Good Boys
(Yeladim Tovim)

Waterbearer Films, 2004

Yair Hochner

Daniel Efrat,
Yuval Raz,
Nili Tserruya,
Ori Urian,
Tomer Ilan,
Gila Goldstein,
Dvir Benedek,
Benni Eldar

Unrated, 75 minutes

Tel Aviv After Dark
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, November 2009

Queer films about hustlers seem to come in as many flavors as coming out films do. They range in quality from the forgettable (Speedway Junky, which featured a completely miscast Jonathan Taylor Thomas in the worst performance as a hustler in screen history) to the brilliant (Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho). I have never seen one, however, that is as raw and unflinching as the ironically titled Good Boys (Yeladim Tovim), a 2004 Israeli film written and directed by Yair Hochner.

The setting is Tel Aviv. Menni (Daniel Efrat) and Tal (Yuval Raz) are two young, queer rent boys who think they are falling in love with each other. Menni is 17, wears fashionable clothes and enjoys a regular clientele so he doesn't have to walk the streets. He meets Tal one night in a diner after a long night's work and they exchange cynical stories about their johns. An old man, who likes to watch, hires them both. While performing for him, they find that they like each other. Menni spends the night at Tal's apartment and Tal makes breakfast for them in the morning. Both act shy, and play hard to get, but ultimately they agree to meet that night at a dance club.

They just miss each other at the club, Tal goes home with the wrong guy and, at this point, the film takes a turn that I wasn't expecting. It's not a twist along the lines of the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho but it would still be a spoiler of the first order to reveal what happens next. Let's just say that Good Boys doesn't, like many similar films, romanticize the world's oldest profession. The world of prostitution is often ugly and this is what audiences will experience while watching this gritty and violent film.

Good Boys excels at exposing the seedy underbelly of prostitution. The film also does a good job at depicting the aimless lives of its protagonists. Each of these young men thinks there is no such thing as love while refusing to admit that is what they really crave in their empty lives. They each create their own families and try to make whatever connections they can, however fleeting. In the twilight world of hustling, alliances are formed and just as quickly broken. Friends becomes lovers and then become friends again. One of the rent boys says to another, "if we're going to remain friends, we have to stop fucking."
One of the most colorful secondary characters is Grace, a pre-op transgender prostitute. She is played by Gila Goldstein, a known drag performer in Israel who is also a gay icon there. She looks like John Waters' muse Divine as if photographed by Diane Arbus and functions as a surrogate mother to Menni, who goes to her whenever he needs a shoulder to cry on.
Menni's life is further complicated by an unwanted child. When he returns from spending the night with Tal, he finds unwanted guests asleep in front of his apartment door. Mika (Nili Tserruya) is a drug addicted prostitute who had a child with Menni two years before. She turns up at his door now and then, with the kid in tow, when she needs a place to crash. Later on, Menni allows another hustler to stay at his flat and, while Menni is out, a very stoned Mika dumps the kid there and heads out to work at a whorehouse. Menni's attempts to find Mika and return the child prevents him from meeting up with Tal again when he needs him the most.
Most films about hustlers usually provide a parade of weird and/or repulsive johns to add comic relief. I'm thinking here, for example, about men like the one that makes River Phoenix scrub his apartment while dressed as the Little Dutch Boy in My Own Private Idaho. The only scene that comes close to this in Good Boys involves Menni being penetrated while his john hits him with a Barbie doll. The trick explains later that he tries "to find the sexual bridge between anguish and joy, pain and pleasure [by using] objects that give joy to children." All of Menni's, and Tal's, remaining episodes with their clients are cold and clinical. During the film's middle section, both Tal and Mika will endure what can only be called rape. This is not Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. This is more like abandon all hope ye who enter here.
Good Boys is a very explicit film and viewers will probably enjoy the initial eye candy before the rug gets pulled out from under them. "You're treating me like a worthless piece of ass," Menni tells a john who is looking for a discount. Tal will be told, in no uncertain terms, that he is worthless and you would have to be made of stone not to feel for him.
The gritty nature of our story is driven home by its raw production. Good Boys is shot on video and its lack of big-budget studio sheen might initially turn some viewers off. However, once the story kicks into high gear, the often grainy cinematography actually heightens the realism and documentary feel that the filmmaker was undoubtedly after. We're in for a bumpy ride and Good Boys is a sucker punch to the gut.
I have a few issues with the ending (there isn't one) but it is also fitting because of the wayward and careless ways that these people lead their lives. A ray of hope is suggested but no attempt is made to tie everything up with even a ripped and torn ribbon at the end. These lads live in a world of darkness that even the concluding sunrise cannot cure. This is a world of Ingmar Bergman buzz kill so be warned. But like it or hate it, Good Boys is a film you will never forget.