too much of it plays like a muzak music video.

Still, before I get accused of being heartless, the refreshingly innocent love story made the low points more palatable and you can always fast forward over the boring bits. It is a credit to the actors that I stayed through until the end. Shelter isn't a bad film, it just doesn't live up to its potential.

Since most of the films that I review for are unrated, I haven't had the opportunity to rag on the Films Rating Board in awhile (with the exception of my review of the documentary about those guardians of our morality, This Film Is Not Yet Rated). And so I must point my finger here and go into full "mocking mode" as I report that this film is rated R!!!! Are they kidding? Shelter is practically an Afterschool Special!!!! PG-13 maybe, but R???? There is no nudity, no explicit sex scenes, no graphic violence... I don't recall much salty dialogue either. Oh, it must have been the pot smoking. It's always nice to know that you can depend on the Ratings Board to protect our children.


Brad Rowe also appears in:
Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss

Tina Holmes also appears in:
Edge Of Seventeen