A teen with a Flock of Seagulls haircut and upturned collar pops a zit in a school mirror while New Wave music drones on in the background. If this sounds familiar, you probably lived through adolescence in the 1980s. If you didn’t live through it, you have the opportunity to — and beyond — with House of Boys.
Gay cinema nowadays typically falls into one of three categories: Romances about coming out; coming-of-age period pieces set in the late ‘70s, ‘80s or early ‘90s; and contemporary dramas about the travails of sex in the post-AIDS era. House of Boys combines aspects of each of them.
Frank (Layke Anderson) is a twink in the pre-meth days of clubbing who alienates his parents and his best friend, eventually winding up as a dancer at the House of Boys, a brothel-like club run by Madame (Udo Kier).
Frank develops a crush on Jake (Benn Northover), his straight roomate who goes gay-for-pay to make a living.
House of Boys is basically Burlesque with men, Mohawks and leg-warmers (and without Cher) — an otherworldly allegory about humanizing the denizens of the gay subculture. As such, it’s both depressing and titillating. It convincingly recreates the era’s sexual openness, but also its dirty authenticity: Sex in the shower with a young punk may be hot, but you know the tub is moldy. (European films seem unnervingly comfortable portraying the murky reality of life — and Udo Kier in a gold bustier and blonde Marilyn wig is about as real and murky as life gets.)
There’s merit to that, but while the emotions may be genuine, the plotting is pure genre cliché from start to finish. Frank resents that Jake prostitutes himself for every customer but won’t get it on with him. Jake eventually sees Frank as a threat, but also develops an attachment to him. Another dancer dreams of a sex-change operation, but he’s obviously a tragedy waiting to happen. And Madame presides over everything with Kier’s trademark Easter Island-esque cold gaze.
Director Jean-Claude Schlim doesn’t let a lot of light in. The House itself is a shadowy den of social misfits who live by night, and the tone is rarely buoyant, despite the cast of pretty young boys who drop trou with impressive regularity. Like the boys themselves, this House lacks a solid foundation.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
One-week engagement starts Dec. 2
at the Texas Theater.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.