The New Twenty

Wolfe Video,

Chris Mason Johnson

Ishmael Chawla,
Chris Mason Johnson

Nicole Bilderback,
Ryan Locke,
Andrew Wei Lin,
Colin Fickes,
Thomas Sadoski,
Terry Serpico,
Bill Sage,
Cordelia Reynolds,
Larry Pine

Unrated, 92 minutes

Lovers And Friends
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, July 2009
A shorter version also appeared in abOUT, August, 2009

The expression, thirty is the new twenty (and its variations), has become a popular phrase in our lexicon. I know that I, when I hit the half century mark last year, also began saying that fifty is the new forty. The New Twenty is the debut film from out director Chris Mason Johnson, and it chronicles the adventures of five inseparable college friends, three straight and two gay, who are contemplating the direction (or lack thereof) their lives are taking as they reach the end of their second decade on Earth.

Andrew Hatch (Ryan Locke) and Julie Kim (Nicole Bilderback) have just announced their plans to wed. Both are successful Wall Street investment bankers and, because the film is set in 2006, the stock market meltdown is still in the future. Julie would actually like to quit her job, but she has just received another promotion which she laughingly attributes to her bank's desire to have a "hot Asian chick" in the public eye. Julie's brother, Tony (Andrew Wei Lin), is gay and, judging from some of his sideline glances, probably once had the hots for Andrew. Tony's roommate, Felix Canavan (Thomas Sadoski), was once considered to be the brightest of the bunch in college but now he has a secret heroin habit. Ben Barr (Colin Fickes) is also gay but, unlike Tony, seems to be in the closet. He is a chubby couch potato and slacker who spends his time cruising internet chatrooms and watching television.

Andrew is clearly the alpha dog and the leader of this pack. His ambitions will tear apart the longtime bonds that once held this small circle of friends together. A chance meeting, on the squash courts, with a forty-something venture capitalist named Louie Kennick (Terry Serpico) sets in motion Andrew's dream to go into an unspecified business for himself.

Much of The New Twenty revolves around this business venture, but this is also an ensemble drama like Diner or Love! Valour! Compassion! and so the tale is flavored by the stories of the other participants as well. Tony becomes involved with Robert Cameron (Bill Sage), a university professor. Tony is commitment-phobic, and he also has to deal with the fact that Robert, though healthy, is HIV positive. Felix has taken up with a young woman who shares his interest in drugs. He claims that they are only "fuckbuddies" and that there is nothing serious between them. Felix is often depressed and calls his moods "a touch of existential malaise due to late capitalism." Ben, who comically writes online that he looks like Sam in The Lord Of The Rings, bombs out on one internet date after another. Louie, the investor, acts as a catalyst for change and, ultimately, destruction within the group.

Louie is confirmed as a jerk from the beginning, not to mention a homophobe who doesn't mind getting checked out by other men, when he first begins to bond with Andrew in a sauna. Upon discovering that both Andrew and Julie are bankers, Louie strikes a nerve when he asks "Who makes more money?" and then laughs and says "She does, doesn't she?" Admitting that he sometimes goes too far, Louie also claims that it's his "job description." He might be straight, but he nevertheless seduces Andrew with the lure of hypothetical riches

The New Twenty is not about being gay. In fact, it fills the criterion for Vito Russo's old dream, when he wrote The Celluloid Closet back in the 1980s, that someday there would be films in which characters would be simply gay and their sexuality would be incidental to the story. More and more men and women are out these days, and it makes sense for the movies to reflect this by depicting circles of friends that include gay comrades. It is commendable that neither of the two gay men are the usual fabulous sidekicks that proliferated in late 90s cinema - and still do, to an extent, today. The inclusiveness of this dramatis personae is also extended to Asian siblings - another plus in the film's favor.
While there is no clear "star," Andrew dominates much of the action. (He also provides much of the film's eye candy.) Andrew is the proverbial life of the party who often turns out to be a complete dick. Ben begs Andrew for a job with his new business, and Andrew strings the poor sluggard along. Feeling guilty, and also diverting attention from the job that he has no intention of ever offering, he asks Ben to be his best man - angering his fiance in the process because she thought her brother, Tony, was the first choice. Tony is slated to work with Andrew, but he changes his mind when he overhears the obnoxious Louie refer to him as a" faggot." By making a Faustian pact with an outsider, Andrew's true self blooms and he turns into a first class bastard. Driven by ambition, he manages to alienate everyone. Everything falls apart following a disastrous stag party.

The New Twenty nicely mixes the comic and the dramatic. The acting by all is exceptional. The colorful cinematography employs a lot of moving cameras, and jump cuts, and is flashy without being grating. The movie's tone nicely illustrates the frenetic ambitions of this group of Generation-Xers. Montage transitions are kept to a minimum and the music during them, unlike in so many other indie films, doesn't stop the movie cold. Without being obvious, or resorting to overly melodramatic set pieces, the scenes flow loosely and organically into one another, thus reflecting real life. Ensemble films like this often become vehicles for frat boy humor of the lowest sort. In this case, the viewer really gets a sense of these friends who wish they can cling to their carefree college days forever but, as often happens, they are beginning to splinter and drift apart. Will the marriage between Andrew and Julie go off without a hitch? Will Tony stay with Robert or will the professor's HIV status drive him away? Will Ben ever get laid? This is an impressive first film and I hope this isn't the last that we hear from this director.


More on Chris Mason Johnson:

Bill Sage also appears in:
High Art
Mysterious Skin