Monster Pies

TLA Releasing

Lee Galea

Tristan Barr,
Lucas Linehan,
Rohana Hayes,
Marcel Reluctant,
Katrina Maree,
Marlene Magee

Unrated, 90 minutes

Stand By Me
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online January, 2014

I know that I have written on more than one occasion, old fart that I am, that I never want to see another high school coming out film ever again. (Full disclosure: I don’t watch Glee.) Well, there always has to be exceptions, right? One of these exceptions hails from Australia. Writer / director Lee Galea’s Monster Pies (2013) is a pleasant surprise that is up there with such noted coming of age classics as Beautiful Thing, Edge of Seventeen, Get Real and the offbeat Dorian Blues. I don’t remember the last time I cried this much at a movie (Brokeback Mountain, I think). More than just another expendable teen love story, Monster Pies is realistic with new spins on a familiar formula. This one’s a real charmer, making it all the more dramatic when unspeakable third act tragedy strikes.

Monster Pies begins with a flashback of two young boys making mud pies – the significance is explained later. Then we meet Mike (Tristan Barr), a nerdy high school senior. He is riding his bicycle, frantically pedaling to a brisk piano sonata by Beethoven. He is late for school. Apparently this is nothing new and he is sent to Detention. A handsome young guy – the new kid at school – walks by and their eyes meet. Mike is dumbstruck. Imagine his bashful glee when he returns to English class and finds the new kid sitting next to him. His name is Will (Lucas Lineham). They officially “meet cute” when Mike drops papers on the floor and both bend down to pick them up. Mike happily obeys when the teacher asks him to share his book with Will.

The text is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and, when Will is asked to read a romantic passage aloud, Mike is unable to take his eyes off of him. They become partners in the class project to come up with a modern re-telling of the Bard’s classic using any medium. Will takes amateur videos and Mike suggests they make a movie. Looking at one of Mike’s old monster comic books ignites a creative spark. They re-imagine R&J with Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman as two societal misfits who want to be lovers. This is, of course, a metaphor for the two of them. Timid around each other at first, they soon become close friends. Very close friends.

Yes, all the hallmarks of the usual formula are here. The hero is a nerd, he’s teased at school and called a “faggot.” He has an overweight female best friend (who gets more jealous than is usual when the other boy arrives on the scene), and the boy he falls in love with is more attractive, more athletic and, yes, more masculine. We’ve seen a lot of this before. But there’s no reason these elements have to be clichés if the writer finds new ways to keep them fresh. In addition to their offbeat Shakespearean adaptation, consider this charming scene: Because Will once said that he’s never been to a drive-in, Mike leads him blindfolded into the garage, where he has set up a sheet and a film projector, and they sit in his mother’s car and pretend.

Galea keeps things from getting too sappy by giving each lad a broken home. Mike’s parents are divorced and he lives with his Mum. The little brother, who made “monster pies” with Mike in the opening scene, died in an accident that Mum probably blames Dad for. Will’s father is an abusive drunk. His Mum is a barely conscious vegetable in a nursing home, having suffered brain damage from a head injury. Undoubtedly it was Dad who put her there because he enjoys beating up his son whenever he’s pissed about something. Will withdraws - sitting under his favorite tree, he deliberately burns his hand with a hot cigarette lighter.

In light of all this, you can’t help but be touched by how Will responds to Mike’s love (he certainly gets none at home). He pulls away at first when Mike asks too many questions about his family. After he rebounds from a momentary gay panic when Mike kisses him, Will accepts what is happening between them. When Will laments that he has no one, Mike says, “You have me” and promises to always be there for him. They are the best things that could possibly happen to each other. Their scenes together are portraits in innocence. There’s a playfulness between them that befits these two lads. On the cusp of manhood, they become romantic lovers while still flinging pens and spitballs at each other in English class. Horseplay and foreplay go hand in hand, and this is the most tender – and realistic – depiction of young love I’ve seen in a long time. All the wonder and confusion is there; like the moment when Mike asks, “Will, are we together?”

While the film’s timeframe is never specified, the absence of cellphones and, especially, the video store shelves stocked with only VHS tapes suggests to me that the film takes place during the early to mid-90s. What’s important is that it is not the present day; is a time before there were TV shows like Will & Grace that showed teenagers that gay people were cool. Mike and Will live in the western suburbs of Melbourne and gay kids are not a common sight. Mike has always tried to be invisible. Will tells Mike that he needs to stand up to the bullies who call him “faggot,” but then he is the one who is too scared to openly take Mike to the school dance.

It is fitting, of course, that they are reading Romeo and Juliet. Drawn to this classic tale of forbidden love, their own story will also become a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Some may complain that this is just another queer love story with a sad ending but, sadly to say, tales like this are still relevant and probably still will be for some time to come. This is a sincere film that honestly faces some serious issues. (Parental abuse shares center stage with the coming out theme.) We watch it through the eyes of two likeable and vulnerable teens who we grow to love over the course of the film’s first hour.

Barr and Lineham are terrific as our young lovers. Both are naturals in front of the camera, conveying the lads’ awkward steps into the mysteries of love. They are charming and funny while also being able to tap effortlessly into deep wells of emotion when the script calls for it. Unlike most films in this genre, the sex is kept to a minimum for a change. While both actors look 17, they are in their early 20s and are completely convincing as teenagers. Monster Pies is photographed well and the music choices are far from the norm. Beethoven’s piano music makes a few appearances in Monster Pies; the Moonlight Sonata accompanies a sad moment when Will cries in the shower. Other scenes are marked by some melancholy, yet punky, lesbian folk-rock that, while probably not “trendy” enough for some viewers, should help make this film sound timeless for years to come.

Mike and his little brother made “monster pies” as a peace offering to keep the scary monsters away from their home. But such childhood solutions are no help in adolescence, as this film painfully makes clear. These boys deserved a happy ending but life doesn't work that way. I’m going to remember Monster Pies for a long time.