TLA Releasing,

Douglas Langway

Douglas Langway,
Lawrence Ferbe

Joe Conti,
Gerald McCullouch,
Brian Keane, Stephen Guarino, Gregory Gunter, James Martinez, Alex Di Dio, Sebastian La Cause, David Drake

Unrated, 105 minutes

Bear Cub
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online December, 2010

Bear culture usually gets the short end of the stick in queer movies, American ones especially. Only two films that specifically feature bears come to mind and both are Spanish; 2004's Bear Cub and 2007's Boystown. BearCity, a new film by Douglas Langway, aims to rectify this omission. BearCity is a fun, and really sweet, ensemble film about a group of hirsute homos and the young newbie who becomes an eager part of their inner circle.

Mainstream America usually sees gay men as well-coifed denizens from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and bears do not fit into that stereotype. (Not with all that flannel!) Bears, for the most part, are a happy-go-lucky bunch that is uninterested in the body fascism that defined queer youth in the 90s. The stereotype of a bear is an overweight, hairy and bearded dude who wouldn't be caught dead manscaping but, like all stereotypes, this is a gross simplification. Bears come in all shapes and sizes, from muscle bears to chubbies. Some bears aren't even that furry; what really defines a bear is his willingness to accept anyone as is and love the person inside.

This will be uncharted territory for some and our guide over the rainbow is Tyler (Joe Conti). Ty is a young actor who is keeping a secret from his party boy roommate, Simon (Alex Di Dio) - he is attracted to bears (silver daddy bears in particular). "Admitting that you like bears," he moans, "is like coming out of the closet a second time." After many nights surfing and chatting on bear websites, Ty makes his first venture into a bear bar. Inside, Ty is recognized by the bearded cameraman who shot his audition that afternoon. Fred (Brian Keane), who was cruising him through the whole screen test, rescues Ty from going home with the wrong guy and then introduces him to his entourage. Fred and his "huzbear," Brent (Stephen Guarino - The Big Gay Sketch Show), are looking for a roommate and Ty jumps at the chance to move in with them.

Being the romantic lead, Ty needs a love interest. Meet Roger (Gerald McCullouch), the muscle bear stud who is the group's unofficial leader. When he isn't having group sex with his hunky bowling team buddies, he's on the prowl for fresh meat. He's also a silver daddy who is pretty damned hot. One of BearCity's best touches was going the opposite of Queer As Folk's Brian Kinney when casting the gigolo - too many queer filmmakers forget that guys in their 40s and up are sexy too. Ty falls hard for him. When Roger gets up close to help Ty refine his bowling moves, and their eyes meet, it becomes obvious that he is also developing feelings for the cute newbie himself. But he also has a reputation to keep up and, when his butch bowling buddies arrive, Roger leaves a confused Ty behind, almost forgetting that the lad was even there. This happens more than once. Yes, some men are ruled by their penis but Roger has to be the most attention deficit hunk I've ever seen in a queer film. Will Ty finally win over his daddy?

Although we always return to Ty's adventures, I thought the best scenes involved Fred and Brent. The issues they face are realistic ones and any couple who has ever discussed opening their relationship will identity with these guys. Broaching the subject leads to hurt feelings and jealousies. The presence of their young roommate is also creating sexual tension. As many men do, they compromise by agreeing to a threeway. Then, of course, they repeatedly veto each other's choices. ("No? Did you SEE him???") When they finally do agree on a third - a very hairy hulk who beats his fists on their chests like a gorilla - it is the most awkward and disastrous (not to mention funniest) threeway ever committed to celluloid. I kept wondering if Ty would wind up in a loving triad with his burly landlords as an alternative happy ending if things didn't work out with Roger. I'll let the audience discover how Ty's love life develops for themselves but either ending would work.

Body issues are addressed in the relationship between Michael and Carlos. Michael (Gregory Gunter) is a very obese man but Carlos (James Martinez) looks beneath the surface and finds beauty within. Michael is unemployed, suffers from low self esteem, and believes that gastric bypass surgery is the answer to both problems. Carlos vehemently objects to Michael's decision and their partnership suffers. Carlos loves Michael as he is and wants him to be himself. An admirable sentiment but Carlos is also attracted to big men and is being selfish in his demands. Michael's girth is, after all, a heart attack waiting to happen. The viewer can side with either position, depending on his sensibilities. However, it is nice to see - for a change - a love scene where a man's weight is actually celebrated. A film like Another Gay Movie would play it for laughs whereas here a close-up of Carlo's hand caressing the underside of Michael's belly becomes quite sexy.

BearCity is far from perfect but it is a very entertaining film that should please its target audience. It's a sweet movie with a lot of heart, and a few scenes made me melt. Many familiar stock situations from other queer indies are repeated here but BearCity subverts and runs with them in fresh and innovative ways. The hunk is a silver fox, Fred and Brent smoke pot and play video games, the inevitable makeover of Ty into a bear involves a baseball cap and a sleeveless, flannel shirt. I've also never seen a game of bowling double as sexual foreplay in a queer film before, and it's rare to see an autumn/spring romance in the spotlight.

Aside from some sappy background music that ruins a couple scenes, and an ending that ties everything into way too neat of a ribbon, BearCity is a satisfying date flick. Ty remarks at one point that "Bears can be just as gossipy and superficial as the circuit queens" and so much of this is funny. The actors were well chosen and have great chemistry together. The dialogue is a mixed bag. Some of it is quite clever: ("I'm Ty, I'm new." "I'm Roger, I'm used."); some of it is lame and the delivery forced: ("There's a bear on your t-shirt." "Honey there's a bear in my t-shirt.") On the other hand, I liked the way they spoke of "stroller meat " (hot, unavailable straight hunks pushing baby carriages). Other examples of the film's wit include asking why it's cool to drool over Brad Pitt but not to have a chubby over John Goodman. When Ty asks if Michael and Carlos play well with others, he is told that they do not; they're like lesbians except without the drum circles.

Look for Peter Stickles (Shortbus) as the HR director who is clearly repulsed by Michael during a job interview, and David Drake (The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me) as the stomach doctor he visits shortly after. Columnist Michael Musto and the cowboy from The Village People appear in cameos at the big BearCity party in the next-to-last act. There's probably a few bear porn stars as extras in the bar scenes.

A few review blurbs have dubbed this film a bear version of Sex In The City. Why is it that every film or TV show with an ensemble of friends, especially when sex is involved, is always compared to that HBO series as if they invented the genre? Diner or The Big Chill anyone? But these sound bites mean well and, if calling it Sex In The City (but without all the shoes) helps draw an audience, then go ahead and embrace it on those terms. To this reviewer, BearCity is much more than that and breaks new ground. It's a welcome change to see an American queer indie focus on bears rather than twinks. Bears in the audience will respond to all the furry eye candy. There are some very hot men in this movie and some pretty explicit sex too. "Roger's playroom" is good for a few thrills, as is Fred and Brent's hilarious threeway with "Uncle Mel." BearCity is a celebration of masculinity and should introduce a new definition of male beauty to the uninitiated. It's true that the film also has it both ways by including Simon, Ty's twinky former roommate (to provide the fabulous factor) but the emphasis remains on the bears.

We're always looking to see ourselves in the movies; I admit that I identify as a bear and so I was happy to finally see an American queer indie embrace bear culture. One shouldn't ask one film to stand for an entire genre but, all in all, BearCity delivers on its central premise to present a fun tale about bears and their admirers. It's a feel good flick whose charms overcome its flaws, while an appealing cast brings an all-encompasing script to life. The film was a labor of love for all who were involved and it shows. And sometimes that's all you need.


More on Douglas Langway:
Bear City 2: The Proposal

Joe Conti, Gerald McCullouch, Stephen Guarino, Brian Keane, Gregory Gunter, James Martinez,Alex Di Dio also appear in:
Bear City 2: The Proposal

David Drake also appears in:
The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me
Longtime Companion

Peter Stickles also appears in:

2 Minutes Later

Brian Keane also appears in:

Stephen Guarino also appears in:
An Englishman In New York